Grapevine: Plus ça change...

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

HOUSES UNDER construction in Har Homa. (photo credit: REUTERS)
HOUSES UNDER construction in Har Homa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The rules about the times of day when construction in a residential area must begin and end apparently do not apply to Gihon, the Jerusalem area sewage and water company. Just after midnight when Saturday passed into Sunday this week, residents of Smolenskin Street on the seam of Rehavia-Talbiyeh heard a noise similar to that made by a trolley case being dragged on the stairs.

But the noise was not from a trolley case. It was from heavy duty equipment that was digging up part of the road and part of the pavement between apartment houses at numbers 3 and 5. As if the noise wasn’t bad enough, the equipment’s bright, flashing lights penetrated apartment windows. The last house on the street, two doors down from number 5, is the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Residence. Perhaps because Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has chosen not to live there, whoever decided on the Gihon midnight-to-dawn project believed that they could take the liberty. Aside from digging up a section of the street, most of which was subsequently replaced, a huge pot plant between the two buildings had been moved elsewhere on the pavement, and there was mud halfway along the street on both the road and the sidewalk, which Gihon had not bothered to clean up. This was yet another example of the more things change, the more they stay the same. Jerusalem is undergoing major changes, but stupid bureaucracy continues to rule the roost.

The scene was reminiscent of the hilarious 1969 movie Blaumilch’s Canal, written and directed by Ephraim Kishon and starring Bomba Tzur, in which a mental asylum escapee who is a compulsive digger steals a jackhammer and begins to dig up Allenby Street in Tel Aviv with a presumed view to digging a canal to the Mediterranean. Police and city officials assume he has been hired by the municipality, and even do their best to help him. Residents in the area object loudly to the noise, but to no avail. A municipal election is on the immediate horizon, so City Hall sends construction workers and heavy equipment to assist Blaumilch in completing his project on time. Only one low-ranking municipal employee realizes that there is no real project, but when he tries to convince people, he is told that he is crazy. 

By the time that the powers-that-be at City Hall realize the project is actually without a final goal, it is too late. The canal has been created, and the mayor saves face with a gala inauguration ceremony in which he announces that Tel Aviv has been turned into the Venice of the Middle East.

In the final scene of the film, Blaumilch is seen digging up Malchei Israel Square, now called Rabin Square, which happens to be alongside the Tel Aviv municipal building. Of course that won’t happen with Safra Square, though one never knows. Maybe someone with a passion for archaeology may decide to look for a lost civilization, and will begin digging. With so much construction going on in Jerusalem, the people at City Hall will think that this is just another project to make way for a multi-story complex of towers in the capital’s ever higher skyline.

Richard Shavei-Tzion and the Ramatayim Men’s Choir, Jerusalem grand finale poster. (credit: Courtesy)Richard Shavei-Tzion and the Ramatayim Men’s Choir, Jerusalem grand finale poster. (credit: Courtesy)

■ WHEN THE Ramatayim Choir disbanded in June last year, many of its choristers, not to mention its fans, were sad that the melody had come to an end. In actual fact, it didn’t. Two of its members, Paul Staszewski and Joe Lederman, spearheaded the formation of the Rinat Jerusalem Men’s Choir, whose 28 founding members all sang together in the Ramatayim Choir. Richard Shavei-Zion, who founded and directed the Ramatayim Choir, encouraged the new initiative and continues to be supportive, even to the extent of recommending names of potential candidates for a Rinat musical director.

Of the seven applicants for the position, the one who was selected was Israel Jason Rosenblatt, a relatively new immigrant from Canada who is a qualified graduate of McGill University’s Conservatory of Music, and is continuing the tradition Shavei Zion instituted at Ramatayim, which is to love and to sing Jewish and Israeli music, with the occasional deviation into Broadway, and given Staszewski’s background – possibly British music hall.

Most of the members of the choir live in Jerusalem, and rehearsals are held in the synagogue of the Yehuda Halevy School in the German Colony.

Several planned concerts had to be put on hold due to changing coronavirus regulations, but the initial, successful and heart-warming concert at Nofei Yerushalayim sheltered living home in Bayit Vagan on the first night of Hanukkah gave great pleasure not only to the singers but to the residents, who for too long had been living a more or less isolated existence.

There are plans for several performances this year among them for the Malki Foundation, which supports families who opt to keep a child with disabilities within the bosom of the family, rather than in an institution; a festive Independence Day choral service and concert in the Young Israel Synagogue in Ir Ganim; and closer in time on February 14, at the Yehuda Halevy School in the presence of Mayor Moshe Lion.

Although it isn’t obvious, there must be some correlation between accountancy and choral singing. Shavei-Zion is an accountant by profession, and Staszewski was a former in-house accountant for The Jerusalem Post.

■ WITH INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day fast approaching, Einat Fischer Lalo, executive director of the Israel Women’s Network, has announced in her regular newsletter that the Israel Women’s Network, together with Halas Hadrat Nashim B’Yerushalayim and the Israel Religious Action Center, have decided to join forces to put an end to the defacing of women pictured in advertising posters. Exactly how they intend to do this remains uncertain, but members of the public who are disturbed by the sight of a poster or an advertisement of any other kind in which the face of a woman has been blotted out or totally obliterated, are asked to telephone 053-5355762 and to send a photograph of the poster and exact details of where it is located. 

The three groups are concerned that there is a concerted effort to erase evidence of women’s presence in Jerusalem. The culprits are seldom caught and therefore able to avoid legal action. Presumably there will be some means of catching them and identifying them, after a defaced poster is replaced, and the perpetrators return to make another attempt at defacement.

One can understand the objections of ultra-religious males if posters featuring women in strapless dresses or in skimpy swimwear appear in religious neighborhoods. But a woman’s face in any neighborhood should not be a cause for objection or rejection, and is certainly not a reason for ruining posters. One wonders whether the perpetrators would be as active if the posters featured the faces of their mothers, and risk breaking the Fifth Commandment.

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