Whose Shabbat is it anyway?

Things have been progressing from short cease-fires to open war between the neighborhood’s ultra-Orthodox residents, and the secular and pluralistic residents.

A grocery store that stays open on Shabbat, across from Mamilla Mall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A grocery store that stays open on Shabbat, across from Mamilla Mall
A Reform rabbi, a former hippie who today is an Orthodox rabbi, and two religious men wearing knitted kippot met earlier this week.
While this may sound like the beginning of a joke, it was a very real occurrence that could become a threat to Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition.
These four, plus four additional figures from the Yerushalmim, Hitorerut and Meretz parties, discussed how to react to Barkat’s recent decision to shut down the minimarkets open on Shabbat in the city center.
But that was on Sunday, when the eight council members still thought the problem was only the minimarkets. Two days later a new drama surfaced, reshuffling the entire situation.
While Hitorerut and Yerushalmim were busy trying to save the minimarkets, three haredi members of the coalition, Itzhak Pindrus, Yossi Daitch and Shlomo Rozenstein, were preparing their own drama.
The three friends’ special dish this time was a proposal for the council (with a meeting set to be held on January 28), ruling that all employees and representatives of the city council and municipal administration must refrain from public desecration of the Shabbat. And – this is the main course – budgets for Kiryat Hayovel’s Yuvalim Community Center will be frozen and its board members dismissed, following last week’s public Shabbat desecration there: a film screening in the community center.
Ironically, it appears that the haredi members of Barkat’s coalition never asked him to shut down the minimarkets. The request was totally separate – and involved preventing coffee shops and restaurants in the city center from displaying tables and chairs on the sidewalks without a permit.
“Over the past two years or so, a new place has been opened on Shabbat practically every few weeks, from Bezalel Street to Hillel Street, and they all occupy the sidewalks,” says Pindrus, also a member of the city’s Shabbat Committee. “But the last straw was the decision to screen movies on Shabbat at the community center in Kiryat Hayovel. That was a punch in the eyes of the haredim.”
The struggle over the character of Kiryat Hayovel is not a new issue. For the past decade or so, things have been progressing from short cease-fires to open war between the neighborhood’s ultra-Orthodox residents and their representatives on the city council, and the secular and pluralistic residents who fear the haredi newcomers will transform their area from secular to religious.
The Yeru-Shalem Coalition for an Inclusive Jerusalem has been very active in Kiryat Hayovel recently; this group encourages local initiatives to make Shabbat a day for the religious and secular alike – promoting activities that address the interests of both sides. The local council (appointed by the mayor, not elected), fearing an eventual takeover of its board by haredi residents, joined with the Kiryat Hayovel Hofshit (Free Kiryat Hayovel) association to enlarge the scope of Shabbat activities – including the project inaugurated last week, screening movies at the neighborhood’s community center.
“It’s not only about Shabbat issues,” Pindrus declared. “In Neveh Ya’acov, where the local council and the community center are run exclusively by haredim, the swimming pool is open on Shabbat. We understand the reality around us.”
So why the focus on Kiryat Hayovel? “Because there the haredi residents feel they are not welcome as part of the neighborhood. We have been denied the right to take part in elections to the local council, which has been nominated against all democratic rules by the mayor, leaving us outside the game,” explained Pindrus.
For the deputy mayors from Yerushalmim and Hitorerut, Tamir Nir and Ofer Berkowitz, there seemed to be no place for compromise. The minimarkets and the restaurants in the city center, as well as the movies in Kiryat Hayovel, are the core of their political positions as representatives of the capital’s secular and pluralistic residents.
They set about trying to assemble an ad-hoc coalition that would also include Meretz (which is not part of the council’s coalition), to make it clear to Barkat that they mean business. Asked if they would go as far as threatening to leave the coalition, both groups avoided answering unequivocally.
“This is an effective weapon as long as you don’t use it,” said one of them.
Another thing one must bear in mind is that Nir and Berkowitz are aware that in the not-so-distant future they might be rival candidates to replace Barkat – so caution is a must here.
Nir admitted, however, that if nothing else works, “We would seriously consider leaving the coalition.”
With this new development, it seems Berkowitz was the first to understand the serious impact of Pindrus’s proposal for the council – thus withdrawing from the plans to threaten and even resign from the coalition.
In return, Pindrus and his allies said they were willing to withdraw the proposal – as long as from now on, Shabbat would be fully respected in the Yuvalim Community Center.
Stay tuned…