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Monday, November 24, 2014

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Building Jerusalem (5)

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In April, CJN reporter Paul Lungen wrote a poignant story about the full-from-the-heart involvement of a retired 87-year-old Yiddish and Hebrew teacher from Toronto (formerly from Montreal), Yankle Gladstone, in the renovation of a run-down 3-1/2-storey building in downtown Jerusalem. 

The renovation is not a real estate project. 

It is, rather, a communal, caring-for-one-another, “building Jerusalem” project undertaken by the Jerusalem Foundation, Mayor Nir Barkat, and the City Centre (Lev Ha’ir) Community Centre. Indeed, the project is so important that the foundation considers it to be its  “flagship” initiative.

The 3-1/2-storey building is a community centre still in the making that will one day become an educational, cultural, athletic, social, young adult, teen, seniors, neighbourhood hub for the many thousands of Jerusalem’s residents in or near the downtown core. 

As described by the foundation, the essential purpose of the ambitious project is “to create change and redesign the City Centre as a lively and dynamic, creative and positive centre for the populations that live, visit, work and spend time in this area.”

The area in question, Morasha, is the neighbourhood, more or less at the end of Jaffa Road, adjacent to the Old City between the Jaffa and Damascus Gates. It is a diverse, colourful, collage of diverse groupings of Jerusalem’s residents, many, if not most, of whom live at or under the poverty line.

Yankle’s generous involvement in the project is specifically aimed at providing a facility within the centre to help newly arrived Ethiopians adjust to life in the modern State of Israel. But the programming in the centre is an ambitious interwoven multi-purpose, multi-tiered fabric of events, sessions, seminars, opportunities and happenings. 

Other Canadians, too, have taken to heart the establishment of this vital community centre in Jerusalem’s hardscrabble city centre. Individuals and families from across the country have joined this exceptional effort in building Jerusalem.

That they have is not surprising to Jerusalem Foundation president, Mark Sofer. For, as he pointed out to The CJN last month, due to Canada’s multicultural mosaic, Canadians seem intrinsically to better understand the complex socio-ethnic nature of the city and are more in sync with the infrastructure of mutual respect, tolerance and co-existence that the foundation is trying to implant throughout the city. 

“Jerusalem will not become an ethnic melting pot,” Sofer told The CJN. “But the different ethnic groups can live in harmony, side by side, in this society.”

Indeed, so pivotal is the ongoing role of Canadian philanthropists in helping build the community centre that the foundation has called it Canada House. There is even a dedication plaque attached at the entrance to the building that expressly recognizes this distinctive Canadian goodness and generosity toward the people of Jerusalem which reads: “Canada House is dedicated to the many Canadians who share the values of Co-existence, Culture and Community with the Jerusalem Foundation.”

Leading the organized charge in trying to respond in innovative, dignity-preserving ways to the needs and distresses of the many individuals who live in the city centre is Uri Amedi, the head of the Lev Ha’ir (City Centre ) Community Council. (See From the editor’s desk June 28). 

Amedi has an office of course. But he seems perpetually to be outside, walking the streets of downtown Jerusalem seeking the welfare of its people --– his people – storing in the Rolodex of his mind even the minutest details of all that he sees or hears: smiles on faces that greet him, broken pipes that need fixing, privation that needs relieving, sadness that needs comforting, success that warrants celebration.

He walks everywhere. He sees everyone. 

At a crowded arts and crafts fair one Friday morning last month on Bezalel Street, near the famed Bezalel Arts Academy, I happened upon Amedi. He too was strolling on the street, winding slowly around the many vendors’ temporary kiosk displays. He was clearly pleased with the crowded human traffic that was overtly happy in the sunshine and finding boisterous, noisy delight in Jerusalem.

I had met him only five days before. But we embraced an embrace of friends who had not seen each other in a long while.  

“Building Jerusalem is holy work,” he told me. Then, stretching his right hand across an expanse of the artists’ market in front of us, he added “and what you see here is part of that work. Please help us. Please tell your readers that we need their help.”

I promised him I would. “The hands will be mine, but the voice will be yours. The voice will be that of Uri Amedi.”

When we next utter the prayer for the building of Jerusalem, we must remember that it falls to us, mere human beings trying to better the world, to be God’s agents in doing so.

MBD

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