This week in Jerusalem: Where do you pray?

Peggy Cidor's round-up of city affairs

 CANDIDATE OFER BERKOVICH and wife Dina cast their ballots in the November 2018  mayoral election. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
CANDIDATE OFER BERKOVICH and wife Dina cast their ballots in the November 2018 mayoral election.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

An apartment in a residential building that was converted into a synagogue-kollel is causing serious disturbances for its neighbors. The synagogue and yeshiva are functioning in blatant violation of the law, causing residents of Adam Street in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood to suffer from the takeover of public space, terrible noise and disregard of neighbors’ needs. According to the residents, repeated complaints to the municipality have not been – thus far – handled properly, although this situation has been going on for more than a year. Residents who are not religious also complain that they feel uncomfortable coming back home and having to use the staircase, which is transformed during Shabbat and holidays into a women’s prayer area. For a short while, someone from the yeshiva had even hung a sign in the staircase that required women to dress modestly, despite this not being a religious neighborhood. Residents also complain that while the municipality has opened a criminal investigation, legal procedures within the local affairs court have been going on for too long and in the meantime, the situation continues to weigh heavily on the residents.

Give me water

Does the Gihon water authority impose inflated bills on city residents without justification? At least for many residents of Pisgat Ze’ev, the question is not “if” but “how much.” Residents sent a letter through a lawyer, claiming that due to the installation of new municipal water meters in their homes, a double financial charge was made for consumption. In addition, a dedicated WhatsApp group was opened which was joined by many dozens of residents within a few hours. 

According to the company, the new water meters are installed in accordance with the regulator’s guidelines and therefore represent the actual water consumption. However, it seems that Pisgat Ze’ev is not alone facing off with the Gihon. Residents in several other neighborhoods, including Baka and Arnona, have also discovered that their bills suddenly increased. In some cases, plumbers have been invited to check leaks that could explain the high bills. According to the law, if a resident can show a plumber’s confirmation that there was a leak in a building, Gihon will cancel half of the bill.

Easy access

The next stage in the development of the light rail will be escalators and elevators that will make the cars accessible to locations the light rail doesn’t reach. According to the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, the first escalators will be built in Givat Mordechai as part of the construction of the Green Line in the area. This will allow neighborhood residents to arrive by foot to and from the light rail station relatively easily. The escalators will connect Shahal Street with Mann and Heller Streets. Later on, elevators are to be built on Golda Meir Boulevard in Ramot, as well as in Kiryat Hayovel, connecting the Alswanger and Brazil Streets with the surroundings, which are built on a slope facing Ein Kerem. Later, elevators will also be built in Beit Safafa near Har Hotzvim, and in Givat Shaul an elevator will connect Ha’Ofeh Street to the train station on Kanfei Nesharim Street, where the future line connecting Har Nof to Neveh Ya’acov will pass. The decision came after the issue of light rail accessibility rose at the local planning and construction committee at Safra Square, due to the Jerusalem topography.

Not enough popcorn

The saga within Hitorerut at city council continues, as dissident member Yamit Yoeli-Ella has accused former leader Ofer Berkovitch of shaming her in public. Following another round of angry and loud exchanges between the two last week, Berkovitch, in front of city council members, reportedly called her “the mistress” of a senior municipal official.

In a letter sent to Berkovitch on behalf of Yoeli-Ella, Adv. Tali Nehemia wrote that in compensation for defaming her, the Hitorerut leader can donate NIS 50,000 to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers’ Jerusalem branch, “for the abusive, humiliating and degrading words you said at the city council meeting.” Berkovitch said this was slander, and that he never spoke about Yoeli-Ella’s personal affairs.

Let’s work

Are Jerusalemites going back to work like before the pandemic, or not quite? According to the latest data from the municipality’s employment administration, the situation is improving, but there’s still a long way to go to reach pre-COVID levels. In January 2020, before the pandemic started, there were 10,112 job seekers in the city. In April, at the height of the first lockdown, the number reached 98,773. In August, the figure dropped to 57,469, but rose again in December, after the second lockdown and before the third closure, to 67,015. In February 2021, as the third closure ended, the number of unemployed in the capital had reached 75,716, but since then it has been steadily declining, with 22,845 job seekers as of the end of November. 

In other words, since the peak of the crisis, about 80% have returned to employment. The problem is that the number of job seekers in the city is still double compared to the beginning of the pandemic. As of the beginning of November, 26% of job seekers are still on unpaid leave. (The national average is 19%.) One of the fields where this can be seen the most is in restaurants and cafes, with some having to close in the early afternoon due to a lack of servers and cooks. 

The song of his life

Tributes to the work of paytan Rabbi Haim Louk are being shown at the Haim Gouri Cultural Center, recently established in the Confederation House in collaboration with the municipality. Gouri, one of the greatest poets of modern Hebrew poetry, was a pillar of society and culture. Louk has been the greatest bard in Israel in recent years, and his special, pulsating poetry has broken boundaries in the country, captivating diverse audiences. 

Born in 1942 in Casablanca, Morocco, he made aliyah in 1964. In 2011 he won the Culture Minister’s Award for Lifetime Achievement for commemorating the musical heritage of Moroccan Jewry and for promoting interfaith tolerance and peace through music. In an upcoming concert, Louk will host violinist Elad Levi and famous singer-songwriter Berry Sakharof on December 15 at the Zappa Club in Jerusalem, featuring works from the Andalusian tradition. Louk will perform with Sakharof and a special ensemble of musicians led by Levi.

Save my face

The municipality this week will start recruiting workers to stop the defacement of female figures on billboards, and will, for the first time, formulate together with the police an orderly plan to combat the phenomenon. They have three months to find the appropriate personnel, and a budget for placing security cameras near the billboards will also be approved soon. These steps come in the wake of an administrative petition filed in July by the Israel Religious Action Center claiming that the municipality did not enforce the regulations it set in place to stop this type of vandalism. 

The center filed the petition after a picture of Holocaust survivor Penny Parnes was defaced in an exhibition in Safra Square featuring photographs of Holocaust survivors. In recent years, ads that include pictures of women have been systematically vandalized, allegedly by zealots from the haredi sector.