This Week in Jerusalem 451363

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

Jerusalem light rail. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem light rail.
CityPass – the end?
Five years after the capital’s light rail began operating, and on the eve of the launch of new lines, the Treasury is considering buying the rights from CityPass. According to Finance Ministry projections, the government could acquire the whole project for NIS 400 million, including the planned additional lines, and thereby reduce the expected future costs to the government.
The operation, a “buy-back” of the entire light rail project here, is made possible through a paragraph in the contract signed between the Transportation Ministry and CityPass, specifying that the government may do so within the 30 years of the concession given to the company. The cost is based on the present profit made by CityPass (NIS 11.4m. for 2015), multiplied by the number of years remaining until the end of the 30-year period.
Empathy for Hypatia
An innovative project, Hypatia, launched by the EU has reached us here aiming to promote better access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) studies for female students. The Bloomfield Science Museum in Givat Ram is the chosen partner for this project, together with the support of the Rashi Foundation.
The main idea is to develop a special “toolbox” and initiate educational activities to raise interest in the four STEM disciplines among girls in high school. The toolbox will include a series of activities – games, short lectures followed by exercises based on the knowledge acquired, workshops and more – all conceived and developed by local teachers, promoted by local youth councils.
But there is more: The toolbox will be adapted for use in various countries inside the EU and made accessible online. Thus, the project that will initially be developed at the museum here in Jerusalem will later on reach girls across the country and in 14 EU countries.
The program is named after Hypatia, a fourth-century Greek mathematician, astronomer and philosopher in Egypt. She was head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.
He knew it
City councilman Arieh King (United Jerusalem) says it took less than a week for one of his prophesies to come true.
King, who strongly opposed the entry of Hagit Moshe (replacing councilman Shmuel Shkedi, who resigned), didn’t have to wait long to fume over one of Moshe’s votes.
Moshe’s first vote was to back Mayor Nir Barkat’s proposal to approve financial support for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, the center for the city’s LGBT community.
According to King, a rabbinical panel that determines representatives for the religious- Zionist lists at the council (there are two – King’s United Jerusalem and Dov Kalmanovitch’s Bayit Yehudi) ruled, before the 2013 elections, that these representatives would not back any financial support to the gay community.
However, Moshe did vote in favor of the proposal, which approved NIS 400,000 to the Open House. King is angry and requests the intervention of the rabbinical council to prevent any further support to an institution that in his view, “encourages young Jews to break the rules of the Torah,” as he wrote on his Facebook page.
Please don’t go
Once in a while, Jerusalem’s interests – such as hosting some of the more important public institutions here – are challenged, out of ignorance, lack of understanding about what the role of a capital is, or simply out of narrow points of view. For years, public and governmental institutions, which legally have to operate from inside the city, have departed for the Center – primarily to Tel Aviv.
The struggle to keep them here is one of the mayor’s major aims.
After the fight over the TV news department of Channel 10, the planned opening of the new Israel Broadcasting Authority this coming October and a list of additional bodies, now it is the turn of the Office of the Chief Scientist.
Barkat is opposing their planned move out of Jerusalem. In a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, the mayor requested assistance in preventing the move, vowing that he will not accept it in silence.
“This is a significant and difficult blow to the city of Jerusalem, one that it is completely in conflict with the rules of the Knesset and the latest reports of the State Controller,” he wrote.
Barkat has strong backing from Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Hitorerut), on whose agenda the matter has appeared from the beginning – with a pledge to enforce implementation of the law that all public and official institutions should remain in the capital.
Berkowitz emphasized that according to findings of the Prime Minister’s Office itself, the removal of such institutions would mean a loss of more than 4,000 jobs for Jerusalemites, NIS 40 million in municipal tax income, plus NIS 130m. in income for city businesses.
Living together in Jerusalem
Two books have recently been published, dealing with the almost same topic, albeit from different points of view. Last month, Prof. Menachem Klein of Bar-Ilan University presented a book called Lives in Common: Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Hebron – a local history showing that life in our region in the last 150 years was problematic, but overall relatively good.
Last week, the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute awarded a prize to one of its researchers, Dr. Itamar Radai, for his research and book Between Two Cities, about the daily life of locals in Jerusalem and Jaffa in 1947-8. The prize, named after Uzi and Michal Halevy, was awarded to Radai during the recent study day organized by the institute.
And the winners are…
At the last city council meeting on March 31, a budget was approved to support organizations working toward Jewish renewal in various city communities. Although these bodies operate in the framework of pluralistic approaches to a renewed Jewish identity and are not part of the Reform movement, they are considered as such by the haredim, who have repeatedly tried to prevent them from receiving municipal funding.
However, at the last meeting of the council, it was – of all people – city councilman Moshe Lion, not so long ago a favorite candidate of haredim for mayor, who changed the situation by voting to support the pluralistic organizations with city moneys.
What has actually been approved is not a specific sum, but the criteria by which any institution – such as a pluralistic beit midrash (religious study hall) – can submit a request for city support. By voting for it, Lion has in fact dramatically changed the situation that has prevailed until now, and opened the door for any pluralistic association to seek and receive such support.
Lion explained that the vote did not decide who will get support, but only addressed funding criteria, implying he was not really supporting any specific organization. On the haredi benches, the reaction was much less understanding – and there were hints that this could negatively impact their support for Lion if he decides to run for mayor again in 2018.
Israel Festival 2016
There is still time to get ready for one of the largest and most prestigious arts and culture events of the year: the Jerusalem Israel Festival 2016. The annual three-week event will take place from May 24 to June 11 – but important opening moves already took place this week.
At a press conference held in one of the capital’s most beautiful locations – the Eden- Tamir Music Center in Ein Kerem, where some of the festival concerts will be held – Eyal Sher and Itzik Jolly, respectively the CEO and the artistic director of the festival, presented the program. Sher, who stepped into the shoes of former CEO (for the past 30 years) Yossi Talgan a mere seven months before the 2015 festival, this time presented a full concept, and is clearly differentiating between what has been traditional until now and what will be changing in the coming years.
The bottom line is that we will not just have more of the same – a compilation of events from theater, music and dance, with no clear, expressive and even bold artistic outlook. This year Jerusalem itself will be transformed into a festival area, with outdoor events in several new locations – such as Zion Square and the Jerusalem Theater Square. In addition, a wandering mini-festival, promoted and presented by the Jerusalem Yellow Submarine van, will reach many neighborhoods usually far removed from the traditional locations of cultural events.
The program will focus on what Sher and Jolly presented as a “cultural language,” provided by the most important creators on Western stages. This approach largely involves works utilizing a mixture of the stage arts, including drama, dance and musical expression.
Some of the most interesting performance elements to look forward to include the opening evening, a completely local production; a homage to Shoshana Damari, the late singer and muse for many Israeli song writers and composers; and two performances of Mount Olympus: To Glorify the Cult of Tragedy, the monumental work of Belgian Jan Fabre – a 24-hour show, in English and French.
Perhaps the best news is that prices are low this year and there are a lot of free events, including some for the entire family.