This week in Jerusalem

Peggy Cidor's round-up of city affairs.

Jerusalem's Old City (photo credit: Sponsor)
Jerusalem's Old City
(photo credit: Sponsor)
The city center heats up
Following an incredible summer of cultural events, including street parties and a few events to welcome the fall, Hitorerut was at it again with Defrost, a two-day midwinter festival of alternative culture in the city center. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Jerusalem's streets and some of its residents hosted dance, theater, sculpture, alternative paintings and craft, music and movies. "It's fringe," says Hitorerut city council member Ofer Berkovitch, "but today's fringe could be tomorrow's next big thing, and Jerusalem is ripe for such a festival, which suits the city because it is not particularly mainstream." The festival, largely advertised on the Web site, was produced and sponsored by the Hazira theater, the Lab, local art schools and galleries. Festivalgoers were invited by residents to share a home-cooked meal, called "guerrilla dining," inspired by a similar event born in Berlin.
Compounded problems
Last week saw several activists arrested at the Shimon Hatzadik compound in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, to which a group of Jews claims ownership. It is one of 28 properties in Sheikh Jarrah that are the subject of an ongoing legal battle between Jewish claimants and the Palestinian families who live there. For the past few months, the neighborhood has been the site of a weekly Friday protest scene. Last Friday Hagai Elad, the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was arrested by the police, who claimed that he was violating the conditions of the demonstration by using a megaphone. He spent Shabbat in the city lockup in the Russian Compound, together with 16 other protesters.
The arrests roused the ire of human and civil rights activists, who fear that the police force is "threatening democracy," as Elad put it.
"If the police think that this will intimidate us, they are getting it all wrong," remarked Meretz city council member Meir Margalit. "This will only act as a boomerang, and one thing is sure: Next week we will be there again, probably in larger numbers."
Parting company with the EJDC
The latest casualty in Mayor Nir Barkat's plan to reorganize the municipal daughter companies is the East Jerusalem Development Company. The company's fate was sealed by the Finance Ministry in July 2009, when it announced that it would close down or merge with public organizations that were not cost effective. The EJDC will not be completely shut down but will be downgraded to a maintenance company.
Meanwhile, Barkat has almost completed his larger plan to restructure all the public and municipal-run companies functioning in the city, aimed at reducing the number of such organizations.
According to the new plan, Moriah will be the only organization in charge of construction projects in the city. The EJDC will then be in charge of maintaining the tourist and historic sites in east Jerusalem and the Old City. Ultimately, all the companies will be reunited under one general authority directly connected to the municipality. Still to be found: a solution to the EJDC's NIS 6 million deficit.
A director-general steps down
Ora Ahimeir, the director-general of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, has retired after 31 years of service. At the ceremony to mark her retirement, guests included MK Reuven Rivlin. Ahimeir plans to write a historical novel based on the history of her family, who lived in Germany before World War II.
A general inspector steps up
City councillor Shlomo Rosenstein has already achieved a few local victories. The most famous - or infamous - of these is the creation of the segregated mehadrin bus lines. Rosenstein, who holds the municipal inspection portfolio, recently suggested that haredi residents should be hired to carry out inspection in the haredi neighborhoods.
A man of action, Rosenstein didn't wait to see if his proposal would be approved by the municipal human resources department but published an open call to his haredi peers to submit their candidacies for the posts of inspectors recently published by the municipality. Municipal inspectors oversee - and write tickets to - residents who break the law regarding construction, dirt, smoking in restricted areas or posting material illegally on notice boards.
Not everyone at Kikar Safra sounded very happy about this initiative. "This must be a joke," reacted a high-level official who requested anonymity. "We all know that most of the illegal construction in west Jerusalem happens in the haredi neighborhoods, so what is the city council member suggesting - that they will supervise themselves?" Rosenstein, in response, mentioned that he managed, about a year ago, to convince Egged and some 50 haredim to join forces in a project to hire them as bus drivers in the haredi neighborhood, something that sounded unreal at the time but is a fact today.
Heart and soil
The trend of organic, green and environment-friendly has reached retirement residences as well. Neveh Amit in Ramot Eshkol, one of the first homes for senior citizens in Jerusalem, recently launched a program of raising organic vegetables. In a very short time it has become a real attraction, and most of the tenants participate. After cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, they now plan to harvest yellow and green peppers. The members of the project have also decided to take over the kitchen of the home and are engaged in a love affair with vegetables, healthy cuisine and gardening. Next on the agenda: strawberry fields.
Setting the stage
The Nissan Nativ Studio, a prestigious training school for actors and performers, finally has its own home. The ceremony to launch the studio's new premises at Beit Elisheva on Rehov Elazar Hamoda'i in Katamon takes place on Saturday night. The guest of honor will be Mayor Nor Barkat, together with his deputy, culture portfolio holder Pepe Alalo, and Shemi Amsalem, the recently appointed head of the culture department. The studio, the only professional venue in Jerusalem that trains young people who want to become professional actors, was almost closed down just a year ago for lack of public support. For Barkat, this is only one of the positive results of his policy to double the budget of cultural events since entering office.