This week in Jerusalem: Kindergarten in a mall

A weekly round-up of city affairs.

 GRAB SOME java at the Botke. (photo credit: Di Bella Coffee/Unsplash)
GRAB SOME java at the Botke.
(photo credit: Di Bella Coffee/Unsplash)

Kindergarten in a mall

For years, the Jerusalem Municipality has been facing a severe shortage of classrooms in two sectors: the east of the city and the ultra-Orthodox areas. Every year, the same embarrassing spectacle takes place: the municipality takes state secular classrooms or whole kindergartens that no longer have enough pupils and hands them over to the haredi system.

Years of neglect have turned Gilo’s Uptown Mall into a white elephant. An alternative purpose has now been found for the place – it will be used for haredi kindergartens in the neighborhood.

The center was supposed to be a winning combination of residential and commercial spaces, but in practice, the mall and its surroundings were neglected, and combined with its unfinished construction, the complex has become a nuisance, not to mention that the developers are still committed to building a public parking lot. At Safra Square, the new arrangement is being presented as a temporary one, yet the Finance Committee has already approved a recommendation to the City Council to expand the mall in order to build haredi educational institutions. For now, the municipality has rented 500 sq.m. and a 200-sq.m. yard for a Talmud Torah from the shopping center’s rights holders.

In another part of the city, the same problem ended differently, with a secular preschool’s closure in Malha being prevented for now. Due to the shortage of buildings, the municipality’s plan was to break up the kindergarten on Kfir Street and move it to the Hashalom Elementary School complex. However, following fierce reaction from the parents and residents, the municipality said earlier this week that Gan Shalom is a private school that will continue to operate next year. Albeit, as a private preschool, the municipality is not responsible for finding an alternative structure, but it will examine the issue, now that a suitable building for the haredi kindergarten was found in the neighborhood.

 A cup of coffee (Illustrative) (credit: UNSPLASH) A cup of coffee (Illustrative) (credit: UNSPLASH)
Coffee and sympathy

The Botke community café in Katamonim was inaugurated last week in memory of neighborhood resident Moshiko Doino, who was killed in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge. With the assistance of the Jerusalem Municipality, it will offer fast food, coffee, alcohol and desserts, and will be run by volunteers, friends and members of the Doino family. It will also hold cultural, community and social events for Jerusalem residents, in general, and Katamonim residents, in particular. The café is a social initiative by resident activists and is a community anchor for the neighborhood.

East side welfare

Two welfare and community complexes will be established in Isawiya and Beit Hanina in the coming months, as part of a larger project to improve the infrastructure and municipal services for east side residents. Isawiya will receive a building that will serve as a community center, a mother and child center (tipat halav) and a welfare center, as well as kindergartens. A center for the elderly and a large welfare office will be established in Beit Hanina. 

The Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality announced those plans as part of a NIS 50 million initiative for the two neighborhoods last week. The budget will be used for the innovative buildings, and is part of the five-year plan to reduce gaps in east Jerusalem. There are currently about 32 mother and child centers in Jerusalem, and only six of them are in the east. In the coming years, additional centers that will serve about 5,000 babies from east Jerusalem each year will be added in several eastern neighborhoods. 

In Beit Hanina, where close to 50,000 people live, the center for the elderly and the welfare office will be established at a cost of NIS 35m. In that neighborhood, where there is no permanent building for a welfare office nor are there any activities for the elderly, compared to eight similar centers in the west of the city, construction will start very soon. The next five-year plan has recently been approved by the government and its budget stands at NIS 4.3 million.

Not invited

The planning committee has stopped summoning opponents to its sessions, angering residents, who claim that this is a basic right. Chairman of the local planning committee Eliezer Rauchberger (UTJ) determined that from now on the debates on construction projects will be held in camera. Although no official change in policy has been announced, in the last month and a half, the municipality has been refraining from inviting opponents to such projects to appear and is only taking written objections. The decision angered, among others, the residents’ committee of Ein Kerem, who is against the demolition and construction plan in the neighborhood’s Yemenite Valley. The Ein Kerem committee, the Yuvalim Community Administration, former MK Rachel Azaria and the Bezalel Civil Planning Unit all objected and wanted to appear before the committee but were informed at the last moment that the municipality decided it was unnecessary. The municipality’s reaction was that according to the law and regulations, the authority is not obliged to summon the opponents, but to examine the objections and debate on them, and to update the rights holders of the planning committee’s decisions on the matter.

Take a bath

A complete and unique mikveh ritual bath from the Second Temple era was discovered in archaeological excavations for the Western Wall elevator project, located on the eastern slope of the Jewish Quarter. The mikveh has been excavated under the direction of Michal Haber and Dr. Oren Gutfeld on behalf of the Hebrew University and funded by the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry. The construction work began in February 2021 with the aim of building two elevators that will connect the quarter to the Western Wall level. 

The mikveh was hewn in the rock and covered by a dome, which was preserved in its entirety. Next to it were the remains of a residential building from the Second Temple period. The uniqueness of the mikveh – similar to that discovered in previous excavations by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in the Jewish Quarter (mainly during the excavations of the Jewish Quarter that begun in 1969 by Prof. Nahman Avigad) – is its location on the cliff, which separated the upper city, where the priests’ magnificent residences were, and the Temple Mount.

Follow the clocks

The Museum for Islamic Art is offering a unique tour that traces the mystery of the theft of the world’s most expensive clock collection, from the night of the burglary to its return to the museum, depicting 23 years of searches. In April 1983, more than a hundred valuable clocks worth between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen from the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem. Twenty three years of police searches, private investigators and international officials yielded no result. 

Until... well, to find out how they came back home, Jerusalemites and visitors are invited to take the tour and listen to a lecture in which the details of the mystery and its solution will be revealed. In addition to the tour and lecture, there are archive films, all showing how the thief operated and how the clocks were returned. Every Thursday between July 21 and August 25, at 6 p.m.