Grapevine: Much that is positive

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MAYOR MOSHE LION on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
MAYOR MOSHE LION on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

NATIVE BORN Melbournites were the minority in a group of 17 women from Melbourne on a Momentum trip to Israel, hosted at a Shabbat of a Lifetime lunch last Saturday by Yocheved and Moshe Zemel, who are from America. More than half of the Momentum group were originally from South Africa and the former Soviet Union. Interacting like sisters, although most did not know each other before, they pledged to continue to meet on a regular basis after they return home. Some wept as they described highlights of the trip, which for most had a positive impact in terms of self-awareness, sharing, and spirituality.

They found much that was positive in Israel, despite the demonstrations and disruptions.

Shabbat of a Lifetime supplied all the food, but its volunteers didn’t turn up to set the table and serve, so the Zemels enlisted the help of a couple of neighbors. And later, when things had to be cleared up, the guests all rose to help, even to the extent of removing the tablecloths. Everyone was happy to feel included.

For the Zemels, who frequently host Shabbat of a Lifetime, it is always a learning experience, which helps to reinforce their own love for Israel.

Nides goes to the library

■ DURING HIS last few days in Israel, former US ambassador Tom Nides rushed around catching up with people and places. One of his final visits was to the National Library of Israel, which is in the final stage of construction. Accompanied by NLI chairman Sallai Meridor, CEO Oren Weinberg, rector Shai Nitzan, and international relations director Naomi Schacter, Nides, sporting a hard hat, took a tour of the magnificent reading halls, auditorium, galleries, and the automated robotic stacks already filled with 4.2 million books.

 YOSSI HAVILIO, deputy mayor and city councilor in the coalition’s non-haredi wing.  (credit: ISRAEL COHEN)
YOSSI HAVILIO, deputy mayor and city councilor in the coalition’s non-haredi wing. (credit: ISRAEL COHEN)

During the visit, Nides was presented with a facsimile of a 15th-century map from the Library’s Eran Laor Cartographic Collection, as well as a copy of a 1976 newspaper clipping about the Nides family from the Historical Jewish Press Collection. The opening ceremony for the new National Library is scheduled for mid-October, and the library will open to the public shortly thereafter.

Will Jerusalem have another Jerusalem-born mayor?

■ ISRAEL HAS had four Sabra presidents: Yitzhak Navon, Ezer, Weizman, Reuven Rivlin, and Isaac Herzog.

Sabra prime ministers have been Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Naftali Bennett, and Yair Lapid, with Netanyahu – who has been in and out of office and is presently in – serving more years in office than any other prime minister.

Although there have been a number of native-born Israelis who served as Jerusalem mayor, the only one actually born here was Nir Barkat. Although native Jerusalemites from across the political spectrum have served as deputy mayors, opposition leaders and faction heads, somehow they just didn’t have what it takes to win the public vote for mayor.

At this stage of the game, Moshe Lion, running for a second term, appears to have no rivals – but there may yet be a dark horse lurking in the wings.

Jerusalem's cleaners make messes

■ EVEN PEOPLE who don’t plan to vote for Lion in the October municipal elections admit that since he came into office, the city is cleaner, with more public toilets. But he should make sure that there is better coordination between street sweepers and the municipal workers who wash the street.

The water van with its powerful hose can be seen on city streets before street sweepers come on duty, but what’s even more disconcerting is that they come at a time of day when the city is already buzzing with residents on their way to work or school, and often enter one-way streets in reverse, spraying water in all directions. As for worker coordination, by the time they show up there are thin patches of mud all over the place due to the fact that leaves and dirt have not been swept up prior to the hosing. 

Jerusalem has often been compared to Chelm (the legendary Polish “city of fools” of Yiddish folklore), and this is but another example. 

Will Yossi Havillio run for mayor of Jerusalem?

■ DEPUTY MAYOR Yossi Havillio has not thrown his cap into the mayoral arena, though his campaign posters for re-election to the Jerusalem City Council suggest that he may. A lawyer by profession, he was formerly the head legal adviser for Jerusalem. Like many distinguished native-born Jerusalemites, he is an alumnus of the Gymnasia Rehavia, in addition to which he was a gold medal athlete in his youth, is a graduate of the Hebrew University, and worked as an intern for Yitzhak Zamir when the latter was attorney general. As legal adviser and attorney general for Jerusalem, Havillio frequently clashed with mayors Uri Lupolianski and Nir Barkat, especially on matters related to the LGBTQ community, which Havillio supports. He encouraged the annual Pride Parade and the operations of the LGBTQ Open House.

After leaving his position with the Jerusalem Municipality in 2011, Havillio opened his own law firm, offering legal advice to local councils. He also served as a pro bono legal adviser to various organizations and was involved in a series of controversial legal disputes related to the opening of restaurants and bars on Shabbath.

He has a lot going for him, should he decide to run for mayor, but the haredi community will largely vote against him. In 2017, he did run for mayor but then dropped out and endorsed Ofer Berkovitch, who suffered a narrow loss to Moshe Lion. In the final count, Lion scored 112,744 votes, while Berkovitch received 108,979. Berkovitch, who founded the Hitorerut Party, which was a constant thorn in Lion’s side, resigned from the city council toward the end of 2022.

What is Yitzhak Goldknopf doing to Jerusalem?

■ CAMPAIGNERS AGAINST mixing religion with politics can take example from the stand taken by Construction and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who is a Gerer Hassid. In Jewish tradition, the concept of dust to dust is very meaningful, and final resting places are in the earth, not in multi-level vaults in a cemetery wall where memorial plaques are uniform in size. But Goldknopf wants to expand cemeteries at the cost of land reserved for residential and public buildings. If, like some of his other colleagues in government, he can push through his own ideals – presumably on the instructions of the Gerer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter – residential complexes in Jerusalem will grow ever upwards to accommodate the burgeoning population. The more tall buildings there are, the less light there will be. It’s both fascinating and heartbreaking to see Jerusalem’s changing skyline. On Jaffa Road, Agrippas Street, and a few places elsewhere, one can still see one and two-story buildings, dwarfed by new ones of four, eight, 12, and even over 20 stories. It’s almost like the legendary staircase to heaven to witness the upward progress of construction despite forecasts of an impending earthquake in Jerusalem. The recent earthquake in Turkey should serve as a warning of what could happen here, but unfortunately it’s human nature not to take notice, until it’s too late.