Beware: The kosher versionThe issue of pedophiles in the haredi sector is a sensitive one, yet children must be sensitized. One way to address this challenge is through the use of cartoons and comics. Dozens of comic pamphlets have been distributed in schools and community centers in haredi neighborhoods to help make children aware of the danger. The initiative is led by Tahel, a haredi association for women and children at risk in that sector. The comics reflect a dramatic change in the approach of haredi rabbis and spiritual leaders toward this and other key issues, such as violence in the family and battered woman.No money, no receptionIn a break with tradition, Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to tax churches and monasteries in the city resulted in a number of ranking clergymen boycotting the traditional New Year reception at city hall.When the treasury failed to approve the sums requested for the city’s needs about a year ago, Barkat announced that he was forced to impose arnona (taxes) on religious institutions. The total amount he has requested from churches in the city is NIS 650 million, a sum that he declared “the residents of Jerusalem cannot continue to finance.”In response, the clergy of about 15 churches in the city boycotted – for the first time since the reunification of the city – the traditional New Year reception at Safra Square. Church representatives issued a press release rejecting the mayor’s decision and urging him not to violate the status quo. The municipality reiterated that freedom of religion is not the issue, but the city can no longer afford to allow revenue-generating banquet halls, hostels and restaurants operated by the churches to be exempted from taxes. Checkpoint on the move A number of Jewish and Arab residents last week protested the district planning committee’s decision to move forward with the relocation of the Ein Yael checkpoint. When the checkpoint was installed for security reasons during the 2004 intifada, it was specified that the location was temporary and that a permanent place would be selected in more tranquil times. Accordingly, it was decided to relocate the checkpoint to Har Gilo, closer to the community of Walaja and the security fence.Residents of both Har Gilo and Walaja have, for different reasons, expressed opposition to the new location. Har Gilo residents claim that the new place will spoil their view, increase traffic congestion and harm the local ecosystem. Walaja residents, who also feel that the inauguration of the Ein Hinyeh historical site on the border of their village will impede access to some of their fields and the main road, want to maintain their open access to the city without the checkpoint.Neither side convinced the committee to alter its decision and the checkpoint will be moved soon.Reach out to fulfill a dreamDonation day for AKIM Jerusalem took place this week. Annually, on this day, students of local schools reach out to residents. Mayor Nir Barkat opened the day with his own personal donation, a NIS 3,000 check that he handed directly to two of the tenants of one of Akim’s special residences in the Gilo neighborhood.AKIM provides programs and residential solutions for intellectually challenged persons. It was founded 60 years ago by a Jerusalem couple, the Shpiegels, who decided to create something that was unavailable until then – a home for their own son, who was mentally retarded, and couldn’t, after a certain age, stay with them at home. There were no options in those days other than institutions that the Shpiegels refused to send their son to, so they created the first AKIM home, which is still functioning, located on Hebron Road in Talpiot. There, with medical and psychological professionals and activities led by instructors, their son – and soon enough, others – enjoyed a caring homelike environment with all the facilities and care required for their special needs.AKIM believes that the best solutions for the intellectually challenged come from the collaboration of parents and professionals. That guiding principle has inspired more than 60 years of creative programs, many of which have become standard in the field. Institutions around the world study and adopt AKIM standards for comfort, quality of life, occupations and a wide range of activities – art, theater, dancing and more. A few years ago, AKIM celebrated and facilitated a first marriage between two of its tenants. More than 20 Jerusalem schools joined the special donation drive this year. Students learned how to integrate disabled tenants into the fund-raising operation as part of their education – to connect with and accept disabled people free of any stereotypes.The AKIM network includes three hostels, 17 apartments, a center for support and instruction for the parents and a community center for activities of the tenants and their families.Academic haredimThe Ofek Seminary of Poalei Agudat Israel is a posthigh school educational option for ultra-Orthodox girls, at the end of which they graduate with an academic degree from the Jerusalem College of Technology and an engineering diploma that positions them to integrate easily into the hi-tech industry.The seminar provides three years of experience in modern laboratories, execution of projects for start-ups and development groups, tours of hi-tech companies and more. This year, a computer science degree track has also been opened and projects being worked on include a rapid automatic blood pressure, pulse and temperature test for emergency rooms, an autonomous robot that helps people with physical disabilities to move things from place to place without getting up, a robotic body sugar test, a smart baby crib and an unmanned tank prototype.While the initial class included only 10 women, enrollment expanded to 25 last year and now has reached 30. The seminar has an extremely low drop-out rate compared with other educational institutions in haredi society. The women begin their studies with little engineering background, yet achieve valuable academic degrees. It is interesting to note that Poalei Agudat Israel split from Agudat Israel before the establishment of the State of Israel because they are Zionists and many of them enlist in the IDF.Art and aliya The Jerusalem House of Quality, set in a venue with a breathtaking view of the Old City walls, continues to open its gates to new immigrant artists who wish to exhibit their work to the public. This month, a new exhibition of no fewer than 23 artists, all olim from various countries, is installed in the House of Quality main gallery, a joint initiative with the Aliya and Integration Ministry.The exhibition is open daily from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays; entrance free of charge. The Jerusalem House of Quality, which includes studios and shops of local craftsmen and women, is located at 12 Hebron Road, opposite the Cinematheque.From Georgia with love Jerusalem ballet aficionados have a unique opportunity to enjoy the State Ballet and Opera of Georgia, visiting for the first time.There will be a special performance in our capital with classical and neo-classical works to celebrate 176 years of tradition of ballet in Georgia, a tradition preserved along all these years, as some of them were rather tumultuous. The artistic director and also prima ballerina, Nina Ananiashvili, will perform at the Jerusalem Theater on Monday, February 26. This repertoire company, located in the National Theater and Opera of Tbilisi, has in its past given birth to some of the greatest dance legends in the world – such as George Balanchine and Vakhtang Chabukiani.The company’s repertoire includes traditional classical ballet, as well as works by contemporary and well-known choreographers. Ananiashvili has included dancers from abroad in recent years – from Japan, Britain and Russia – hence, it has become a leading international ballet company. The performance in Jerusalem will include Petite Ceremonie, Dying Swan, Sagalobeli and Sechs Tanze at the Jerusalem Theater, Monday February 26, at 8.30 p.m.Tickets cost NIS 239 to NIS 299; call (02) 560-5755.Mystic womanThe Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities is awarding the prestigious Gershom Scholem Prize for the Study of Kabbala and Jewish Mysticism this week to Prof. Haviva Pedaya, a poet and noted scholar in hassidism and mysticism at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The granddaughter of a renowned kabbalist from Iraq, she is the second woman to be awarded the prize since its establishment.Pedaya is a distinguished figure in her academic domain, widely considered one of the most important experts and innovative voices in the field, and a leader in Sephardi culture research. The religious Mizrahi native-born Jerusalemite serves as president of the Eliashar Center for Studies on the Oriental Jewish Communities. Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently appointed her to be a member of the prestigious Israeli Council for Education and she was also a member of the Biton Commission.The Scholem Prize is awarded once every four years.“The Story of Man”As part of its 50th birthday celebrations, the Jerusalem Khan Theater, the capital’s major creative repertory theater, brings to life an unusual work performed in a biblical idiom by a group of actors who tell a story that is also partly theirs. A cast of religious actors dressed in black and white garments on a bare stage dramatically relate many facets of the story of Creation and the Creator. Author David Grossman, who was recently awarded the Israel Prize, calls the show “a play that links the Bible and our life here in a moving way.”Tickets for the performance on February 25 at 8:30 p.m. are available at (02) 630-3600.Railway opening derailed About a month ago, Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced that the first high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv would run on March 30. However, critics began expressing views that the work wouldn’t be finished by then and that opening the railway too soon could imperil the safety of riders. Much of the concern centers on the delicate operation of critical electrical monitoring devices (this is the first electric train in the country).Shortly before press time it was announced that the opening would be postponed by six months. A ministry spokesman confirmed that the line will be inaugurated only after all safety and operational permits have been given by the professionals responsible, adding that the minister is not the one who chooses the launching date.An eye for an eye Haredi city council representatives canceled a meeting with Beit Hakerem residents in response to a Beit Hakerem community center event held on Shabbat. The activity in question was a Shabbat afternoon mushroom-collecting expedition in the woods nearby, advertised and organized by the community center under the logo of the municipality.The canceled meeting had been planned to hear residents’ opposition to a project proposed by the municipality to build walls and a platform above Begin Road on which structures and parks could be built. While it was not officially declared, the reason for the cancellation of the meeting was clear to all parties: the disapproval by the haredi representatives of activities in any venue or facility that belongs to the municipality that violate Shabbat laws.Explosive parkingOne dead and two injured – that was the toll of an accident that occurred on Tuesday morning in the Baka neighborhood, following the explosion of gas in a parking area under a building. Rescue teams evacuated the two injured residents, and after expending considerable effort, they recovered the body of the worker, trapped and covered by heavy rubble. The neighborhood community center opened a situation room and the welfare team has been in contact with the residents of the building and the neighborhood.