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Israel News

COVID: ‘Jerusalem’s Shabbat’ brings Jews together from all over the city

CM 19/09/2021

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Following a months-long break that may have felt like forever – especially for those of us with energetic young children at home – forcefully induced by the social gathering restrictions of COVID, the “Jerusalem’s Shabbat” initiative has returned to the Holy City, and with it the promise of bringing people together in one of the most diverse cities in the world – while providing parents with a well-needed break.
Led by the city’s Youth Authority, the project aims “to provide activities for young families during weekends, close to home and through joint activities for both parents and children,” according to a statement by a spokesperson for the Jerusalem municipality.
And while the city has been providing various weekend activities for years, well-intended as they may be, such activities have usually represented the differences, rather than the similarities, that characterize life in Jerusalem, being directed at different populations depending on whether the activity is considered Shabbat-friendly or secular in nature.

The “Jerusalem’s Shabbat” initiative is the first of its kind to actively aim to bring people together, regardless of their personal beliefs. It is also the first time that the municipality has taken an active role in arranging and running the show.
Simply put, the initiative provides interactive activities for children in various parks across the city every Saturday afternoon during the summer season. Whether people come because they heard about the planned activity on the neighborhood WhatsApp group or because they happened to walk by and were intrigued, these diverse activities consistently draw a crowd.
Moreover, by defining the events as Shabbat-observant, they manage to connect between religious residents and their secular neighbors by literally creating a shared, respectful playground for all. Practically, it only means that the operators must set up the activities before Shabbat and take everything down once Shabbat is out. And it makes all the difference. 

 IT’S NOT only about offering children juggling lessons, interactive shows or large-scale board games. (credit: JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY) IT’S NOT only about offering children juggling lessons, interactive shows or large-scale board games. (credit: JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)

THE IDEA, or its implementation, started with Mayor Moshe Lion, said Ariella Rajuan, deputy director-general of the municipality and head of its Society, Culture and Sports Administration for the past six years. “Jerusalem was the first city to resume such activities following the pandemic,” she said, noting that the city was among the first in the country to install capsules in public spaces and allow a gradual and responsible return to normal life.
Born and raised in Jerusalem and having served as an education consultant to former mayor Nir Barkat while heading parents’ councils in different neighborhoods over the years, Rajuan stresses the importance of providing young parents with accessible day-to-day services.
“Our premise is that when a person is happy about his neighborhood, that everything is reachable by foot, that sidewalks are clear, that the neighborhood is clean and that the local park offers attractions – the combination of these components allows you to come home at night with a smile on your face, because you live in a pleasant environment,” Rajuan said. “At the end of the day, one’s environment determines one’s quality of life.”
It seems to be working, with parents and children alike expressing appreciation for these Saturdays, which have become somewhat of a tradition for some.
“The fact that these activities happen every week means that children slowly get to know the different operators that provide the activities,” said Shai Alfi, who helped manage some of the activities over the last few months. 
“It really moves the heart to see secular and haredi kids playing together, especially during Shabbat,” said Alfi, noting that Shabbat is such a special day for different people for completely different reasons, “so seeing people be respectful and avoiding using their phones when a religious family passes by for example, is special.”
But ultimately, it is not only about offering children juggling lessons, interactive shows, or large-scale board games in a pleasant environment. The true value lies in clearly stating to young parents: we’ve got your backs. Even on Shabbat.
HOWEVER, not all neighborhoods are born equal, and deciding where to hold Saturday events and where not to can be a tricky job. The mere size of Jerusalem – “Pisgat Ze’ev alone is bigger than the city of Ra’anana,” Rajuan notes – means that resources need to be allocated efficiently, while considering the specific needs of different populations.
Moreover, bearing in mind that “the city is spread across some 30 community administrations” can make the job a bureaucratic nightmare.
Luckily, the municipality has a solution. With the help of neighborhood coordinators, who are employed by the municipality and put in charge of developing community relations with locals, the city can stay in touch with its diverse population and target specific needs of specific communities. 
“Through polls and neighborhood coordinators, we’re able to identify the specific needs of specific areas and populations,” Rajuan said. “We go through great lengths to create a tailor-made suit for every resident. It’s not an easy thing to do in a complex city like ours… within that complexity, we try to offer a package that is suitable for everyone – Jerusalem is the city with the largest number of different educational frameworks, for instance.”

 ARIELLA RAJUAN, deputy director-general, head of Society, Culture and Sports Administration at the municipality. (credit: REUVEN KOPITICHINSKI) ARIELLA RAJUAN, deputy director-general, head of Society, Culture and Sports Administration at the municipality. (credit: REUVEN KOPITICHINSKI)

The goal is eventually to “allow people to live side by side and not at the expense of one another,” she said.
Allocating its resources efficiently meant identifying the neighborhoods that would participate and benefit most from the idea.
The project covers areas in different parts of the city and includes among others the neighborhoods of Gilo, Baka, Beit HaKerem, Kiryat Yovel, Pisgat Ze’ev, French Hill, Gonenim-Katamonim, Pat, and Har Homa.
The one common denominator? These neighborhoods all include a vibrant and active young population. “When you create a comfortable place for young people, they’re less likely to leave,” Rajuan said.
Her comment reflects a problematic phenomenon that the city of Jerusalem has been suffering from for years: young Israelis leaving the city in search of better job opportunities, affordable housing, or a more vibrant social life.
As such, Lion’s focus since taking office has mostly been creating a city that would keep its young population by tapping into their day-to-day needs and providing them with a pleasant and supportive surrounding. “When you tailor a suit comprised of a clean environment, cultural events close to home and a vibrant community, you make young people happy,” Rajuan said, adding that these areas have been at the forefront of the municipality’s activity in the past two and a half years.
More than a decade after moving from Givatayim to Jerusalem, Lion not only won the 2018 election over a young and popular Jerusalem native, Hitorerut’s Ofer Berkovitch, but having now completed half his tenure, is even quite popular. And his “Jerusalem’s Shabbat” initiative remains one of Lion’s successes in reshaping Jerusalem for the better.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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