The $2 million mystery

'The Jerusalem Foundation of Canada was comfortable in proceeding with the undertaking, even in the absence of the specific details of the architectural components.'

zion square 88 (photo credit: )
zion square 88
(photo credit: )
Dan Meridor, the international chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation, recently wowed 60 of Toronto's movers and shakers. The location was the Royal Bank of Canada's (RBC) executive dining room atop its 40-story Bay Street headquarters - the Canadian equivalent of New York's Wall Street financial district. While tickets for the RBC-sponsored kosher fete were complimentary, C$200,000 (US$174,000) was raised that night in donations and pledges - a tithe of the C$2 million slated for the renovation of Kikar Zion. Only one thing was missing from Meridor's effusive description of the Holy City and the good works of the Jerusalem Foundation - an explanation of what the money will be used for. Meridor declined repeated requests for an interview. According to Steve Solomon, the director of the JF's Canada Desk, the "majority" of the C$2m. is slated for an abstract sculpture by Britain-based architect and artist Ron Arad and a quarter is to be used for programming and services. "The money is going to be used in concert with the municipality to refurbish Zion Square so that by the time the project is fully complete in 2007 that whole area will have been converted into a pedestrian mall with only the Light Rail traveling on Jaffa Road," Solomon maintained. "The buildings in the area will be sandblasted and physically improved. There will be new lighting and benches for people to sit. There will be a piece of urban architecture that will mark the center of the square that will be designed to reflect the characteristics of Jerusalem and will serve as a focal point for locals and tourists alike." Solomon also said that C$50,000 of the C$2m. would be used to purchase an outreach van which will be operated by Elem, an organization established by the Joint Distribution Committee. The vans are intended "to be present in the late night and early morning hours and to connect with young people who may be in need of food, shelter and professional advice," Solomon explained. "I imagine they'll hand out condoms. We don't get involved with what they do." Asa Bruno of sculptor Arad's London office was also vague regarding the project. "We don't yet have a proper press release," she told In Jerusalem in a series of e-mails. "I can only mention that the sculpture is not figurative (while not entirely abstract either) and rather than introducing a single object to be admired from a distance, it forms more of an inviting environment which aims to redefine Zion Square as a 'place'; somewhere to meet, sit, speak, perform. Mainly, somewhere from which to admire the Square's subtle beauty (with the exception of the atrocious... buildings.) "Our proposal plays on the dichotomy of solidity and strength versus lightness and ephemera, opacity vs. transparency, etc.," she continued. "The sculpture draws on the surrounding color and material palette and via a dramatic kaleidoscope of reflections creates a concentrated experience of a wider area, which keeps changing along with the movement of the sun and the seasons." While the light rail locomotives are slated to begin rolling down Jaffa Road in late 2008, the ins and outs of the Kikar Zion project are far less defined. "The time frame is past due," explained Solomon. "The expectation had been that by the time we kicked off our fund-raising in Canada, we would have had the final costs and design. However, what the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada has bought into and committed itself to is the significant investment in and renewal of Zion Square. And they were therefore comfortable in proceeding with the undertaking, even in the absence of the specific details of the architectural components." Added the Jerusalem Foundation's spokesman, "Arad's original plan, submitted to a joint committee of the Jerusalem Foundation's Urit Landsberg and then-city engineer Uri Sheetrit in February, met with a variety of artistic critique. Arad is supposed to resubmit his revised plans imminently." While City Hall has given its final approval, its part in the project is not yet clear, either. The Jerusalem Foundation of Canada is funding the Kikar Zion project, while the New York chapter of the Foundation is undertaking the redevelopment of Kikar Zahal to the east. Israel's Jerusalem Foundation is still looking for a donor for Kikar Davidka to the west. Founded in 1967 by then newly elected mayor Teddy Kollek, the Jerusalem Foundation has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from donors, mostly abroad, for an array of parks, arts, culture and social service projects. Among the projects funded by Canadians have been the Science Museum on Derech Ruppin, funded by Neri Bloomfeld of Montreal, and the Goat Park on Rehov Emek Refaim, donated by Ellie Korenblum of Toronto. The Canadian Friends group, inactive from the late 1990s until recently, is now led by Israeli-born Montreal developer David Azrieli, the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada's new president and one of the Kikar Zion project's biggest donors. Toronto artist Ian Leventhal, who in 1995 created a mural Painting for Peace now installed at the Kiryat Menachem community center, is the recently appointed executive director.