THIS WEEK IN JERUSALEM: Real estate for education

A dramatic change in the attitude of the municipality toward haredi education has generated a lot of criticism.

Moshe Lion, 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Moshe Lion, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Real estate for education
A dramatic change in the attitude of the municipality toward haredi education has generated a lot of criticism. So far, the majority of ultra-Orthodox schools at all grades are categorized as “recognized but not official,” since educational institutions in that sector are operated by nonprofit associations.
By law, the state budgets up to 75% of the needs of these schools. The rest is funded by private organizations. However, so far, municipal funds have not included the cost of buildings, which instead are currently rented. As a result, some haredi schools are housed in less-than-ideal sanitary conditions, in parking lots underneath buildings, in warehouses or other makeshift locations.
It remains unclear if the municipality’s handing over of 131 classrooms – in six buildings at a cost of NIS 210 million – to the haredi educational administration indicates a radical change or just a one-time decision for this school year. The classrooms have been given to four girls’ seminaries, one elementary school for girls and a Talmud Torah elementary school for boys. While there is an understanding that as the haredi sector grows, it’s the duty of the municipality to see that all children study under the best possible conditions, but pluralist members of Mayor Moshe Lion’s coalition are concerned that the move changes the rules of the game. City Council member Laura Wharton (Meretz) pointed out that equivalent institutions in the public religious and secular streams do not obtain the same conditions.
Changing direction
The adoption of Hebrew and Israeli curriculum in Arab educational institutions has risen by 20% within the last year, according to figures provided by the municipality, a larger-than-ever increase. No less than 63 classes at different grades have added Israeli curriculum with the opening of this school year. The change allows students in these schools to take Israeli matriculation test, or bagrut, a step that will enable them to enter Israeli academic institutions instead of just Palestinian ones, as has been the case until now.
The trend began a few years ago but has become more evident this year. This means that some 1,700 young Palestinian students will be studying Hebrew this year. The change will be felt in the city’s academic institutions, with an expected 30% growth – from 270 last year to 350 students this year – in the number of Palestinian students studying the language. Safra Square is aware of the trend, and expects it to continue.
One source at City Hall said things began to change very slightly a few years ago, when the municipality tried to find solutions to violence among youths in the Arab sector. One idea was to keep schools open until 6:00 p.m. for sports and enrichment programs, without additional fees. Work done with parents associations in the Arab sector added strength to that move. Meetings enabled parents to express their demands from the administration, and it turned out that studying Hebrew was one of the top requests of the parents for their school-age children.
No fees today
Those travelers who happened to take the Jerusalem Light Rail last Friday might have noticed a failure in the CityPass validation system that allowed several hours of free rides. The failure was not repaired until late Saturday evening, enabling thousands of Jerusalemites to travel without paying, and without being harassed by the company’s supervisors. About an hour after the Light Rail resumed operations after Shabbat, the problem was fixed and the party was over. Within a year, CityPass will no longer operate the Jerusalem Light Rail, and will be replaced by Shafir Engineering Group and the Spanish rail firm CAF.
More road-work
Residents of Hapalmah Street and the surroundings areas should get ready to rejoice – eventually. A municipality-initiated large-scale road-work project to remake the structure of the street will take place over the next five months. During the duration of the project, which is backed by an investment of NIS 6m., traffic on Hapalmah Street will be restricted to only one side. The project will also establish new parking spaces, paved sidewalks and new street lights. The work on Hapalmah Street is part of a larger plan backed by the municipality to renovate all major streets and their sidewalks across the city one by one. This includes new parking spaces along these streets, though some of them will be restricted to residents of these neighborhoods. However, in order to ensure free sidewalks, there could possibly end up being fewer parking spaces than now.
No prayer today
A request from the Masorti Movement – Conservative Judaism in Israel – to get a space at the Pisgat Ze’ev community center to pray on Yom Kippur has been rejected. The reason is officially stated to be due to a lack of available space at the center. However, it is the understanding of the Masorti Movement that the rejection is due to it not being an Orthodox, gender-separated prayer service. The movement is looking for answers from the municipality, as the local councils and community centers in the city are under their authority.
Shuk debate
What started as an exchange of venomous remarks a few nights ago between two groups of young adults at separate but adjacent bars in Mahaneh Yehuda could have spiraled into a full-scale riot.
Drinks were spilled and curses were tossed through the air, but luckily no violence ensued this time. It doesn’t always end so peacefully though, and unfortunately, it’s not the only problem plaguing the shuk.
After a series of terrorist attacks in the Mahaneh Yehuda area in the early 2000s threatened to spell the end for the shuk, then-director of the Lev Hair local council Uri Amedi managed to spark a massive turnaround. As a result, the shuk has become one of the most iconic destinations in Israel. In fact, according to sources in the municipality, Mahaneh Yehuda actually attracts as many or more tourists and visitors than the Western Wall.
However, beneath its lively and exotic atmosphere, the shuk is struggling with several opposing interests from within.
Following Amedi’s renovations and changes, a democratically elected committee was established for the various merchants of the shuk. In 2012, a committee led by Shimon Darvish was elected, which managed to balance and weave together the “authentic” shuk of traditional merchants with the more entertainment-oriented bars, restaurants etc.
However, due to a falling out between Darvish and the municipality, the situation started to spiral into chaos.
A new committee head, merchant Nino Peretz, tried to sort out the chaos and bring stability. However, this failed, with Peretz’s enemies accusing him of bringing politics into the shuk due to his open involvement in municipal politics and campaigning, and he subsequently resigned.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion was aware that this vacuum could severely harm the incredibly valuable shuk, attempted to bring order by designating Talia Friedman, owner of the Atelier restaurant, to organize new elections for the committee. After only two months, she announced her own candidacy for the elections.
“I was born and grew up in the shuk, my mother still lives here,” says Friedman. “I know what this place means and what it needs. We need to reorganize its various sides – market, entertainment and culture.”
One of her first steps is a map of the shuk, to know the number of stands, bars and restaurants in order to reorganize and balance them. A change in organization and balance could be the key to stabilizing the shuk.
However, Friedman faces significant challenges in the elections, and admits that she stepped into a “man’s world that was not prepared to host a woman at its head.”
Currently, no date has been set for the elections. However, Friedman is getting ready, and will run with some of the younger representatives of the entertainment and merchant sides of the shuk at her side.