This week in Jerusalem:

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

Pounding the pavement at the 2016 Jerusalem Marathon (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Pounding the pavement at the 2016 Jerusalem Marathon
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
No choo-choo in Emek Refaim
The struggle goes on. A group of residents submitted more than 1,200 objections, including some 700 written objections, to the district planning and construction committee regarding the planned Blue Line route of the light rail segment along Emek Refaim Street. The residents are manning stands on the street on every Friday morning, encouraging passersby, even those from outside the neighborhood, to add their signatures in opposition.
As of now, most of the efforts are directed toward reviving the tunnel option – the same solution that has been adopted for the segment close to Shabbat Square between Geula and Straus streets.
Meanwhile, accelerated talks between the action committees of the residents in German Colony and the committees in Baka and Gonenim (Katamonim) have resulted in at least one success – all three neighborhood resident committees have linked their requests to change the planned course of the light rail or implement the tunnel solution.
The final date for submitting objections has been extended to March 6 (instead of February 28), but it seems that at Safra Square, not all the involved parties are aware of the postponement.
The legally required public announcement regarding the process of submitting objections displayed on Emek Refaim as of last week still indicates the earlier date. Moreover, it is displayed in such a way that many residents complain they cannot really read it properly.
In other news, it was reported that all light rail cars and stations will eventually be equipped with Wi-Fi. No time frame has been given for this upgrade.
Run for Jerusalem
Preparations on the ground are well underway for the seventh annual Jerusalem International Marathon, on track to take place two weeks from today on Friday, March 17. Like many other events this year, the marathon will celebrate the 50th anniversary of =reunification of the city in the Six Day War. More than 30,000 runners have signed up – including 3,000 tourists and runners from abroad, an all-time record in that category.
At a ceremony held this week at one of the most beautiful scenic overviews in the city – the Haas Promenade in Talpiot – Mayor Nir Barkat and key marathon partners discussed the final lap of preparations for the run. Jerusalem- born Olympic judo medalist Uri Sasson, as master of ceremonies, provided intriguing details about the anticipated event. This year’s marathon is already on track to have the largest number of participants ever, even though registrations were still pouring in (the last day to register is tomorrow, March 4).
Barkat hails the marathon as one of the highlights of the yearlong celebration of the reunification, and sees the arrival of so many runners from around the world as a declaration of confidence and support for the reunited capital. “This is the best answer to all those who wish to hurt us and to harm our daily routine in this city.”
Another notable aspect of the race is that so many nonprofit associations are taking part, leveraging their participation to gain public support. A high-profile example of this is the Shalva association and its institutions, which promote the welfare of disabled children. Another facet of this marathon every year is the separate track for families, in which whole families – from grandparents to children in strollers – participate in the action. The Jerusalem marathon is considered to be difficult to run because of the hilly topography of the city. “Nevertheless,” said Barkat, “runners rise to this challenge and come here to compete.”
The marathon is expected to add NIS 14 million to city coffers through registrations, hotel bookings, food purchases and more. Barkat pledged to invest the windfall exclusively in welfare projects for the benefit of Jerusalem residents.
Shopping in Geula
Geula is evolving. Harsh opposition of some of the most prominent rabbis in the haredi sector in the city to the new “shopping habits” in the heart of the haredi neighborhood hasn’t stopped the trend. A visit to one of the busiest streets of the city confirms that the profound changes taking place in the habits of haredi society are apparent in many ways.
The change is highly visible in the commercial realm. A number of new stores have opened and a wider range of merchandise is available – including items not previously marketed in this neighborhood. Stores on the main drag increasingly look like the stores one sees outside an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, with eye-catching window displays, colorful neon and hi-tech lighting, more prominent signs (quite a few of them in English) – all reflecting the influence of how shopping areas look elsewhere.
As the decor in many of these shops tilts toward the Western influence, other shops, although seemingly fewer and fewer, maintain the traditional flavor of restraint, even severity, with only a small external indication – if at all – of the merchandise inside.
One of the veteran vendors explained, “We don’t try to influence people to buy. We sell what is needed, not what nobody really needs.”
If one could frame the social dynamic as ideology vs reality on the ground, then even at this relatively early stage of the transformation it seems irrefutable that Geula, once the second most important haredi stronghold (right after nearby Mea She’arim) is changing in a way that augurs deep and significant changes in this sector. The external changes in the street and modernization of storefronts encourage haredim to buy more – including items they perhaps don’t really need, as in any Western consumer society. Moreover, and this may be what some rabbis had in mind when they expressed opposition to the trend, one increasingly sees wives and husbands, or even fiancés, walking together along the street, checking merchandise and even sitting together at one of the few eateries there.
This is something that was rarely seen there until now.
Heights of parking
Have you spotted a large device positioned in a parking area near Mahaneh Yehuda? This is neither an artistic sculpture in an open public space, nor is it an obstacle making it even harder for motorists to find a convenient parking place. It is an ingenious new installation being tested on Agrippas Street to ease, at least a bit, the lack of parking places in the city center – and more specifically in the market area.
The device (a large wheel that enables parking inside it) takes up two parking places but offers 12 to 14 parking places, as vehicles park inside the large wheel. The trial in the packed market area has apparently been deemed successful, and two additional parking wheels are slated to be deployed soon in other places in the city center next week. Considering that there are at least 800 parking places lacking in the city, the municipality hopes that this innovative approach may reduce the pressure on drivers in the city center.
More about parking
How many cars currently park on Agrippas Street and how many more are expected to park there? Last week, toward the end of a meeting of the local planning and construction commission, a permit to build a new large parking lot in the Mahaneh Yehuda Market area was submitted, a last-minute item added to the agenda. The movement for Quality Government and the Adam, Teva V’Din association submitted the request on the ground that the data provided on the exact figures of predicted parking needs were based on false assumptions.
According to these two organizations, the basic figures provided to the committee by the municipality predict that up to 70 cars per hour seeking parking places will be added to the current numbers. This is far from the expected reality, these groups say, which will be closer to an additional 178 cars per hour – 154% more than now. If this is the case, the inadequate infrastructure for parking will cause extra pollution and traffic on a street that is already overcrowded and highly polluted. The new parking proposal is being considered by the committee and is likely to be approved in the coming months.
Another kind of coffee shop
Looking for a place where you can get good coffee and feel the same time you’re doing something good? There is a place for you: Cafe Shalva. Located inside the compound of the Shalva Center for the physically and mentally disabled, close to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, it offers mehadrin kosher cuisine and gives disabled persons a real opportunity to work and earn respectable wages in a supportive environment.
Whether one goes there to enjoy breakfast, lunch, or even just coffee and a pastry in pleasant surroundings, the eatery offers diners a natural and friendly way to learn about and support others whose lives are not always easy.
The coffee shop is located on 1 Shalva Street; more details can be obtained at 073-282-2200. Open Sunday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m.
to 1 p.m.