This week in Jerusalem; A round-up of city affairs

What has been going on in Israel's capital this week.

LAST FRIDAY, intermittent rain and hail crashed against the erratic skies of the Holy City.’  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
LAST FRIDAY, intermittent rain and hail crashed against the erratic skies of the Holy City.’
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Unexpected guests in Baka
The city engineer issued a stop-work order earlier this week (Monday morning) against a Talmud Torah for 70 students and the Hebron Yeshiva, both haredi institutions that entered a compound on Gad Street in the Baka neighborhood without a permit, in an attempt to open two schools. The stop-work order is a temporary step pending further investigation.
Furniture and equipment for the students who planned to live in the building – and the students themselves – began to appear very late this past Saturday night, a move noticed by several neighborhood residents, among them activist Anat Mufkadi.
Beyond the fact that new educational institutions must be planned and approved in advance at the local council level, the presence of a new yeshiva threatens the fragile balance between the neighborhood’s secular, national-religious and haredi sectors. It is also odd that the institutions attempted to make the move in the dead of night. Mufkadi explained in a Facebook post that while she is not opposed to haredim living there, it is wrong to disturb the current balance without regulated coordination. Moreover, because there is already a critical shortage of public facilities for the needs of Baka residents, it is illogical to hand over this large building to institutions providing services to residents coming from other neighborhoods.
Hitorerut city council member Adir Schwarz checked into the matter, pointing out that the yeshiva didn’t coordinate its entry with the local council as required. Sources at Safra Square are checking into the matter to reach the best solution. Until a few years ago the building in question was a property of the Jewish Agency, which used it as a Hebrew ulpan for olim, but it was sold two years ago to a private entrepreneur.
Ready for the winter malaise
The coronavirus is still here, but the Health Ministry is already concerned about what the looming autumn and winter will bring in terms of seasonal diseases.
On Sunday evening, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and his staff visited Shaare Zedek Medical Center and pledged that the number of beds in the ICU will be doubled before the coming winter. According to Edelstein, 12 beds will be added in the coming days to the 14 already existing in the ICU of Shaare Zedek, in preparation for the winter flu season and the ongoing coronavirus.
This is regarded as a first – and modest – step toward improving the conditions in the country’s public hospitals.
Construction fever
The Interior Ministry’s Subcommittee on Appeals at the District Committee for Planning hasn’t yet published its decision regarding the Rehes Lavan construction project in the city’s southwest. Significant objections were submitted by residents and environmental organizations, mostly focusing on the fact that one of Jerusalem’s last green lungs will be destroyed if the project is implemented.
Yet this doesn’t seem to have prevented the municipality from taking further steps to implement the project, which includes more than 5,000 housing units. Earlier this week, the municipality issued a first tender for entrepreneurs to present their offers for the construction there.
The subcommittee’s decision is expected to be published within a month from now.
Saved by the Americans
The Aliyah and Integration Ministry has agreed to pay the US Embassy NIS 100 million to rent the Diplomat Hotel for the next three years.
The Diplomat Hotel was transformed years ago into a housing project for seniors – former Russian citizens who made aliyah and were housed there, for lack of any other permanent solution for them. The majority of the 307 senior residents who reside there now (down from 513 two years ago) have no family and are almost totally dependent on government and municipal support for their housing, social and welfare needs.
However, the Americans purchased the hotel building for their own needs, since it is very close to their embassy and they expected the tenants to leave when the contract between the government, tenants and municipality ended.
While the Americans’ plan has been public knowledge for more than two years, nothing was done by the Israeli government to solve the problem. As the Treasury and Aliyah and Integration ministries played ping-pong on the issue, wasting serious time, these seniors lived in anxiety, not knowing what would become of them. Two years later, D-Day arrived without a solution.
A plot in Pisgat Ze’ev was approved by the municipality for a new housing complex for seniors unable to afford rent on the free market, but the Treasury hasn’t yet approved the budget for the project.
Three weeks ago, at the very last moment, and, according to Safra Square sources, mostly because there was a sense of embarrassment between the Israeli government and its American counterparts, a solution was agreed upon. The government – the same government that was unable to approve the budget for the construction of the project in Pisgat Ze’ev – has come up with NIS 100 million to pay rent to the Americans for the next three years.
Confusing COVID concerns
Some members of the anti-Zionist Eda Haredit have accused Haim Epstein, a representative of the Peleg Yerushalmi non-hassidic Lithuanian faction at city council of collaborating with the municipality to harm their religious lifestyle.
Epstein said he is aware of pashkevilim (posters) that have appeared recently in Mea She’arim targeting him, but he rejects the accusations.
“They are innocent and honest people, but they are living in a closed society, not fully aware of the reality outside,” explained Epstein.
The Eda Haredit's central complaint is that the municipality is planning and financing a series of events that to some degree transgress the Shabbat, and they feel that Epstein – by being a city councilman – is in favor of these activities. The accusation further hints that Epstein is doing so in order to get money from the municipality, although he is a member of the council that doesn’t receive any salary or benefits.
Epstein discussed some of the special difficulties Mea She’arim residents face as a result of the pandemic.
“It is a terrible period for all of us as observant Jews, having to renounce large communal prayers, tishes (gatherings) with the hassidic rabbis, activities in the synagogues and yeshivot and more because of the virus threat. Many cannot accept that now of all times, when such a threat faces us, we are requested not to pray together in our synagogues. So I am an easy target – but I understand them, these are very disconcerting times.”
Sources close to the Eda Haredit say that some inside the Mea She’arim neighborhood defy Health Ministry rules and keep synagogues and yeshivot open.
In this oppressive COVID reality, planning municipality-financed cultural events that might desecrate Shabbat is just – for some people – another cause for concern.