Treading water

With the fate of the Jerusalem Pool still undetermined, members have been forced to find temporary locations they feel are unsatisfactory.

Jerusalem pool 311 (photo credit: Liat Collins)
Jerusalem pool 311
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
Two months after the Jerusalem Pool in the German Colony closed for repairs mandated by the Ministry of Health and two months before its scheduled reopening on May 1, it is still not clear what will be the fate of the facility, the city’s only Olympic-sized (50 meters) and handicap accessible swimming pool. This uncertainty is fueling disappointment on the part of pool members toward municipal officials, especially Mayor Nir Barkat, as members scramble to find alternative places to swim and work out.
Since the fall, pool members have banded together forming the Action Committee to Save the Jerusalem Pool, to prevent the alleged intention of the pool’s owners – Moshav Shoresh and the contractors, Ela Brothers – from closing the pool and building another structure in its place, rumored to be luxury apartments with a large parking garage. The owners refuse to comment. When contacted by In Jerusalem in October, they would not confirm or deny any plans.
The pool was built in the 1950s by hotel developer Chaim Schiff. But following threats of a boycott of Schiff’s hotels by those who viewed the pool as promoting immodesty, Schiff sold the pool to Moshav Shoresh. In 1980, Ela Brothers joined Shoresh in the franchise. When Ela Brothers entered into partnership with Shoresh and proceeded to build the commercial real estate that today is located around the pool, the municipality moved to sign a legal agreement with the owners that committed them to operate the facility as a public pool for 49 years at affordable prices. This agreement, amended in 1992, still has 19 years left to run. The pool is zoned in the Jerusalem master plan as a privately owned, open, green area.
But the wording of the agreement and its amendment is such that the municipality’s lawyers have still not been able to definitively determine whether Moshav Shoresh and Ela Brothers are indeed obligated to do so.
This has angered a number of pool members, who feel that some municipal officials have not acted speedily enough nor given them the support they expected.
“I am disappointed by the lack of support from some city officials,” says German Colony resident Andrew Balcombe, who has been swimming at the pool for more than 15 years.  “The mayor has not even bothered to visit the pool or comment on the very real possibility that it will be permanently closed. We have meetings of professional engineers and municipal lawyers. Everyone expresses support, but matters go round and round… In the meantime, we have been forced to make arrangements to swim elsewhere because it is not clear if the pool will reopen and on what terms. Will it be open only in the summer and what will the prices be? I now go to the pool at Patt [Beit Hanoar Ha’ivri], and I fear that one of the best public facilities in Jerusalem is being allowed to fail in order to build more apartments.”
Old Katamon resident and Action Committee member Reuven Rosenfelder, who is now swimming at the Hebrew University pool at Givat Ram, is also disappointed with the mayor’s response. “The mayor is nowhere to be seen. Our main support has come from Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu. This is a crucial battle, not just for the pool but for the character of the German Colony. I am afraid that if we lose, the entire German Colony will change into luxury apartments.”
Shimon Bigelman, chair of the Action Committee, says that city hall set up a professional committee at the end of January to serve as negotiator between the municipality and the pool owners. “We [the pool members] are not a party with legal standing in this matter. The issue is between the owners and the municipality. We would like the municipality to keep the pool as a green area and ensure that it is kept open year round. We have received support from two deputy mayors, Kobi Kahalon and Pepe Alalu. We hope they are expressing the mayor’s view, but he has never once met with us and has not said anything. He seems to be hiding behind others.
“I have started swimming at Ramat Rahel,” he continues. “It is less convenient. I need a car to get there. The pool is only 25 meters. Yes, the fitness center, changing rooms and showers are better, but I want the Jerusalem Pool back. I hope the municipality will not let the owners close the pool. Money interests should not win at the expense of the public.”
Philippa Bacal, who lives in the German Colony, has been a pool member for at least 10 years. She has decided to continue swimming at the Hebrew University pool in Givat Ram. “I need to swim for health reasons. I don’t own a car. I use a cane, and it is hard for me to walk long distances. The Jerusalem Pool was walking distance from my home. Getting to Givat Ram is a real schlep. The bus stop is fairly far from the pool. Not only is Givat Ram a physical hardship for me, but it is also more expensive and more time-consuming.”
Rivka Orion is a pensioner living in Talpiot. “The Jerusalem Pool iseasy to get to from anywhere in southern Jerusalem. It is not just apool but the character of the neighborhood, bringing together young andold, new olim and veteran Israelis and religious and secular. Buildingluxury apartments in its stead will change forever the urban fabric ofthe neighborhood. These apartments will not be affordable for theaverage Israeli. We will end up with a ghost town of foreign owners.The mayor’s not taking a position has been a major disappointment.Before the elections, he promised us another kind of city hall. Butnow.…”
The municipal spokesman’s office told In Jerusalem, “The Jerusalemmunicipality is working non-stop to return the pool to continuedoperation and to create a permanent mechanism for its long-termoperation… The mayor has given Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahalon the authorityto deal with the matter of the Jerusalem Pool. Kahalon is being updatedat every stage and has met with the residents.”