This week in Jerusalem: Tradition, tradition!

A weekly round-up of city affairs.

 ‘MY JERUSALEM’ historical photographs taken by Aviv Yitzhaki.  (photo credit: Aviv Yitzhaki)
‘MY JERUSALEM’ historical photographs taken by Aviv Yitzhaki.
(photo credit: Aviv Yitzhaki)

Tradition, tradition!

Many years ago, Tevye the milkman shouted it on the roof, but these days the tradition he spoke of is spreading widely among Israelis – who not long ago would have defined themselves as secular. But no more, as the most recent figures provided by several organizations reveal that 40% of Jewish Israelis define themselves today as “traditionalists.” 

Once a definition that referred to those lacking a strong Jewish identity or commitment at various levels, also often attributing the notion just to Jews of Sephardi origin, today this has become a wide field of identification for many. Hence, not surprisingly, Jerusalem, – long considered a symbol of traditional Jewish identity – was set to host this week two large events celebrating the phenomenon. 

On Sunday (October 3) the nonprofit association Tor Hazahav (from the Hebrew “the golden age”) launched the Lobby for Traditionalism at the Knesset, followed by the first national convention on traditionalism – a three-day joint project between the Tikkun association and Yad Ben-Zvi Institute.

Forsake me not?

The ZAKA organization warned against it many times last year as the nation fought corona, but it seems that nothing has changed thus far. After 47 cases of lonely seniors found dead – and too often in a stage of advanced decay – during 2020, two new cases occurred during the last week of Sukkot. 

Reporting a strong odor from their apartments, ZAKA teams were called through their hotline by neighbors to two apartments – one in Mevaseret Zion and the other in the Ramot neighborhood. The teams in both cases had to break down the doors, where the two bodies were found in a state of decay. In Mevaseret it was a 87-year-old Holocaust survivor found dead on Friday, and a day later, on Shabbat, the ZAKA team found a 60-year-old lone man lifeless in the Ramot.

Industrializing the Talmud

The shortage of classrooms in the haredi sector is not new to Jerusalem’s powers-that-be. Together with the lack of classrooms in the Arab sector, this has been a problem that all mayors for the past 20 years have faced – mostly failing to provide adequate solutions. While the present administration at Safra Square has put considerable efforts toward this, in both sectors, the situation on the ground is still far from satisfactory. 

But recently, the lack of classrooms in the haredi sector has caused a new locus of tension, as businesses owners in the Talpiot Industrial Zone discovered a Talmud Torah (haredi school for boys in younger grays) installed since the beginning of the school year, without any permit, in the Turquoise House, one of the largest buildings on Pierre Koenig Street. Merchants and business owners there claim the activity of a Talmud Torah does not match the character of the area, and causes problems to the regular running of businesses. For example, some of them complain that the spots designated for unloading and loading goods, and customer parking, is now also used as an access road to the school entrance for the shuttles or children walking to their classes. 

It is important to note that this institution is recognized by the city Education Administration and that the decision to place it in that area was due to lack of available structures.

Moving in, moving out

The saga of the alternative housing for the elderly and lone olim from the former Soviet Union from the former Diplomat Hotel in Arnona is still ongoing. More than a year has passed since the agreement between the Aliyah and Integration Ministry, the municipality’s Aliyah Administration and the US Embassy representatives who now own the building. As mentioned a few times in past “This Week” columns, the government failed, time and again, to provide any alternative housing locations for some 145 elderly living there since they made aliyah about 20 years ago. 

While the Aliyah and Integration Ministry and the Finance Ministry have created a budget to build a center for this population, the location identified – in Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, too close to the security barrier – has discouraged many of them from accepting the solution, and thus far, the building hasn’t even been constructed. 

In February 2020, just a few weeks before the corona burst into our lives, the government obtained from the Americans a year-long period to find a solution. A source at the Aliyah and Integration Ministry from Safra Square said then that “the Americans requested an immediate evacuation of the building, but finally agreed to give more time, because nobody wanted to see old Jews from Russia dragged in the streets of Jerusalem out of what has been their home for more than 20 years.” 

More than a year has passed, and a comprehensive solution hasn’t yet been found. The best the government could offer was a temporary housing solution in the former Crown Plaza Hotel, located at the city entrance. However, seven of the residents refused to move to any non-permanent housing arrangement, and in order to avoid another embarrassing situation facing the Americans, the seven new “refuseniks” have been moved to several Jerusalem hostels which belong to the municipality, with an adaptation allocation of NIS 5,000. In Pisgat Ze’ev, the plan to build a center for elderly olim is still far from being implemented – despite all the construction permits issued by the municipality – due to lack of budgets from the Aliyah and Integration, and Finance ministries. 

Radical result

Last July, the first Zur Baher local council election put an end with the more than decade-long reign of the first Arab Jerusalemite who dared to run for the city local council. Ramadan Dabbash, who holds an Israeli passport and was even for a short while a member of the Likud party, lost to one of his fiercest rivals – Jabber Amira – by a single vote. 

Right from the beginning the election result raised eyebrows and objections. Shas MK Michael Malkieli, a former deputy mayor at city council, called attention to some of Amira’s controversial declarations, now requesting the cancellation of his election as chairman of the local council. Malkieli notes, among other points, that Amira 1) repeatedly expressed admiration for Saddam Hussein, 2) supported the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, 3) supported a family member expelled by the police from the Temple Mount and 4) wrote of his admiration for the jihadist who beheaded a teacher in France last year. 

Since Amira’s candidacy was approved before the elections, Malchieli’s request is unlikely to be implemented. A source from Zur Baher, asking not to be identified, said that if the municipality or any other authority takes any action against Amira, it “will be a message that the democracy the Israelis are talking about is just fake.”

The way we were

A new exhibition at the International Convention Center features the sights of Jerusalem as some of us remember it. 

“My Jerusalem,” curated by Eran Litvin, presents 22 historical black and white photographs of the Holy City in the 1970s and 1980s taken by press photographer Aviv Yitzhaki.

Yitzhaki’s evocative photographs document the daily lives of city residents, the new buildings that began to change the city center skyline and the mythical Jerusalem cinemas that gradually closed, in part due to competition from television. 

Yitzhaki says he was drawn to the abandoned houses and sights of the old neighborhoods, as well as to the new buildings that began to change the capital’s character. The exhibition speaks to the nostalgia many of us feel toward the more intimate Jerusalem that no longer exists. 

“Looking back at my photographs, I feel a longing for the land I left behind; for some of the things that were part of me I said goodbye to when I lived another life,” says Itzhaki of his work.

The exhibition is on display at the ICC and is open to the general public until March 22, 2022. For reservations (required): (02) 655-8558. Admission is free.


Capital grant

The 2021 grant for the city will be NIS 882 million. The sum was approved earlier this week, as soon as the Treasury submitted the government’s budget to the Knesset, after close to three years without an approved budget. It will be the same sum granted for the year 2020. 

In addition, it was agreed that the Jerusalem Municipality will receive NIS 30m. in the coming weeks of this year, for the benefit of continuing the cleaning and landscaping reform in the city; another NIS 67m. for development projects each year; as well as NIS 25m. for several economic projects. The municipality has pledged to use the funds to increase municipal revenues and streamline municipal expenditures. 

As for the grant for Jerusalem for the year 2022, it will be NIS 942m. and it is included in the government proposed law for the 2022 budget which will be submitted for second and third readings to the Knesset in coming weeks.