This week in Jerusalem: Run for the children

A weekly round-up of city affairs.

 SAVE BEIT Hakerem's community café!  (photo credit: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)
SAVE BEIT Hakerem's community café!
(photo credit: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash)

Run for the children

The annual Run4Afikim race, benefiting the association dedicated to supporting young immigrants and their families from Russia and Ethiopia, took place last week with its Jerusalem to Eilat run. More than 100 men and women of all ages ran for three days, culminating with its traditional Shabbat event in Eilat for all participants.

Afikim was conceived, dreamed of and founded by Moshe Yosef Lefkowitz, an Alexander Hassid, father of nine and a grandfather to many. Thinking it was wrong for the charitable community to focus only on food baskets, he felt it crucial that haredim like himself care for children from non-religious families, also encouraging IDF enlistment.

Afikim has 16 centers in various schools in Jerusalem and many more centers throughout the country. Children receive hot meals, assistance with their homework and enrichment classes, with counselors and teachers maintaining in-depth contact with the families. Donations are slowly climbing back to pre-coronavirus levels.

Happily, nearly NIS 2 million was collected thanks to the runners.

 RABBI YISRAEL MEIR LAU speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, January 2020 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) RABBI YISRAEL MEIR LAU speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, January 2020 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Nyet to the church

The Jerusalem District Court stopped the transfer of a church and a courtyard, located in the Old City, to Russia. The transfer was part of the agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reached in 2019 as part of the Na’ama Issachar deal. In that agreement, the registration of the Russian Federation as the owner of the “Alexander Courtyard” was promised to the Kremlin in exchange for the release of the Israeli imprisoned in Moscow in 2019.

But last week, the court ruled that the current registration could not be continued, and ordered that it be handed back to the government to decide. Judge Mordechai Kadouri ruled the government is the entity that should approve the transfer of ownership of the Alexander Nevsky Church, also known as the Alexander Courtyard, and that it was not the prerogative of the court but rather of the government, due to it being a holy place. 

The church was built in the late 19th century and is considered the most important Russian outpost in the Holy Basin (the area in the city with hundreds of holy places), a major site for pilgrims. Since the Soviet revolution, the church was under the control of Russian exiles in the West. For many years the Kremlin exerted pressure to transfer the church to its hands.

Whose property is it?

Following a High Court of Justice decision last week, the four Palestinian families requested to evacuate their homes in Sheikh Jarrah will instead pay rent to a third party and remain there as “protected tenants.” 

The Jewish Associations owners tried to persuade the court to rule that the properties be evacuated, since the properties have been recognized as belonging to them. There was an expectation that this time, as in previous cases, the Palestinians would reject the proposal, leading to a ruling of evacuation. 

However, this time the Arab families accepted the court’s ruling, maintaining this consolidated their claim they were the real owners. “This rule proves we own the place,” declared one of the families, without explaining how paying rent is proof of their ownership. 

According to the ruling, the four families are not required to pay the rent directly to the property owners; if this were the case, the families would have viewed it as recognition of Jewish ownership of the neighborhood. Instead, the families have to deposit an annual rent of NIS 2,400 to a neutral side. A court decision on the plot’s ownership has not been made and could take years, leading the families to declare, “For the first time, justice has been done.” 

For now, it is not clear if this decision will set a precedent.​​Still to be decided is the court’s ruling on ma​ny other properties on Jerusalem’s east side.

Police harassment

A petition against the Jerusalem district commander has been filed at the High Court of Justice, accusing him of harassing demonstrators at Sheikh Jarrah because they were waving the Palestinian flag. The petition, submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), claims that harassment those waving the flag in the city is illegal. ​According ​to ACRI, Jerusalem District Police Chief Doron Turgeman has been intimidating protesters ​for a while, for actions that are not unlawful, as well as handling the protests of young Arabs at Damascus Gate in a problematic manner. ACRI has sent the court videos from recent years, illustrating how the police have been removing Palestinian flags in public areas – not just at demonstrations, but also if they are hung over buildings. 

Years ago, the police claimed they were acting in accordance with the attorney-general’s guidelines, as removal of flags is carried out in cases where there is a real fear of violating public peace. Last year, the police prevented young Arabs from congregating at Damascus Gate late at night during the month of Ramadan; it was Mayor Moshe Lion who finally convinced Turgeman to reduce the presence of the police there and bring back some calm.

Save the café

The community café in Beit Hakerem is facing difficulties and might have to close, following the fifth coronavirus wave. Like many other local establishments in the same situation, customers are invited to donate money and in return receive vouchers that will only be valid in 2023. So far, the managers have raised NIS 55,000 in an attempt to save the resident-run Beit Hava’ad community café. 

During the lockdowns the community administration did not charge rent, and then for a limited period, charged a reduced amount. Later, there was a recovery and the place flourished, but the fifth wave was too much and the situation worsened, with people staying away due to fear of infection. Although the community administration supported most of the residents’ initiatives, the neighborhood cafés are independent entities that operate as a “cooperative association,​” making it the residents’ responsibility to ensure the project is financially balanced.

Since cooperative associations cannot receive loans guaranteed by the state, it was decided to raise money via the vouchers. The café’s managers hope to raise NIS 100,000 by the end of March. 

Get a job

The municipality this week approved a new employment area to be established in the Issawiya Arab neighborhood, which will include about 90,000 square meters for commercial, employment, light industry and craft purposes. 

It is important to note that part of the decision stems from the neighborhood's location, as an area immediately accessible from Road No. 1 and from the eastern ring road that will connect it in the future to many city neighborhoods. This project is part of a plan promoting a comprehensive master plan for Issawiya, including this new employment area. The new plan will enable new tower construction with about 90,000 square meters available for recreational, leisure and recreational uses – cafés and restaurants, shops, gyms, banquet halls – in parallel with the establishment of vocational training colleges and offices for large and small businesses. Additionally, new access to the neighborhood from Road No. 1 is being regulated; and last but not least, the project will also include some shady and pleasant spaces, including sidewalks and a boardwalk. 

The project is part of the plans of the local planning and construction committee, but is promoted by the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry through the East Jerusalem Development Company, as part of an overall move to improve the supply, level and variety of jobs for the city's Arab population, with the intention of providing adequate jobs for women as well.

Queen Esther and multi-language

In what language was the original Book of Esther written? Hebrew of course, but it turns out that some other languages used in that period can be found there too. Scholars at the Hebrew Language Academy think the Book of Esther was written especially for lovers of the language, or at least for the curious among them. The scroll has a wealth of special words borrowed from the Persian language, many of which are incomprehensible, unclear and rarely used. This year, in honor of Purim, the Hebrew Language Academy invites the public to participate in an online lecture by its president Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher, on the book’s languages.

It takes place on Sunday, March 13, at 6 p.m.; participation is free but conditional on preregistration at the Language Academy website. (hebrew-academy.org.il)