Grapevine: Running roughshod

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 NOW-MAYOR Moshe Lion campaigns at the shuk for the 2018 race. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
NOW-MAYOR Moshe Lion campaigns at the shuk for the 2018 race.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

SHABBAT ROSH Hodesh is a lively affair in most synagogue services, especially when the person leading the service chooses to sing Carlebach melodies and clap his hands to add to the spirit. That’s what David Glaser, who led the morning service at Hazvi Yisrael Synagogue, did last Saturday in the presence of a congregation that was numerically back to normal, though everyone was wearing a mask except when leading part of the service or reading from the Torah. 

The reader on this occasion was Mayor Moshe Lion, who likes to wander to different synagogues within reasonably comfortable walking distance of his home. Sometimes he reads from the Torah. Sometimes he leads the service, and sometimes he does both. 

Some Torah readers leave immediately after they finish reading to go to other congregations, but Lion, though looking frequently at his watch, stayed for the kiddush.

Synagogue committee chairwoman Marsha Wachsman said that few cities could boast a mayor who can also read from the Torah. Perhaps she overlooked those cities that have a religiously observant mayor, or one who comes from a religious background.

■ APROPOS LION, there was a full-page reference to what he’s doing in Jerusalem in last weekend’s edition of TheMarker, the financial supplement of Haaretz. The bulk of the publication was devoted to the rapidly changing and ever expensive Tel Aviv, which was headlined as “the dear city,” which was a deliberate wordplay on the cost of living and what the city means to people who live there.

Other cities and towns also received coverage, but nowhere near as much as Tel Aviv. Jerusalem Municipality CEO Itzik Larry, who was interviewed, said that the capital is reinventing and renewing itself. He credited Lion with establishing a clear, decisive policy, with the aim of making Jerusalem one of the most successful cities in the world.

Some highways can be made wider by cutting into the hillside, as has been done on parts of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway, but in a built-up area, there isn’t much that can be done to broaden the road, especially if the pavement is already narrow. Even in short, narrow streets, Lion keeps pushing for multistory residential and office towers. If there was only one car to every unit, it would still make traffic more chaotic than it is already.

It’s true that a lot of people are riding bikes, but unless Lion does something about fixing the roads with their uneven, cracked and patchwork surfaces, people will stop riding bikes, because cycling will become a hazardous exercise. As it is bike riders have fatal accidents. If the situation gets any worse, they will decide that it’s safer to invest in a car, even if it means being frequently caught in the snarls of traffic congestion.

With so much urban renewal, Jerusalem will lose its unique character. But the worst part is that Lion runs roughshod over the wishes of whole neighborhoods of people. It doesn’t matter if the majority of residents in a particular street or neighborhood don’t want a light rail, or don’t want high-rise apartment complexes on their street, or don’t want to have part of their neighborhood rezoned for other purposes. If Lion decides on changing something in that neighborhood, it makes no difference how loud or violent the protests may be; Lion will promptly go ahead and do his thing.

Bad enough that this is a blight on democracy, but worse still it ruins the character of the city and erases its uniqueness. The next municipal elections are in 2023. There is no guarantee that Lion will be reelected, but there is a guarantee that Jerusalem will be left with the mess he brought upon the city. Already there is evidence that some of the construction projects will not be continued in the foreseeable future. Investors ran out of money, and so a partially completed building will stand like an eyesore in a street where the neighbors didn’t want it in the first place, and all that will happen is that homeless people will take shelter there when it’s raining.

■ IT’S BEEN a while since cars lining King David Street were mainly those with white number plates – meaning that they were vehicles belonging to or licensed to a diplomat.

The occasion was the vin d’honneur reception for new ambassadors, whereby they get to meet their colleagues as well as some other people with whom they will be in frequent contact.

Among the non-diplomats gathered at the King David hotel was venture capitalist and OurCrowd founder Jon Medved, who was there at the invitation of Tom Nides, the new ambassador of the United States, who happens to be a friend of long standing. Medved, who is an American Israeli, has the highest regard for Nides, and says that Israel has been lucky in recent years with the caliber of the people who have come here as ambassadors of the United States. Even if one doesn’t agree with their politics, he said, as individuals each has been a fine human being, with a good brain and a lot of sensitivity, and Nides fits into that category.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, December 5, 2021.  (credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, December 5, 2021. (credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ)

■ AMONG THE criticisms to which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been subjected, is the fact that he does not live in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, but has chosen to remain at his private home in Ra’anana.

Yet people living in the neighborhood of the official residence are delighted with the peace and calm in the area and the freedom of movement. There are no demonstrations – mass or otherwise – and security is at a minimum. The security booths on Aza Road, Balfour and Smolenskin streets are empty most of the time, and there are no clusters of security personnel at the Smolenskin/Balfour intersection by the residence. Motorized vehicles do not have to come to a halt when the prime minister is coming or going, and pedestrians are not stopped in their tracks, sometimes waiting for as long as 10 minutes for the prime minister to enter or leave the residence. The restoration of freedom is almost intoxicating.

Unfortunately, some of the loss of it has rubbed off onto residents of Ra’anana, but the consolation for them is that under the present system, the prime minister’s term of office will come to an end in the not-too-distant future.

■ IF THERE is such a thing as social energy, one of the people exuding it is Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who seems to be everywhere, and maintains a vivacious personality throughout, hugging and kissing people, engaging in spontaneous conversation and simultaneously keeping her eyes and ears open to matters that should be of concern to the city council.

She is among the candidates for the chairmanship of the Jewish Agency, the decision on which has been delayed several times. If, in the final analysis, she is chosen to be the first woman to lead the agency, it will be a great loss for the Jerusalem Municipality, but a tremendous gain for world Jewry.

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