This week in Jerusalem: Peggy Cidor's round-up of city affairs

This week in Jerusalem

Big bad bang Less than a week after an explosive dispute between Mayor Nir Barkat and the head of the Jerusalem Association for Community Councils and Centers, the second round is being launched. By the end of last week, Barkat revealed his plan to reorganize the councils and the new staff administration that will serve them from within the municipality. Beyond the question of whether the plan is meant to be a vendetta against association director-general Tzvika Chernichovski or just make him superfluous, the bottom line is that the whole concept of community councils is undergoing a major transformation. Time will tell if this will improve the services they provide to the residents or just give the mayor more powers as his opponents claim. One thing is sure: Even people who were not enthusiastic about Barkat's attitude and strategy in this issue felt uneasy and embarrassed by the large media campaign launched by the Forum of Chairpersons against the mayor and his plans. "Even if they are right, and until a few days ago that was my position," says a board member of one of the councils, "this campaign will cost money that could be used to defray the cost of classes in the centers for needy children. How are we going to explain that?" Riding it out Last Thursday the district court rejected the appeal submitted by parents of pupils in Ramot and Morasha (Musrara), and ruled that the municipality can no longer provide organized transportation to and from the schools. The municipality announced that from now on, the money will be used for additional educational programs in the city's schools, including computers for students and teachers. At the same time, an agreement was struck with Egged to ensure that public buses will replace the above-mentioned private transports, while needy students will receive bus tickets free of charge. Some of the parents who protested against the plan tried to convince the court to rule that all the children at least receive free bus tickets, regardless of their financial situation. On this issue the court has not ruled specifically, though it appears, according to the parents, that they might have a case. But at Kikar Safra, the official position is that all the budget used so far on transportation should be transferred to upgrading the city's education system to make it more attractive. When some of the parents asked Barkat what he would have done in their place, he responded, "When I was a kid, I used to ride my bicycle to school." Behind the scenes at Intel The ritual Shabbat protests have moved from the Karta parking lot to the Intel building in Har Hotzvim. So far, despite the efforts on the part of the haredi community, the general public and the media have shown a clear preference for their opponents. After all, a city that wants to combat poverty, unemployment, exclusion and lack of economic resources has to support the Intel side, which represents employment, modernity, progress and making a living for all. Still, this week - the third in the demonstrations against Intel - brought some unexpected support to the haredim. The latest weekly letter sent by the Israel Religious Action Center, not to be suspected of any kind of sympathy for the haredim, reminded us all that Shabbat is the official day of rest in Israel, and while there shouldn't be any coercion on people not to work on that day if it suits them, there also shouldn't be too much hostility toward those who, even if they are not observant, still enjoy a day of rest with their families and friends, a respite from the rat race for one day at least. Could it be that the haredim, once again, have given us a lesson in solidarity and a true appreciation of the value of life? On their toes Lady Comfort, an Israeli factory that specializes in healthy and comfortable shoes, opened its first store in Jerusalem this week. The location - at the ISPRO Center at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Ein Kerem - is by no means accidental, says company representative Sharon Bachar. "We have noticed that nurses and young girls who work as waitresses have shown a clear preference for healthy shoes, so we came to the conclusion that we should open a shop near a major hospital, and what could be better than to start at Hadassah?" Lady Comfort offers a new line of shoes, adapted to the latest fashion trends without compromising on health, stability, comfort up to the specific needs of diabetics. Since the shoes are made in Israel, the prices are quite reasonable (from NIS 289 to NIS 319), and the styles vary from evening shoes to high boots. Green with envy After nearly 10 years, the city park project in Jerusalem's Prihar Valley, better known as Gazelle Valley, has finally been approved by the Interior Ministry's district planning committee. The proposed park, conceived by residents of the area and promoted by the Action Committee for the Gazelle Valley, would be divided into three parts: the play area, with various playgrounds; special plots for community activities, and an enlargement of the existing Jerusalem Bird Observatory. Pazit Schweid, director of the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, one of the partners in the action committee, welcomes the plan's approval. "This is a pioneering project, planned by city residents, that aims to connect between the residents and the city's nature and green areas," she says. "I call on the Jerusalem Municipality, an active participant in this important process, to forward it, and to turn the plan into a reality, by allocating land and resources to develop the valley."