Creeping segregation

A community center in Ramot has been charged with discriminating against Sephardi children.

students kids school 88 (photo credit: )
students kids school 88
(photo credit: )
Segregation of Sephardi girls in haredi seminaries is not a new issue. The humiliation experienced by girls who had to stay at home for months without studying because of their parents' ethnic origins has been written about at length. The haredi establishment has always argued that these are private institutions and thus have the right to set their own rules. But now the municipality is being faced with an attempt to enforce these rules in a community center, a facility that falls under the auspices of the municipality. In response to complaints filed by local residents, the municipality's legal adviser Yossi Havilio has ruled that an advertisement placed by the neighborhood administration in the haredi part of Ramot inviting young girls registered at the Beit Ya'acov seminaries and boys studying in heder (the elementary classes in haredi stream education) to register for after-school activities "totally ignores non-Ashkenazi children" and is therefore "incompatible with the requirements of the law." The words "Sephardi" or "Ashkenazi" were not mentioned, of course, but in Ramot and elsewhere, the institutions mentioned above are synonymous with Ashkenazi institutions, and the very realistic fear of Sephardi haredi parents is that their struggle for equality is far from reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Not only are schools inaccessible to their children, but now even the community center is forcing them out. The Ramot community center, a part of the neighborhood administration, is one of the municipality's most frustrating failures. For years, thanks to a large group of residents, it was a stronghold against haredi hegemony in the neighborhood. But mayor Ehud Olmert, who won the election due to his alliance with the haredi parties, and his haredi successor, Uri Lupolianski, gave the haredi population of the neighborhood the feeling that their position was safe. One of the contentious issues was the elections of the board of the neighborhood administration. The haredim asked for general elections, assured that they would easily unseat the existing administration. The rest of the residents - secular and Zionist religious - requested that a separate branch be created to serve only their constituency on the other side of the street that divides the large neighborhood in two. The result - as expected - was nothing: no elections, no branch until about three years ago, when a very discreet separate haredi branch was created. For the Shas representatives on the city council (two of them are residents of Ramot), this advertisement comes as slap in the face. They fought fiercely to obtain their haredi constituency's rights, not expecting in their worst nightmares that in the end it would harm their own Sephardi community! But not everything is gloomy at Kikar Safra. Sometimes it could even be funny - depending for whom, of course. On Sunday morning the mayor and his deputies were invited to attend the weekly government meeting dedicated to Jerusalem. At least two of the coalition members who thought they should be invited as well were quickly told, "No, thanks. Wait until you're deputies, too." According to one of the refuseniks, at least two city council members who are not deputies did attend, perhaps because their chances of becoming deputies in the near future are good. Nevertheless, the meeting produced something other than frustration. Its outcome was absolutely remarkable: The special grant for Jerusalem from the state doubled from NIS 125 million to NIS 250m. The creation of a committee of ministers to enhance the state's obligation toward the capital and a special present for Jerusalem Day: the municipality announced that the beautiful 122-year-old Hansen Hospital building would serve as an art center for the city. Mayor Nir Barkat, despite some grumbling here and there, including inside the coalition, had a successful week. Money from the government, a papal visit that went smoothly, and more than 100,000 visitors to celebrate Jerusalem Day. Perhaps even enough to help the mayor confront the recent report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. According to its findings, Barkat is accused of worsening the living conditions of the Arab residents of the city, which totally goes against his campaign promises. "It is hard to be the mayor of Jerusalem," wrote poet Yehuda Amichai some years ago. Indeed.