Secularists fight Charedi housing plan

By Ben Lynfield, September 24, 2009
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In a Hebrew University dormitory building in the secular neighbourhood of Kiryat Yovel, the grafiti says ‘not here’, with an image of an ultra-Orthodox man. 1,000 Charedi families are about to move to the area

In a Hebrew University dormitory building in the secular neighbourhood of Kiryat Yovel, the grafiti says ‘not here’, with an image of an ultra-Orthodox man. 1,000 Charedi families are about to move to the area

The Charedi community has scored a victory in the latest round of its conflict with secular residents over the future of the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem. Last week a Charedi group won a tender for a large housing project expected to further consolidate the growing ultra-Orthodox presence in the area.

The rapid influx of Charedim into the neighbourhood is being met with unusually vocal opposition from secularists, and the area has come to symbolise the larger battle over the character of Israel’s capital.

In recent months strident secularists have waged a successful campaign to shut down unauthorised Charedi kindergartens that have proliferated in recent years and gained a pledge from the city to remove an unlicensed eruv. In July the Hebrew University cancelled a tender for selling its dormitories in the area after it became apparent that a Charedi group would win.

But just before Rosh Hashana Charedi investors gained a tender for building 216 apartments on Antenna Hill, between Kiryat Yovel and the Charedi Bayit Vagan neighbourhood.

Occupancy of the 4-5 room flats, which should begin three years from now, is expected to impact on Kiryat Yovel’s streets, which have become increasingly mixed. On Zangwill Street, female teenagers dressed in shorts walked back from school on Monday besides yeshivah students in black suits. A billboard advertising succahs that are “the easiest in the world to assemble” stood by one calling on secular residents to “rally for a free Jerusalem”.

Most of the new apartments will house people from Bayit Vagan, where there is a severe housing shortage. Arye Holzer, a Charedi lawyer who submitted the bid, said that a commercial area will also be built.

“I don’t think there will be friction” between Bayit Vagan and Kiryat Yovel because of the project, he said.

But secular Kiryat Yovel residents are worried about having more than 1,000 new Charedi neighbours.

“Already on shabbat, Charedim they walk in the middle of the street,” said Judith Sudilovsky, a journalist who lives locally. “It’s their way of doing things: not to take into consideration that this is not a religious neighbourhood and that people drive here. This project is at the entrance to the neighbourhood and you wonder how long they will let us drive in and out there. How long will it be until they close it? It’s like being imprisoned in your own neighbourhood.”

A religious immigrant from the UK, who asked not to be identified, said she blamed both sides for the tension.

“There are religious people here who deliberately antagonise and secular people who do the same. You can’t have an argument without two sides.”

    Last updated: 4:27pm, September 24 2009