Jerusalem Grapevine: Multiplying projects

Lev Leviev
► THERE’S AN additional powerful player in the Jerusalem Municipality’s urge for urban renewal. So many old buildings are either being torn down or spruced up to give a face-lift to the city that certain streets and suburbs have become unrecognizable, as familiar structures disappear, to be replaced by tall towers that block the view of the distant horizon.
Real estate in the capital was once sold on the promise of a view to the Judean desert. Not anymore, because even a view from a penthouse gracing a tall tower is temporary and remains only till an even taller tower goes up next door. Tel Aviv long ago began to emulate Hong Kong, and Jerusalem is beginning to do the same.
Now ready to aggressively compete for the Tama 38-Alef Evacuate and Build projects in Jerusalem is a subsidiary of Africa Israel called Africa Urban Renewal.
The parent company, in which billionaire Lev Leviev has the controlling stake, has for years been criticized for allowing the former President Hotel on Ahad Ha’am Street to fall into total neglect – so much so that the structure is dangerous.
The building, situated on half a hectare of land, was purchased some 28 years ago by Africa Israel, which intended to construct a luxury residential complex on the site. But the municipality, which is consistently interested in adding to the number of hotels in the city, insisted that it should remain a hotel. Leviev dug in his heels, and the building, which at one stage changed its identity to become an immigrant absorption center, continued to deteriorate.
Finally, in mid-2014, Leviev reached a compromise agreement with the municipality whereby the property that he would build in place of the President Hotel would be a mixed hotel and residential complex.
However, there has been no progress since then, and the building remains an eyesore. For whatever reason, the municipality has not used this as leverage against Africa Israel in the latter’s applications for permits for other building projects in the city.
Now it seems that its projects will multiply. In an interview that Assaf Simon, the CEO of Africa Urban Renewal, gave to Kuti Fundaminsky of Yediot Yerushalayim, he made it clear that the company intends to outbid its rivals in the construction industry and have a monopoly over future Tama 38-Alef projects. He conceded that it won’t be easy – not so much because of the competition, but because Jerusalemites tend to be suspicious of real estate developers and will not be quick to sign on the dotted line. Nonetheless, he was confident that the company would be able to persuade reluctant apartment owners to join in the renewal enterprise.
► FRICTION BEGAN to develop in Talbiyeh’s Hazvi Yisrael synagogue, which has three separate congregations, which convene on different levels of the building and conduct their services in different ways and at different times.
The top floor of the building is in need of repair, and until this is completed, the congregants have been invited to participate in services in the main synagogue, where the Shabbat service is usually held at a fairly leisurely pace, and with congregational singing. On the other hand, the upstairs service runs at the pace of an express train and is over within less than an hour and a half. Certain passages of the service are omitted and, generally, there is no singing.
Last Saturday, as part of the welcome for the upstairs congregants, some of their members were invited to conduct the service. Afterward, there were complaints from the regulars who attend the main service. “We invited them to participate, not to take over,” fumed an angry Anita (Sugie) Ellis. “Someone should tell them that buses don’t run on Shabbat,” said one of the male congregants from the central congregation. There was great dissatisfaction in general, and there were fears that the situation could erupt into civil war. To prevent that from happening, the upstairs services were moved temporarily to the Na’amat premises on the corner of Shalom Aleichem and Jabotinsky streets. Services begin at 8:45 a.m.