Grapevine, November 6, 2020: Back to school... again

The movers and shakers of Israeli society

Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Israelis return to school amid coronavirus concerns, September 1, 2020
November 1 was not only a back-to-school day, but also in many cases a back-to-work day and a back-to-freedom-of-movement day. Following a slight easing of restrictions last week, the most important being the cancellation of the 1-kilometer-from-home limit, a lot of Jerusalemites were still cautious about using public transport and going shopping in their local supermarket or at Mahaneh Yehuda.

On Thursday, there were still some vendors and shoppers missing from the shuk but on Friday some of the absent stallholders were back, and there were quite a lot of shoppers. Despite the lockdown, there were vendors of nonessential merchandise who were open for business almost throughout, despite the fact that they were not selling food or pharmaceuticals. Police apparently turned a blind eye to people selling clothing, footwear and disposables. Some such shops and stalls were open not only in the shuk but also nearby, on Jaffa Road.
Likewise, two large discount stores that stand opposite each other on Jaffa Road were open throughout. Admittedly their diverse range of merchandise – mainly household goods – does include a minimal offering of electrical and electronic products, but not enough to justify permitting these stores to remain open when other stores selling household utensils had to remain closed. A King George Avenue store selling sports shoes was open throughout, while other downtown shoe stores obeyed lockdown regulations.

People who stayed home and are only just beginning to wander through the center of town will be surprised by the number of familiar stores that have closed down and now have “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs. In several cases, particularly on Ben-Yehuda Street, premises have been gutted to make way for new enterprises.

At 6 Ben-Yehuda, a large new hotel, designed by Shapiro Architects and under construction by Mohammed Hassan of Like Me Ltd., might go unnoticed due to the narrow entranceway, which is similar to that of the relatively new Ibis Hotel at 4 Ben-Yehuda Street. Several new boutique hotels are either in the process of completion or which are actually transformations of buildings that were previously shops or offices or both.
Apparently, a lot of investors believe that once the pandemic is history, Jerusalem will enjoy a boom in tourism.

Significant progress has been made on the large luxury Intercontinental Hotel on King George Avenue, across the road from the Jewish Agency; and on Ahad Ha’am Street, the crumbling President Hotel and the adjacent, long-vacated premises of the Israel Coins and Medals Corporation, which was part of the original hotel structure, are finally showing signs of urban renewal. A safety fence has been built around the exterior of the building, which for more than two decades was a source of conflict between the Africa Israel Group headed by Lev Leviev and the Jerusalem Municipality.

Built in 1954, the hotel, the first in Jerusalem with a swimming pool, in its heyday catered to diplomats and other dignitaries, including prime minister David Ben-Gurion. The municipality wanted Africa Israel to build a new modern luxury hotel on the site, but Leviev wanted to build a residential complex. In 2014 they compromised on a hotel plus residential complex, but nothing materialized from the agreement. With the glut of construction going on around the city, it seems that the time for change has come to Ahad Ha’am.

■ THE NEXT light rail battle will be with the residents of Mea She’arim, where  there are bound to be mass demonstrations. The argument that the light rail will bring more people and more business to the area doesn’t wash with them. They don’t want their neighborhood to be invaded by secular people whose attire and behavior are offensive to the haredi lifestyle. They want to keep their neighborhood to themselves and maintain it like some legendary European shtetl. They’ve accepted cars, buses, kosher cellphones and computers, but that’s about as far as they’re willing to go. Mayor Moshe Lion is going to have a big problem on his hands.

■ HANUKKAH IS just around the corner. Supermarkets and pastry shops are already displaying jelly donuts and chocolate “coins” and Judaica stores are filling their windows with hanukkiot and dreidels.

Barbara Shaw, who specializes in unique, sometimes off-the-wall giftware inspired by both religious and secular Jewish life, also runs a blog in which she explains the origins of the foods and symbols of Hanukkah that she uses for her extensive Hanukkah range of home and personal accessories. Her store is in Emek Refaim.