This week in Jerusalem 405019

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs

Children on the first day of school in Jerusalem, 2014. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Children on the first day of school in Jerusalem, 2014.
Dive right in!
Great news for swimming pool lovers. The Jerusalem Pool on Emek Refaim in the German Colony will not be shut down. In a recent agreement signed by the municipality and the owners of the land, it has been decided that the swimming pool will remain open for all the city’s residents, and the plans for construction on the site will be scrapped. The struggle over the Jerusalem Pool has been going on for more than four years, and it looked like it would be a losing battle.
But the parties finally reached an agreement, so the water will continue to fill the city’s most community-friendly swimming pool, which is open seven days a week.
Barbur: Not a swan song after all
Ten years ago, within the framework of the renewal of the Nahlaot and Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhoods, on the initiative of the local council, an art gallery was opened in Nahlaot. Barbur (“swan” in Hebrew) quickly became an arts center whose fame and realm of interest extended far beyond its location. Exhibitions, gallery talks and alternative gatherings on arts and their impact on the neighborhood, where new and veteran residents live side by side, attracted many visitors and a lot of interest.
But recently there was a serious threat to the gallery’s existence. With the arrival of many young couples and families in the Nahlaot and Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhoods, a serious lack of classrooms for preschoolers required a prompt solution, and the local council and the education administration decided that there was no other choice but to change the allocation of the gallery to a kindergarten. The managers of the gallery, which is administered by a nonprofit organization, tried to persuade the municipality not to do so, but to no avail.
However, on Sunday, Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz, holder of the Culture and Youth programs on the city council, was informed that a building near the gallery that had been used for an afternoon school (Tichon Tel Aviv) was cleared out by the school and handed back to the municipality. Berkowitz says that after checking out the building, it was deemed suitable for the kindergarten. As a result, the Barbur gallery will remain as it is.
On the street or at day camp
For children at risk, the summer vacation may be the worst time. Once they are out of the school setting, the perils they face increase, with the dangerous attractions of the streets. Many of the special programs for children at risk try to continue the enrichment programs over the summer; but in many cases, without support from the community or foundations, they fail to do so, despite financial support from the municipality.
One of these programs is Afikim, which specializes in taking care not only of the children but to some extent the whole family as well (mostly immigrants). It has launched a call for donors to sponsor one or more children in the summer camps program Afikim B’Kef. The summer camps, which are held in the school buildings, include several outdoors activities as well, bringing back “fun and reduced risks together” as director Moshe Lefkowitz puts it. Afikim B’Kef can be supported through
No abuse on the bus
For those who are already getting ready for the next school year, here is some good news. The education administration at city hall has hired 1,000 people to accompany children who are transported to and from school on school buses and minibuses. The city council approved the program at its meeting on Thursday. The Rene Cassin organization will be in charge of these escorts, who will make sure that order is maintained on the vehicles and see that no harmful incidents occur.
The request for the escorts follows a decision by the Education Ministry. And as of the coming school year, the municipality will not hire any transportation company that does not include escorts.
The cost of the program, which is estimated at NIS 30 million a year, will be shared by the municipality and the Education Ministry.
School crisis in Gonenim
On Tuesday, a meeting was held at Gonenim Community Council in preparation for the residents’ protest to fight city hall’s policies regarding state religious education in the neighborhood.
For years, residents have asked the municipality to address the growing crisis of lack of educational frameworks for the area’s rapidly expanding population. This crisis has now come to a head as residents embark on a more active course, which will include a school strike next week – a stay-away from all schools and kindergartens in the neighborhood next Monday morning.
The dozens of residents came to the meeting are demanding that the municipality address the current condition of the Gonenim State-Religious Elementary School; they demand an increase in classrooms for the kindergarten and elementary school, and an improvement in the school’s very poor physical condition and lack of basic facilities. They also insist the municipality address the issue of the dozens of children who were not accepted for the coming school year; these pupils have been referred to other schools in the city, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the German Colony.
“The municipality has to think about the future – the young population in the neighborhood is constantly growing,” contended Gadi Auerbach, the Gonenim Community Council representative. “We urgently need three more kindergarten classrooms, as well as a new elementary school for the next school year.”
MK Rachel Azaria spoke at the meeting, voicing her support of the audience and emphasizing the importance of civil protest, saying, “This is probably not how things should work, but this is how they work. Eventually, protests do bring about change.”
Other speakers included Jerusalem City Council members Dov Kalmanovitz (Bayit Yehudi, in charge of religious education in Jerusalem), and Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz (Yerushalmim, in charge of several education portfolios).
“The growth of the young religious population in Gonenim is a welcome problem, but the city still has to deal with it,” asserted Kalmanovitz.
“The municipality has to start building facilities,” said Leibowitz, also stressing the significance of the residents working together. Both made a commitment to collaborate in bringing the neighborhood’s problem to the city’s agenda as soon as possible.
According to Auerbach, there are many other facilities in the neighborhood suitable for kindergarten classes, but instead of preparing those facilities for the coming school year, the municipality is looking for easy solutions and using the existing Gonenim school building.