Unharmonious tunes

Hasadna Conservatory is losing the game of musical chairs.

violin 88.298 (photo credit: )
violin 88.298
(photo credit: )
Hasadna Conservatory is one of only three non-formal institutions teaching music in Jerusalem, together with the Rubin Conservatory and an additional conservatory in the haredi community. But at this time, Hasadna is operating without electricity or heat and teachers are instructing by candelight. According to director Lena Nemerovsky, final closure may be unavoidable. Hasadna was created some 33 years ago in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War by Amalia Reuel and Aliza Levin, who created a nonprofit organization to support music instruction for aspiring musicians. Since then, Hasadna has trained generations of young and gifted musicians in the city, many of whom have joined some of the most prestigious musical institutions in Israel and abroad. The Conservatory is housed in the "Adam" school building on Rehov Emek Refaim. Sitting in the darkened music room, Nemerovsky says that she is trying to understand "what went wrong and how this highly regarded institution became nothing more a thorn in the municipality's side." She relates, "Two weeks ago we came into the school as usual and found the electricity had been turned off. Surrounded by dozens of kids afraid of the dark and freezing without heating, I tried desperately to reach someone at the municipality. I tried all the phone numbers I could, all the officials related to education, culture - nobody cared to even answer me, let alone to do something." Nemerovsky began teaching by candlelight and emergency lighting. "So imagine my surprise," she continues, "when just as we found this dramatic alternative to electricity a municipal supervisor popped in and ordered us to stop, since it's not safe to use candles. I was speechless - they didn't even care to answer my calls but already had someone ready to come and shut us down!?" The space in the Adam School was allocated by the municipality. "In other cities," Nemerovsky contends, "the municipality gives an institution like Hasadna a building of its own and an annual subsidy. The municipality offered us the building, and that's the way it's worked for years." But since the year 2000 schools in Jerusalem operate according to the "closed budget" system, and in order to survive, most schools rent out their facilities in the afternoon. The municipality allocated Hasadna the sum of NIS 120,000 a year, to pay for the use of the rooms and the maintenance. But in 2005, the municipality slashed its budget as part of the rehabilitation program. In January 2006, the municipality informed Hasadna that their allocation would be cut to NIS 60,000, retroactive to 2005. At the same time, the municipality demanded that Hasadna sign a formal commitment to pay the Adam School the sum of NIS 120,000, as they have in the past. "How can I take on such a commitment?!" Nemerovsky complains. "I didn't sign and the municipality is refusing to give us even the NIS 60,000." In turn, the Adam School shut down the electricity and has threatened to expel Hasadna. Explains Ossi Rotem, a member of the parents' association of the Adam School, "We have nothing personal against Hasadna. The absurdity is that most of their students are our students. It's a situation of dire need - we need that money for the school, and the only way we can get it is by renting out the facility in the afternoon. If the Conservatory wants to use the building, they have to pay rent. Under the system that the municipality has imposed, we cannot function without that money." Adds Alex Razumov, Vice Principal of the Adam School, "That the parents of the Adam School would have to pay for the Conservatory is out of the question. It's not that I don't sympathize with their struggle... My son studies music there and I am very satisfied. But... they have a problem with the municipality, and they can't throw it onto a third party, which, in this case, is us." Deputy Mayor Yigal Amedi, who holds the municipal portfolio for cultural affairs, says that he is trying to reach an arrangement. Hasadna seems to be falling between the proverbial cracks. The education department contends that, since Hasadna is not a formal educational establishment, it did not meet its criteria and referred it to the culture department. But the culture department funds only performing institutions. "We do not perform," says Nemerovsky. "We teach. We raise the next generation of performers. But that doesn't fit anyone's criteria." So Amedi proposed to create a commission composed of representatives of the culture and education departments and of the committee responsible for the criteria for allocations to resolve the catch-22. "But they have to sign the contract with the Adam School for the total sum," Amedi demands. "As for the remaining NIS 60,000, we'll try to divide it between the Education Ministry and some other sources. I'm still working it out." While Nemerovsky acknowledges the help that Amedi is trying to offer, she still won't commit to the full sum without any guarantees. And so everyone loses out - the Adam School doesn't get its rent and Hasadna continues to teach in the dark and the cold. The problem, says a high-ranking source in the municipality, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is the attitude of the municipality. "The municipality does not consider a music conservatory as important as a chewing-gum cleaning machine or some populist cultural event. The municipal culture department has been without a director for over two years and the department has shrunk from more than 200 employees to fewer than 100. If that is not a clear message for the priority orders of this mayor and his administration then I don't know what a message is," concludes the employee. Attorneys at the legal department of the municipality point out that Nemerovsky already owes the Adam School NIS 178,000 for rent and maintenance. And municipal spokesman Gidi Schmerling told In Jerusalem that, "Hasadna is a nonprofit association, and as such, the organization and its board are responsible for its activities and administration." Schmerling also notes that the three informal music institutions do not provide the only opportunity that Jerusalem schoolchildren have to learn music. One or two hours of music instruction are offered in every elementary school, funded by the Education Ministry. He adds that there are also special frameworks in many schools, such as choirs, musical ensembles, orchestras, and musical instruction, as well as enrichment programs, including instruction in the shepherds flute in second and third grades, funded by the ministry, the Jerusalem Education Authority, and the schools themselves, and after-school programs. Nemerovsky remains unpersuaded, relating to the quality of the classical education and training that students receive at Hasadna. "A few days ago," she recalls, "I went to a concert by one of Israel's symphony orchestras. The first violinist is not an Israeli, nor are two other musicians. My institution is the only answer to this very sad situation: within a short time, all our musicians will be foreign workers. "Is this so trivial that this municipality, the capital of Israel, cannot find NIS 60,000? I have 26 immigrant children from Ethiopia and 20 autistic kids. We have religious kids, 12 Arab kids, even a kid from Beit Jalla. We give stipends to 75 percent of our students. Isn't that important enough?" Meanwhile, Nemerovsky has appealed to the administrative courts, and District Judge David Cheshin has issued a ruling freezing all decisions until a hearing scheduled for this Tuesday, February 27.