Where are they now?

Nothing stands in the way of the light rail - not even Jerusalem's most monumental sculptures.

jerusalem light rail 298 (photo credit: )
jerusalem light rail 298
(photo credit: )
Jerusalemites slumbering on the night of May 29-30 missed an extraordinary sight: the ever so delicate transporting of the eight-meter-high "Nizkor" ("We shall remember") memorial column that has stood in the piazza between the Central Bus Station and Binyenei Ha'uma, the International Convention Center since 1969. During the course of eight hours, the towering limestone plinth was gingerly winched and inched two kilometers to a construction site at the northeast corner of Israel's Supreme Court building in the Government Precinct. The Nizkor statue had formed part of the Barnett Shine Plaza, named by the Jerusalem Foundation in tribute to the London, UK philanthropist. The sculpture was moved to clear the way for the tracks of the Red Line, the initial 13.8 km phase of Jerusalem's $400 million light rail and public transit project slated to open in December 2008. The complex engineering feat of relocating Nizkor was carried out with the coordination of the National Council for Planning and Construction, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Ministry of Defense, the Department for Commemorating Soldiers, the Yad L'banim soldiers memorial organization and the Supreme Court, says Shmulik Elgrably, spokesman for the light rail project. Elgrably credits retiring Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak with coordinating among the various groups to find a new home for the column. According to architect and historian David Kroyanker, the column honors the fallen defenders of the city since the Arab riots of 1921. Apart from the single word "Nizkor" hewn at the top of the column, there is no explanation of what the memorial commemorates. Nizkor is not the only huge piece of the city's public art that has been dislocated to facilitate the light rail. Two years ago Alexander Calder's "Jerusalem Stabile," a landmark in the city ever since it was erected at Holland Square near Mount Herzl in 1977, was relocated to a rubble-filled dump opposite the nearby Shaare Zedek Hospital in order to allow for the construction of the light rail's underground park 'n' ride. Also known as "Homage to Jerusalem," the bolted sheet metal masterpiece was the last major work completed by the visionary American artist (1898-1976) before his death. A gift of Philip and Muriel Berman of Pennsylvania through the Jerusalem Foundation, Calder intended his sinuous, site-specific installation to stand on a precipice, framing a panorama of the village of Ein Kerem and the rolling Judean Hills. He incorporated a "bench" under the steel sculpture's looming arches so visitors could appreciate the contrast between its bold fire engine red color, the green of the Jerusalem Forest and the azure Mediterranean sky. The temporary site by Shaare Zedek lacks this key design element, Elgrably concedes. Moreover the paint has faded, and the sculpture has been defaced by graffiti vandals. But Elgrably promises Calder's work will be restored and returned in May 2007, long before the grand opening of the light rail, when it will define the western terminus of the tram line, which in the indeterminate future will be extended to Hadassah-University Medical Center at Ein Kerem. Ironically while Calder's "Stabile" - the name invented by Jean Arp which Calder used for his freestanding, nonmoving sculptures in contrast to his signature hanging mobiles - is languishing in a desolate Bayit Vegan field, a major exhibition of the artist's work, called Alexander Calder in New York, including "Jerusalem Stabile (1:3 Intermediate Marquette)," opened in April at City Hall Park in the Big Apple. The work was loaned courtesy of the New York-based Calder Foundation in memory of the association between Calder and the Bermans. The Lower Manhattan retrospective will continue to March 2007. Jerusalem art patrons Philip and Muriel Berman and Barnett Shine have gone to their eternal reward in celestial Jerusalem, so they could not be consulted regarding the moving of their gifts. However, Jerusalem Foundation spokesman Steve Solomon says that it is its policy to contact families when a project is removed. A Hebrew-language sign erected by the JF beside the transplanted Calder explains that the new location is temporary. No plaque about Barnett Shine has been placed by the Nizkor memorial at the time of this writing. Elgrably promises that no more of Jerusalem's many public sculptures will be moved for the Red Line. Moreover, he says, at the heart of the project is the controversial, 320-metre-long single-column suspension bridge designed by Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava that promises to become an icon of the Israeli capital akin to San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Calatrava's slender curved bridge will cut an S-shaped path from Jaffa Road to Sderot Herzl, rising from near where the Nizkor monument used to stand, soaring above the perpetual traffic jam at the intersection of Jaffa Road and Sderot Herzl.