Archive for the ‘City Matters’ Category


February 19, 2018

28 Shevat, 5778 Jerusalem, Hanoch Ne’eman

I stopped in Copenhagen, Denmark, for one day (13 Shevat, 5778) on my way back to Israel. Here are some of my thoughts and impressions.

First of all, they do not pronounce the name of their city “Copenhagen” any more than we say “Jerusalem” for our city of Yerushalayim. That was comforting to know. They say something like “Ko-pu-hawn”, with the last part very nasal.

I stayed in a nice place downtown called The Ibsens Hotel, and enjoyed the staff and room, as well as staying in a place named after a playwright, howbeit Norwegian. I did fly Norwegian Air back to Israel, which I was very happy with too. We stopped in Stockholm for a couple hours and I walked around outside at the airport, enjoying seeing the frosted trees.

In Copenhagen, the bicycles are everywhere, by the thousands! This is one of the main reasons I wanted to see it. That and the fact they helped most of their Jews escape the Gestapo in 1943.

The bicycles make Copenhagen human, “heimish”. Real people live here. People I can relate to as humans, because they are on bikes. Windows do not separate me from them. Riding a bike in Denmark is the most natural thing to do. People commute in groups with their friends. They are simple and healthy. I love them. And most of the bikes don’t have motors. Some have carriages for kids.

Image result for copenhagen              photo credit – U. of Copenhagen

There is a street for cars, a lane for bikes, and a sidewalk for pedestrians. Each in its place. Parallel but separate. All stop for the lights. There are even special traffic lights for the bikes, which if you are a bile rider you can understand the need for. It is civilized, like it should be. Yerushalayim, take note.

Also beautiful are the buildings, most, but not all, of which are no more than six stories high. Like Washington DC, this makes a much more humane and lovely city.

Copenhagen makes good use of water in its cityscape. There are large, rectangular water areas which separate parts of the town, which gives a calming effect on the city. They are called the Lakes. Also there are lovely parks, which also have small ponds in them.



Protest Management and Odor Issues

November 28, 2017

11 of Kislev 5778 Jerusalem, Hanoch Ne’eman

Got off a bus from Bet Shemesh today, around 4:30 pm.  Intersection near Jerusalem Central Bus Station smelled like… a barn?

Walking on Yaffo, I met a fellow who asked me if there had been protests up that way. Then I figured out that there must have been more protests, draft protests I assume, and the Police had used the stink stuff I had heard people talk about.

Give me a break, … Is there no better way to handle protests than to stink up our city?

Something is wrong with the Israeli Police… The Nose Knows!

And now you know too.


June 27, 2016

21 Sivan 5776 Hanoch Ne’eman Israel

Does litter on the street bother you? Are you surprised how many parents have failed to educate their children not to discard popsicle wrappers, candy wrappers, gum? Are you surprised how many people seem to think it is okay to leave cups, soda cans, take out food containers, cigarette butts, and newspapers on public benches, buses, electric boxes, and parks?

Would you, do you suspect, derive a certain pleasure from seeing some of these people leaning against a wall and being whipped by a public cleanliness officer?

Thanks for listening, that was therapeutic.



Loud Music and Violence

June 12, 2016

7th Sivan 5776 Jerusalem Chanoch Ne’eman

On Jerusalem Day last week, I was walking through the Liberty Bell Park with someone, in the evening. The park was filled with a lot of Jewish youth from around the country who come to the city for the holiday. As we were walking we suddenly heard loud arab music. Passing us quickly were 3 or four Arab teenagers, one of them carrying a small device with the music. Soon after, and when they were still close to us, one of them smashed his hand against a metal sign or fence, making a loud noise and frightening my companion. The Arab youth continued on their way with their music and went  towards the exit and toward Silwan I assume, from where many Arabs often come up to the park.

It reminded me of the two young arabs who pulled up in front of my building several weeks ago, car radio blasting arab music extremely loud. This was the day of the bus bombing here in our neighborhood, which occurred two and a half hours later. One gets out with a duffle bag which he puts on his right shoulder, I see it has a rectangular shaped box protruding in it. He looks like the kid whose picture appeared in the papers later in the week as the bomber.

I went to the police after I saw his picture in the paper to tell them my story. They wrote it down. To my question if they could tell me if and when they check the cameras by our intersection (I gave them the time to within 15 minutes), they said no. They said all the reports are forwarded to the officer in charge of the case, they would get to them in maybe two weeks, maybe six months. That is what they said to me.

Do you understand why we need to reform our police?

Regarding the loud music and violence, I do not think it arbitrary to say that there are implications for the muzziens we hear around our land as well.





February 7, 2016

28 Shevat 5776 Scottsdale, AZ Chanoch Ne’eman

Since it is the night after Shabbat (Sat. night) here in Arizona, and we said not long ago in Havdala, “Who distinguishes between light and darkness” it is a good time to say a word in praise of darkness. Since it is the end of the lunar month now, and therefore the moon is small, it is pretty dark here when I go out. That is helped by the fact that this neighborhood does not have street lights; rather each home is required to have a small pole with a light on it at the end of the driveway. It allows you to see the darkness much better. I believe it is healthy to see the light during the day, and to experience the darkness at night. In a light-polluted city at night, one is missing out. Variety is good.

Crossing Town

January 15, 2016

5 Shevat 5776 Jerusalem Hanoch Ne’eman (c)

Riding the bus to the University five days a week this year has brought me in closer connection with Jerusalem. Before this year, when I was just working in my small landscaping business in my part of southern Jerusalem (Baka, Katamon), I rarely rode the buses. I saw the same streets, and avoided the more congested ones when I could.

Now as I take the 34 line from near my home to all the way to Mt. Scopus, I pass through several neighborhoods, including the center of town, Jewish religious neighborhoods, and Arab areas.

I feel like Walt Whitman waving his arms as he careens down a city street perched on a streetcar. I feel more connected with all the people in this city. The kids going to school, the elderly going to the store, the mothers with their children in tow or carriages. Many of them I feel affection for and very connected to. Some repulse me, like those who put their feet up on the bus seat opposite them. But for good or bad, commuting on an intracity bus connects me more to the fibre of the city.

Jerusalem Garbage

January 8, 2016

Friday, 27 Tevet, 5776 Jerusalem – Chanoch Ne’eman (c)

For a week or so, garbage has piled up uncollected, or under-collected, in Jerusalem. The Mayor is asking the National Government for money to pay for collection. This must raise the question why Jerusalem fails to pay for its garbage collection on its own?

Jerusalem spent hundreds of millions of shekels on light festivals and other entertainment. Perhaps it should have made sure it first had enough money for garbage collection? Why should other Israelis pay for Jerusalem’s garbage collection? Is not Jerusalem the city of high rents and property values? Why should people living in less expensive places pay for our collection?

I think part of the answer is that Jerusalem allows about one third of the residents to be exempt from part or all of their municipal taxes, making the city relatively poor.

I propose two solutions to the problem. One, don’t exempt residents from city taxes. Make the tax a mandatory obligation of the apartment owner, be he Donald Trump or Shlomie the Beggar or Ahmed the driver. Then you would stop subsidizing slums in Jerusalem, those people who can’t afford to live here would move to places where they can really afford, and housing would be more affordable to those who are prepared to pay city taxes.

Two, as I said, don’t spend on entertainment if you don’t have the money to do it without begging for a $100 million from the National Government, as our Mayor is now doing.

May Hashem help us here in Jerusalem to act in a fiscally more responsible manner, Amen.

Image result for garbage truck

Where there is smoke…

November 24, 2015

Sea Rosh Hanikra12 Kislev 5776  Jerusalem  Chanoch Ne’eman (c)

Today, on Mount Scopus, was again the smell of burning garbage. Hundreds of people there, including me, were forced to breathe it as we walked outside.

I can see myself where in the Arab neighborhood below the smoke is rising from. But this happens regularly, today like yesterday. The Police do not go there to do anything. It happens throughout Israel.

I do not think these failings to keep order are unrelated to all the terror attacks we suffer from. When you have a society where the Police do not know how to keep order, you have disorder, of all types.

Police Reform is one of the major Zionist challenges of our day.

New York

July 16, 2015

29 of Tammuz, 5775  New Jersey

Yesterday I got into that island called Manhattan, I like places with Native American names. It was my first visit there in two years. Here are some of my observations.

First of all, the cars really looked redundant. I don’t know why they let them in there. Nor do I know why anyone wants to take them in there, paying $14 to go through the Lincoln Tunnel. We took the bus in.

You have those city streets with their rivers of traffic flowing down them. Walking, bicycles, buses and trains should be enough. And of course their are the cabs. And there is the commercialization of women, for example on the roof mounted ads of many taxis, advertising “Gentlemen’s Club” with the street address and a picture of a woman. It would be just as offensive if it were for a “Ladies’ Club” with a picture of a man. Neither of them are either gentlemen or ladies, rather they should say “Low-life’s Club”.

These ads do not have to be legal. It is a testament to the moral weakness of the society that they are allowed. Another disgusting thing I saw was an establishment called “Killing Bar”, with a drawing of a dagger; evidently it was some kind of horror show or murder theme bar. I would not allow it in my City.

And then there are all the atrocious large screen billboards, which today are often TV screens. Plus a lot of standard neon and flashing lights.

They are building a super-tall ugly residential building at 432 Park Ave. This is the result of changed zoning laws. Stupid mistake in my opinion. May we protect our Israeli skylines from such pollution.


On the positive side, many lovely buildings. Many good, normal people working, living, visiting.

Central Park is still great.


Yerushalmim Party Celebration

April 7, 2015

6 Nisan 5775 (Mar. 26)   Chanoch Ne’eman

On Wed. night, the 25th of March I attended the victory celebration of the Yerushalmim Party, whose chairwoman, Rachel Azaria, was elected to the Knesset with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party.
The gathering was in celebration of attaining a Knesset seat, as well as the resulting switches in the City Council. The Yerushalmim have two seats on the Council. Mrs. Azaria was serving as one of the City’s paid deputy mayors. Tamir Nir, the second Council member, will now take over the Deputy Mayorship. And Rabbi Aharon Leybowitz, who was the third candidate on the Yerushalmim ticket in the last municipal election, will now sit on the Council in Mrs. Azaria’s place.
All three were at the celebration, as well as many supporters and well-wishers. As a Jerusalem resident who takes interest in city affairs, I went to report on the event and learn about their plans.
Mrs. Azaria, a young Jerusalem mother, speaks quickly in both Hebrew and English. She was born in Jerusalem, her mother immigrated to Israel from America. (Mrs. Azaria had to give up her American citizenship now that she is entering the Knesset). Mrs. Azaria is an observant Jewess. She does not cover her hair, but she is shomer shabbat and mitzvot, and every time I have seen her in public, wears skirts. The Yerushalmim movement is made up of Jewish Jerusalemites of various levels of mitzvot observance, and they take as their banner the cause of religious pluralism in the city. As such they have worked to counter what they see as certain “extreme” efforts of Haredi groups to further what the Yerushalmim call religious coercion.
I first heard Rachel Azaria speak at a course on the city budget I took in the summer of 2012. As one of two City Council members who spoke to the class, Mrs. Azaria said you can not judge the budget by the printed budget alone. Most of her talk was anecdotes on budget item episodes.
During the last City Council, Mrs. Azaria held the portfolio of pre-school age children (Gil HaRach in Hebrew). She spoke about kindergartens. We had learned from another speaker in the course that Jerusalem has a unique education situation, in that there are a lot of students, some 225,000, and they are in a wide variety of school systems, probably more than most places in the world. There are the state religious schools, the Arab schools, the independent religious schools, etc. Mrs. Azaria said her daughter was in a city kindergarten, and there were some 35 children in her class. In the same neighborhood, she noticed that Chabad was proposing opening three kindergartens, each of which would have between 17 to 21 students. She looked into this to see how it could be.
She learned that the Chabad kindergartens function as amutot, non-profit organizations. They get money from the city to run kindergartens, and they are required to have at least 17 children in a class. They are given the same money as the other kindergartens, but they can choose how to spend it. They therefore open more kindergartens with less students each. They pay their teachers less than the city run schools, and instead choose to spend the money on transport and other things which attract people to their kindergartens. Also, she said, since they don’t have use of city school buildings, they are given money to rent premises. Often the amuta will choose to buy a property and use the rent money to pay the mortgage. Thus, over the years, the amuta comes to own the property.
I personally didn’t think this was so bad, and that perhaps that it showed that the private sector can run a better school than the government. Indeed, this is why a lot of non-observant parents choose to send their children to Chabad kindergartens.
Related to kindergartens, Mrs. Azaria related an incident which occurred with one of the city budgets. There was some fuzzily defined item on the budget for a place in a Haredi neighborhood in Ramot. Mrs. Azaria researched the item and discovered that there was a certain property there which they intended to use for eight separate kindergartens. She brought the item to the attention of Mayor Barkat who was shocked it had almost slipped through unnoticed.
The second item Mrs. Azaria spoke to us about was mikvahs (ritual baths). As a religious person, she is in favor of mikvahs, but was concerned that the Haredi council members were trying to build mikvahs with city funds in places where there was little demand for them, i.e. a small observant population. She called this “marking territory”, – trying to prepare new neighborhoods for an influx of observant residents. She noted that many of the existing mikvahs were over-used and in need of repairs, and that she felt money should be directed to that instead of building new ones in non-observant neighborhoods. I could hear that, but the non-observant neighborhoods were close to observant ones and could help with the overflow (no pun intended). But it probably does have a marking territory aspect too.
Certainly the Haredim are known for being good at working the system, and I believe it is good that there are people like Mrs. Azaria to watch out that they do not go overboard. However, I also believe that sometimes the “keep-the-Haredim-in-line” camp goes overboard itself in not recognizing legitimate concerns and rights of the Haredi sector.
For example, one of the main issues Mrs. Azaria fought for was the right for women to appear in public ads. The Haredi sector had convinced the Egged bus company to not put pictures of women on Jerusalem buses. Mrs. Azaria and her party petitioned the High Court of Justice to cancel this agreement, which they did. Mrs. Azaria gained notoriety for this effort, which she characterized as the battle against excluding women. However, I think the main concern of the Haredi public, and I myself identify with this concern, is the desire to not see the beauty of women being used to sell things. This, I feel, is degrading to women. Because we champion the dignity of women, we don’t want their beauty commercialized. I do not believe the interest is to exclude them. Our tradition and values teach us that a woman’s beauty is a private family matter. I felt the Yerushalmim efforts failed to note this, and cast the issue as an exclusion effort.
I thought that any compromise should take this into consideration. For example, we could decide that no pictures of either males or females appear on public ads. That is a least common denominator which is equal in its exclusion. Today we have so many private means of communication, our public spaces should be visually acceptable to all.
At the victory celebration, the three representatives in succession stood on a chair to address the crowd standing both inside and outside the small Nachlaot Cafe. Rabbi Leybowitz spoke first, followed by Tamir Nir, followed by Mrs. Azaria.
The new MK reiterated her vision of a pluralistic Jerusalem, and of the need to cooperate with all groups. “We did not come home after two thousand years to fight with each other.” She noted some of the lessons learned over the years of their activity: “We learned that we need to speak, and sometimes even shout. We learned that you need to act, and you also have to let people know you acted.”
Indeed, one thing which has impressed me over the past seven years of Yerushalmim activity is their ability to publicize their activities. Mrs. Azaria is of the Facebook/social media generation, and has used them well.
I can contrast this to Naomi Tzur, another person I have respected for many years. Mrs. Tzur was part of Mayor Barkat’s first term team, serving as a Deputy Mayor in that administration. Mrs. Tzur is also an observant woman, and had served for many years as the Director of the Jerusalem branch of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). As such, she had a lot of experience in bureaucracy and long-term projects. She, for example, was one of the main movers and champions of the new Jerusalem Urban Park opening March 30, called Gazelles Valley.
But Mrs. Tzur, about twice the age of Mrs. Azaria, was not a master of publicity like her younger colleague. I don’t know if that had anything to do with Mayor Barkat’s decision to not include Mrs. Tzur again on his ticket when he ran for re-election. He instead chose, after his re-election, to name Mrs. Azaria as a deputy mayor, though the Yerushalmim only have two seats on the thirty-one member Council. One might say that, in effect, Mrs. Azaria replaced Mrs. Tzur as the Observant Jewish Woman Deputy Mayor on the Council. Barkat, who many people in my southern Jerusalem area voted for because “he’s not the Haredi guy”, may also have admired Azaria’s help in the Pluralistic (read Not-Haredi) Jerusalem efforts.
Standing on the chair, Azaria went on to say that they learned that it is possible to work harder than you thought possible, and that sometimes you get angry, and sometimes you cry, but it is worth it to see you can make a difference in this wonderful city which we are privileged to have come back to.
Tamir Nir spoke second. Nir is not per se observant, but he is one of these secular Israelis who takes a strong interest in Jewish learning. Indeed, Nir’s speech was the most evoking of religious symbol. He began by saying that we are approaching the holiday of Pesach, and how that fills us with thoughts of the Redemption of the Past, as well as the Redemption of the Future. How it gives us the courage to dream. He then went on to say how it all begins with dreams, dreams of how we want to see Jerusalem. How he started with his dreams, and Rachel with hers, and Rabbi Aharon with his, and all the movement’s activists with theirs. On all the levels of involvement – in one’s building committee, in one’s community council, on the City Council, and now – the Knesset!
He himself was active on those various community levels, from his neighborhood of Bet Hakerem. He was also involved in forming a youth program to teach children about nature. He teaches at these secular Torah study programs. I find him to be a very favorable figure, both because he is someone who has worked from the local level up, and because of his warm personality. He is an architect by profession, and has also studied city planning. Some months ago I attended a meeting of the city environment committee which he presided over. He was also then in charge of the preservation committee. Preservation is a touchy subject in Jerusalem, and I think Mr. Nir is the right type of person to oversee it. Indeed, recently someone from my neighborhood launched into the committee for their supposed “caving in” to developers on some building, and Nir responded properly that a proper balance is needed. Not every old building needs to be preserved. Wisdom and balance are needed.
The venue of the celebration was a small bar-cafe in Nachlaot called Slow Moshe’s. It turns out this was not by chance, but that the establishment was related to an initiative of Rabbi Aharon Leybowitz, who will now sit on the City Council. He started an alternative kashrut certification organization, called, creatively, “Hashgacha Pratit” (Private Supervision, literally, but also meaning personal providence). The idea is that trained volunteers from a neighborhood give private supervision to their local restaurants, as opposed to paying the Rabbinate for their certification. I think this is a good thing to have in addition to the Rabbinate. There were times in the past when I had thought of going into the restaurant business, and I would have liked something like this if I had.
Rabbi Leybowitz has a yeshiva in Nachlaot, and is the head of the Center of Town Community Council. Originally from Berkeley, California, you can say perhaps that he is liberal from birth. My friend Adam Nahoum, who I often pray with on Shabbat, arrived at the celebration with his wife Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who had been the number four candidate on Yerushalmim’s last election list. Fleur introduced me to Rabbi Leybowitz, who I managed to ask a few questions.
I asked what his hopes and plans were for the City Council. “Well”, he said, “I am taking over Rachel’s seat and portfolios, which include both education, and women’s status. And while some may think it curious that an orthodox rabbi should be in charge of women’s status issues, the truth is all these issues are close to my heart.”
He gave some examples of issues Rachel had been involved with and which he would continue to pursue. Regarding women’s mikvahs, there is demand by some secular or less observant women who go to the mikvah to not have the woman mikvah attendant present in the mikvah room when they immerse. According to Jewish Law (Halacha), another woman needs be present to confirm the immersion was proper. Rabbi Aharon said he believes in the halacha and wants everyone to do it, but he can understand how these women feel and that perhaps they should be allowed to make this choice. I suggested that perhaps there is a safety issue too, as there are men who occasionally drown in mikvahs, where they are not accompanied. He gave an expression of partial consent, but added that most people don’t need a lifeguard in their bathtub.
Another example he gave was with regard to toys given to the young children in school. He said that the girls are often given kitchen toys, whereas the boys are given building toys. This may tend to stunt the girls’ interest in building and thwart their freedom to choose. I thought this was a little much, but I am also for freedom of choice, even with toys. “No recess without representation!” Later in the week I asked a woman who ran a preschool program in Jerusalem for eleven years about it, and she said the toy choice is usually voluntary by the children. On Shabbat, my friend related a story his sister had told him about a place where they tried giving “equal” toys to the toddlers. A little girl who was given three toy tanks to play with picked them up and said, “this is the Mommy tank, this is the…”.
Sitting across from my friend Adam at a small table in the entrance to the cafe, sipping both my hot cider and one of the shots of Arak which were passed out, I asked Adam what he, as a Jerusalem resident, would like to see different in the city. I had to wait for a response, because Adam, who has a dental practice in Mevaseret, was looking at x-rays he had just received on his cell-phone. “It’s terrible with these phones, he said, you can’t get away from work!”
When he finally put away the phone, he answered, “I would like to be able to visit places in East Jerusalem, without having to fear for my life. There are so many historical places there I would like to visit.” I agreed with him, and told him of how when I had rode my bicycle from our Baka neighborhood past the Tayelet into East Jerusalem, groups of young kids threw rocks at me and teenagers told me to get out.
“It is a police issue”, I told him. In addition to many other things the police are negligent in, they do not police East Jerusalem properly. At a campaign evening for English speakers, held by the Yerushalmim before the last Municipal elections in 2013, a woman who recently experienced the unprofessional behaviour of the Police, asked what could perhaps be done about the problem. Mrs. Azaria then responded, as most of the candidates do, that the Police are national and do not answer to the municipalities like in America. Though it was not their issue, she said, they could try to make it their issue.
Well, now Mrs. Azaria is in the Knesset, so perhaps she will have the opportunity to affect this important issue on the national level. I hope that the Kachlon group does not go overboard in trying to tax the rich with inheritance taxes and things like that. Both Haredim and wealthy people are people too.
On the whole, I am rather sympathetic toward the Yerushalmim and their representatives. They are intelligent people who I believe will be responsive to public needs. I do not agree with all their positions, as I have noted, but I find them to to be honest people, respectful of Jewish tradition, who care about our city and country, and who have shown dedication to community service. I wish them mazel tov and good luck in their new roles.