THIS WEEK IN JERUSALEM: Do not forget us

According to Ministry of Health figures, some 1,000 people, mostly women, are engaged in prostitution in the city.

SCENE FROM a brothel in Naples, Italy, 1945. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
SCENE FROM a brothel in Naples, Italy, 1945.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Do not forget us
The municipality has yet to implement a national program which works through local and regional councils to rescue women and men from prostitution, notwithstanding that a budget has been approved for the task. According to Ministry of Health figures, some 1,000 people, mostly women, are engaged in prostitution in the city. The program has two objectives: to offer medical support and follow up, including ambulatory and emergency cases, and a day center for rehabilitation for those who wish to step out of the world’s oldest business. This is a national scale program to help those who have fallen into prostitution. It works on two levels – helping and supporting people are still in the situation, and rehabilitating those who have quit being sex workers. The program faces the changes occurring in the prostitution scene. The Internet and technology have made it more difficult to identify and then reach out to prostitutes. In regards to the situation in Jerusalem, no one can explain why the program hasn’t yet begun though NIS 800,000 was allocated last December to open the center. Nor has the vehicle destined to provide medical help on the several identified locations where prostitution takes place begun to operate. It turns out that all are held up while the Ministry of Welfare prepares a tender for operators of the center. The tender has yet to be published. For now, the only address for prostitutes seeking support is the Shelter, located downtown. But its services are aimed at homeless young girls up to the age of 22. According to some nonprofit organizations, the more serious problem is among older women, up to 50 years old, who have to find a way to step out of prostitution by themselves.
Protest in a pool
Residents of Pisgat Zeev who waited years for their neighborhood public swimming pool were disappointed to discover that now that it has finally opened one-time entry tickets are not available and they must purchase a subscription to swim. Seasonal subscriptions ranges from NIS 400 to NIS 3,000. Residents tried unsuccessfully to convince the management to change the admission policy. Last week  they began a petition, and within a few days more than 1,000 residents signed the document, which calls for various payment options as well as single ticket admissions. It’s odd that the new public swimming pool, which is part of the local council and neighborhood community center, doesn’t offer affordable tickets.
Whose holy place is it?
Karliner hassidim and Sephardi yeshiva students are disputing the right to erect a large tent for the coming Tishrei holy days in a disputed plot near the tomb of Shimon Ha-Tzadik in Sheikh Jarrah. The issue has become so heated that Rabbi Itzhak Cohen, Sephardi rabbi of the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood, burst in tears at the last Shabbat service and revealed that he has received a death threat. Two Shas MKs, who consider the neighborhood their stronghold, declared that they will protect the site with their bodies. Last year, the Karliner hassidim obtained the municipal permit to erect the tent, where hundreds of worshipers  gathered for slichot prayers before Rosh Hashana. But this year, neighborhood Sephardi yeshiva students requested the site one month earlier than the Karliner hassidim. By now, the struggle over the plot has become an open war, with the highest rabbis of Shas, MKs and the police involved. The Sephardi students recently installed cameras at the site, and reject accusations from the Karliners that they vandalized a Karliner venue.
Jerusalem Cabaret
On Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m., the Silo café – an outdoor venue adjoining the First Station parking lot – is presenting a sing-along evening with songs from Cabaret, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Adam’s Family, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and more, emceed by Yosale, Jerusalemites’ favorite drag queen and comedian. Organizers promise a cabaret evening focusing on accepting the other and celebrating our differences. Guests are invited to dress up and join in the fun. Advanced tickets are NIS 30 shekels. Tickets at the door are NIS 40.
When nature calls
The municipality has placed the need for more public toilets on its agenda, and is planning to add more bathrooms to the 52 loos across the city. As well, they will be kept open into the wee hours. The NIS 5 million allocated for the project includes improved maintenance and cleaning. That is a part of the larger drive launched by Mayor Moshe Lion to bring a “revolution” to the cleanliness of the city. Other improvements will include emptying garbage bins on Saturdays nights and installing toilets that are accessible for persons with limited mobility.
Days of wrath: Looking back at voting complexities within haredi society
The consternation over Tuesday’s general election, the second in five months, was deeply felt in Jerusalem’s haredi sector. Whether the ultra-Orthodox truly felt their way of life was at risk or it was a voting gimmick, the reaction of the political leadership in that sector was strong and vocal.
It included appeals on the Internet and the social media – a novelty in itself in the haredi society, massive street rallies, and many thousands of “pashkevilim” plastered on walls across haredi neighborhoods. Neturei Karta zealots held outdoor rallies in Geula and Mea Shearim calling to boycott the election. Those meetings were rapidly answered by calls from the radical “Peleg” movement who are not part of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta but boycott national elections because they are opposed to the military draft. However, this stream does participate in the municipal elections, and has one seat at the city council.
The calls for boycott were overshadowed by the large assemblies, some of them breaking the rules of what is permitted during elections, urging haredi men and women to vote.
In Jerusalem, 410,000 residents are eligible to vote at the city’s 666 polls. Turn out was high in the haredi sector, which constitutes 39% of the Jewish population of the city, making Jerusalem the largest haredi city in the country. For both the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, the goal was to reach the highest possible turnout as they considered the election critical to what they call “the survival of the Torah world.” At one of these assemblies, MKs from United Torah Judaism declared “These elections are just about the question whether Israel should have a government free of haredi representation or not.” As for its counterpart, Shas, its message sounded no less like a “May Day” alert, including a video of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s wife weeping on camera, and warning that each vote – for Shas – could serve as a ticket for the up-coming days of penitential prayers towards the Tishrei Holidays.
But the haredi world is hardly monolithic, as reflected in the percentage of turnout.
In Mea She’arim, home of many anti-Zionist radicals who oppose participation in the “impure” elections, voter turnout was 35% in the last April elections. But in other haredi neighborhoods the picture is different. Ramat Shlomo and Ramot reached up to 87% while in Romema and Har Nof three quarters of eligible voters came to the polling stations.
To understand this complex haredi society, one must distinguish between Litvaks and hassidim, and between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. While looking monolithic from the outside, the haredi world is divided by many nuances between those who are pragmatic and those who are radical. Age is also an issue. But the biggest divide is between those who remain totally immersed in their traditional way of life, and those who have however imperfectly entered mainstream Israeli society. This includes engaging in academic studies, entering the working society and enlisting in the IDF.
It is the latter issue of military conscription which weighs the heaviest in haredi society.
The election campaign in the haredi sector was scrutinized by the secular media, which was keen to draw attention to violations of the law. For example, a Shas representative at city council tried to cancel the ban on residents with an outstanding debt on their Arnona tax from leaving the country. But after city council member Yossi Havilio objected that municipal services may not be linked – as it appeared on the Shas announcement – with the electioneering, the tax break was canceled. Another illegal election ploy involved an ostensible slichot gathering in Pisgat Ze’ev, which was financed by the municipality as a cultural event. Ironically, that mass event was boycotted by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef because men and women weren’t strictly separated.