This week in Jerusalem: Synagogues here, synagogues there

A weekly round-up of city affairs.

 NETIV PLUS: Good news for drivers. (photo credit: Dan Gold/Unsplash)
NETIV PLUS: Good news for drivers.
(photo credit: Dan Gold/Unsplash)

Synagogues here, synagogues there

“The revolution of the synagogues of the Lithuanian community in Jerusalem”: That is how the haredi press in the capital presents the decision of the municipality’s Local Planning and Building Committee to approve four new synagogues. The committee, headed by Deputy Mayor Eliezer Rauchberger (United Torah Judaism), approved last week the granting of building permits to another four synagogues for the community.

Among them is a synagogue for the Bnei Torah community, which split from UTJ a few years ago. The synagogues are located in four neighborhoods, two of them still considered pluralist: Kiryat Yovel, Pisgat Ze’ev, Neveh Ya’acov and Ramat Shlomo.

One more for the north

A new bus line, No. 89, operated by the Extra company, will, as of Friday, February 17, connect the Central Bus Station area (from the Bridge of Strings) to Har Hotzvim via Romema and Geula.

In addition, the frequency of Bus No. 36 connecting Ramot and Geula through the Bar-Ilan intersection will be increased.

As part of the service upgrade, Bus No. 59, which operated between the neighborhoods of Romema and Geula, will be split into two separate lines: No. 89 will connect the bridge to Har Hotzvim via Romema and Geula, and the shortened No. 59 will operate from Neveh Ya’acov to Geula and Strauss Street. As of March, No. 59 will begin to operate in the shortened format, and No. 89 will be operated at full frequency.

An Egged bus in front of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)An Egged bus in front of the Jerusalem Central Bus Station (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Lonely but not alone

The Michael Levin Base which supports lone soldiers and National Service women, has moved to 4 Eliyahu Mani Street. On February 17, it is set to celebrate the new space and its third anniversary with an official mezuzah ceremony.

The base was able to secure a suitable new space close to its current location, as it was essential to remain in the center of town and shuk area, which many lone soldiers frequent.

The new home for lone soldiers will occupy over 210 square meters of space, as well as a small area outside for BBQ, with a main room, twice the size of the current one, and therefore able to host double the number of lone soldiers for events, especially Friday night meals.

During the three years the center has been open, over 1,800 lone soldiers and National Service women have used it, and the expectation is that with the new facility, this number will grow exponentially.

For those interested in memorial dedications:

The lady is homeless

The Lady Davis Amal School, recently uprooted from its Kiryat Yovel location, hasn’t yet reached a safe harbor, as the municipality’s decision to move it to the building of the Denmark School in the Katamonim has raised an uproar among residents there. Their main protest is that the Katamonim neighborhood already suffers from a lack of educational facilities, and there is no logic in bringing in a school that does not serve the children of the neighborhood.

Members of the community administration wrote to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, stating that this is not the first time that programs have been promoted without transparency and without the participation of the Katamonim community administration. They requested to stop the process immediately, arguing that the neighborhood is full of children but lacks public buildings, especially schools. They added that public areas in the neighborhood have become a trash can, while local children study in temporary buildings that are not suitable for the Jerusalem weather.

No strike this week

The strike that was planned to take place this week in the afternoon settings of the community administration kindergartens was canceled after the Jerusalem Regional Labor Court accepted the injunction request submitted by the municipality and community administrations.

The court sent the parties – the after-school workers’ committee and the municipality and the community administrations – to intensive negotiations and stated that if agreements are not reached in two weeks, the union could shut down the after-school activities for three days, as planned.

Lane one for two

Good news for drivers. As of this week, those traveling to Jerusalem may use the Netiv Plus fast lane on Highway 1. Travel times to the capital will thus be shortened.

Per Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s decision, vehicles with two passengers (driver and passenger) or more are allowed to travel on Netiv Plus on Highway 1 to Jerusalem, from the Daniel Junction to the Harel Junction. Lowering the number of required passengers from three to two is intended to improve the efficiency of the lane and increase the number of users during rush hour.

Netiv Plus on Highway 1 is active between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. The rest of the day, the lane is open to all road users, regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle.

Netiv Plus currently serves about 130 buses and about 300 private vehicles per hour. Lowering the required number of passengers from three to two will increase the use of the road by up to about 500 vehicles per hour and is expected to reduce traffic in the other lanes.

No demolition today

Earlier this week, the police froze the demolition of the illegal building in Wadi Kadum in the Silwan neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The demolition order for the large building built on land designated for public needs (a soccer field for the community) is the continuation of many years of litigation between the municipality and the developer who constructed the building.

The terrorist attack in the Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood last week gave National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir an opportunity to return and promise that illegal buildings would be destroyed on his watch. Thus the building, in which 11 families live – a total of about 100 people – made headlines again.

After the announcement of the intention to immediately carry out the demolition order, left-wing organizations operating in the city, as well as foreign media, exerted pressure on the government to stop the demolition.

Sources say that even the police were not enthusiastic about the idea of carrying out a demolition of this magnitude, especially at a time of rising tension in the Palestinian street, and the fact that 500 policemen would be required to secure the demolition added to the pressure.

Mayor Moshe Lion expressed his reservations about carrying out the demolition at this time. From there, it was a short way to the Prime Minister’s Office, which on Monday morning ordered to cancel the order until further notice. 

The Blue Line goes blue

The first signs of construction on the Emek Refaim section of the Jerusalem light rail’s Blue Line have already appeared – including municipal notices and even the marking of trees for uprooting. 

Residents who oppose the plan still hope to stop the construction, or at least bring about a significant change in the outline plan, such as using guided buses (“trackless trams”) instead of streetcars on rails, which requires extensive infrastructure work. The fear is that these works will continue well beyond the two years the municipality is promising, and in the meantime, the entire economic structure of the renowned street will be destroyed. Businesses will be closed and, even after the construction is completed, it is feared that the area will not recover.

The trackless option was brought up during a recent visit to the area by Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud), but so far there has been no announcement that anyone is rethinking the issue. Owner of the popular Caffit restaurant, Yossi Altaratz, who is a member of the Likud Party and one of the leaders of the resistance to the project, is scheduled to meet with the minister next week in hopes of persuading her to reevaluate the idea. 

Meanwhile, representatives of the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan team surveyed the Chinese trackless ART (autonomous rail rapid transit) system in December to check out its suitability for Jerusalem’s public transportation network. According to their findings, due to topographical challenges in several sections of the city, the trackless tram’s existing technology would not be compatible. 

Moreover, in general, operating the ART system in Jerusalem would require an upgrade to its braking system and regenerative drive. These upgrades have yet to be tested, and it’s not clear what their financial and technical implications are. The ART operates according to Chinese regulations that have not yet been standardized in Europe, let alone Israel. 

Another issue that came up is capacity. The official capacity of an ART vehicle is 240 passengers per car, calculated via China’s standard formula of eight passengers per one square meter. The capacity formula for Israel, however (which is similar to European standards), is four passengers per one sq.m. According to this calculation, the capacity of an ART vehicle is about 160 passengers in a single vehicle (double that of an articulated bus). But since the expected capacity of the Blue Line is between 2,000 passengers during the morning rush hour and 3,000 passengers during the afternoon peak hours, about 25 ART cars would be required at the busiest hour to meet the expected demands. The significance of the number of vehicles means the ART system would not be able to take advantage of the transit signal priority techniques given to public transportation vehicles. 

Lastly,  ART technology will only be possible on a route where there currently are no tracks, so it would only be able to operate in the southern section between Malha and the Khan/First Station, and not along the whole Blue Line. Stay tuned. ❖