Portraits for Rosh Hashana

Items of interest in the news this past year

SAFRA SQUARE is rocked by a new scandal every few years. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
SAFRA SQUARE is rocked by a new scandal every few years.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In addition to the traditional blessing of the Jewish New Year (Let the curses of last year end and let the blessings of the new year begin), In Jerusalem brings you a brief glimpse of the events, locations and people which made news on the local stage during the year ending next week.
The Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research
Nine candidates ran for the last mayoral elections (October 2018). While only one reached the finish line, there was another winner, albeit on a different level. During the election campaign, the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, under the leadership of Lior Schillat, became a beacon of involvement and clear information on a strictly academic level, yet never closed behind some ivory tower. The institute’s maps, analysis and deep understanding of the city’s different sectors enabled journalists, analysts and campaigners to better understand the capital, and helped prevent some of the usual stereotypes.
Schillat was the life and soul behind the effort, and he dragged scholars of the institute along with him, turning them into a lively part of the election process. Beside the large amount of material that was made available to everyone, Schillat also initiated a few events destined to increase the involvement of the city’s younger generation, helping many of them feel that the city was worthy of their struggle to make it a better place to live. The staff at the institute – scholars, experts in statistics and the best researchers in urbanism, environment and socio-economic issues – identified a large segment of the public eager to learn about the political map of the city.
 The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, a pioneer of authentic early music in Israel, was founded in 1989 by conductor and harpsichordist Dr. David Shemer. Since 2006, renowned maestro Andrew Parrott has served as the orchestra’s honorary conductor. The JBO hosts some of the world’s most prominent performers of early music every year. It performs at important festivals in Israel and abroad and is supported by the Jerusalem municipality.
Two months ago, this respectable orchestra experienced a traumatic situation, when a high-level official at Safra Square took the liberty of deciding for herself that the JBO would not play on Shabbat, and ordered the staff to cancel a concert three hours before it started. This occurred during an international festival that the orchestra runs every year, and though the whole program was approved by the responsible parties at the municipality as required by the rules, the official decided that this might raise the anger of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) on the City Council. She decided to cancel, and threatened that city’s support would be jeopardized if any mention of the cancellation order reached the Press. The concerts were canceled, causing harm and embarrassment to the JBO. All the haredi City Council members insist that they never requested the cancellation. The bullying high-ranking official is still in place.
Kosher, very kosher
He invites you to have a delicious Yemenite-style meal for Shabbat, but if you haven’t ordered before Shabbat, he won’t let you pay. A non-Jewish server will take your phone number and send you an SMS after Shabbat to arrange payment. Yonatan Vadai, the owner of the Bab el-Yaman Bar and vegetarian restaurant on Aza Street is not the first person in Jerusalem to challenge the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut certification authority and control, but Vadai took it one step further. Alternative kashrut services (originally created by Rabbi Aharon Leibowitz, a former City Council member on the Yerushalmi Party list) are today operated by Tzohar, a Modern-Orthodox group that respects the strict rules of kashrut, and yet works outside the framework of the rabbinate, which they accuse of corruption.
At Bab el-Yaman, Shabbat is strictly observed, but it is open, and religious and non-religious diners can share a meal there on the day of rest. What Vadai is doing is precisely what works in hotels that have the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut certificate, yet the rabbinate refuses, despite repeated attempts, including appeals to the court, to deliver a certificate to him. Vadai says he is stubborn enough to continue his struggle, “so that religious and seculars can sit together and enjoy a Shabbat meal with no desecration of the Holy Shabbat.”
Ramadan Dabbash – first swallow or prediction?
He was the first Arab resident of the city who dared to run with his own “My Jerusalem” list for City Council. His campaign focused on the need to change the strategy by which for decades east Jerusalemites threatened to boycott municipal elections. Yet this year, one man stood up to those factions and ran for City Council. Ramadan Dabash called for reducing criminality in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, and called for better education and more construction, inviting his fellows Palestinians to join him and “make history.”
Dabash hasn’t make it to the council yet. He was not shot in the head by radicals from Fatah or Hamas, as many expected. Nor was his car set on fire after he grabbed a little more than 4,500 votes. Dabash and his many supporters among Jewish residents are convinced that his bold step will not remain isolated and unique. They predict that in the next municipal elections, due for 2023, whether Dabash himself or another Arab resident will run for City Council, it will not be considered as something out of the ordinary.
Three in, one out – all together
Eliezer Rauchberger, Yohanan Weitzman, Yossi Daitch and Yitzhak Pindrus are members of the United Judaism party. The first three are at the Jerusalem City Council. Pindrus was there until last year. He is now an MK for the same party. They also represent, for the secular residents, everything they fear, namely a haredization of the city. Rauchberger, as deputy mayor and powerful president of the Local Planning and Construction Committee, and Yohanan Weitzman, are the men behind the repeated attempts to find a legal way to close down the First Station because of its activities on Shabbat, or at least to reduce them.
Yossi Daitch is the unfortunate former candidate for mayor who lost to Moshe Lion. He has remained on the City Council, though, in his coalition. As for Itzhak Pindrus, the major figure behind most of last year’s attempts by haredim to block what he calls “the continuous erosion of the status quo,” moved up to the Knesset, but remains deeply involved in Jerusalem’s affairs. Among the issues are Shabbat desecration; erosion of the status quo on religious-secular issues in the city’s public spaces; needs of the haredi sector in terms of housing adapted to their needs (Sukkah balconies, for example); and more educational institutions in order to face the growth of the sector. They are always in the news for being part of mayor Lion’s coalition, and all of them are prominent actors in the fragile framework of this city.
The pluralist trio
They came from different political backgrounds, but found themselves, after the October 2018 municipal elections, in Mayor Moshe Lion’s coalition, though they didn’t plan to support him from the beginning. Yossi Havilio, who resigned from the mayoral candidate and gave his support to Ofer Berkovitch, represented the interests of the secular sector. Laura Wharton has been representing Meretz at City Council for more than 10 years, yet accepted to Lion’s invitation to join the coalition. As for Fleur Hassan-Nahum, after her original Yerushalmi Party list was liquidated, moved in as number 2 with candidate Ze’ev Elkin, and after Elkin’s defeat, accepted Lion’s invitation to join him as deputy mayor.
Havilio is a traditionalist and Wharton is close to the Reform movement but both are alert to the secular sector’s rights, and Hassan-Nahum, who is Modern orthodox, in fact, represents the pluralist faction of this council, an aspect very important for Lion, who did not want to be seen as a mayor in the hands of the haredi sector. In some ways, Havilio and Wharton balance the influence of the haredi quartet mentioned above, attentive to putting breaks on any initiative that could harm the needs of secular residents. As for Hassan-Nahum, she focuses on international relations for Jerusalem to the Jewish and non-Jewish world. She also is not part of the haredi benches. As a result, Lion can present his coalition, despite its 17 haredi members, as a pluralist one.
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount is the holiest site for the Jews, the third for Islam. It is the only place in the world that religious history scholar Illeada Mircea has named “Axis Mundi,” the place where there is a direct link between Earth and heaven, the utmost spiritual place and the one closest to the Divine. But it is also a place that has been compared to the atomic reactor of the world, the most sensitive, the most explosive.
Jews are prevented from even uttering anything silently that can be interpreted as a prayer, and yet the number of Jews visiting the esplanade is growing day by day. From time to time the tension reaches new peaks, ending up with riots, injuries and worse. It is almost always in the news, here and around the world. Recently, an exhibition called The Mount at the Tower of David Museum has been dedicated to this unique site. Curated by Shimon Lev it also includes visits to the Temple Mount.
While visits of Jews to the holy site are still controversial, a growing number of haredim, long time fiercely opposed to these visits, continue to come from across the whole country. There were 1,779 such visits this year on Tisha Be’av, compared to 1,440 last year.
Corruption in local and regional councils is, sad to say, still prevalent. Once in a few years, Safra Square is shocked by a new scandal. High-ranking officials are detained by the police, mostly after a silent investigation, and things end up in a trial, followed by an engagement of the mayor to “clean the stables.” Most of these cases happened at the Local Planning and Construction Committee, where the big money and profits may be found.
In 2018, close to the municipal elections, then deputy mayor Meir Turgeman (and president of the committee) was arrested, after a 10-month investigation and brought to court (his trial is still ongoing). A month ago, another Turgeman, Zion, CEO of the Ariel auxiliary company for culture and events, was arrested on suspicions of fraud and corruption. A few years ago, the Versailles collapse caused 23 deaths and dozens of injured and traumatized, as a result of corrupt construction permitting, which allowed the use of the so-called Pal-Kal method of construction. As with the curse of Sisyphus, corruption continually needs to be pushed against and constantly rolls down upon us again.