The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Friday, January 18, 2008

My God, its'a giant . . . giant . . . Come to think of it, I'm not sure.

For several years there has been construction on a light rail system in Jerusalem, which has turned out to be fuller of graft and mismanagement than even Jerusalemites expected. That’s saying something, because Jerusalem’s government has so much corruption that even Chicago's Mayor Daley thinks it’s a bit slimy. Now scheduled for competition 2010, there are elements of the light rail visible, especially by the entrance to the city. Most notably, they are building this huge... thingy. (sorry it's sideways- just hold your monitor on a 90 degree angle until I can rotate it) I asked dozens of people what it was, and their reply as always the same: "Some thing to do with the light light rail."

I consulted the oracle of our day, Wikipedeia. Sure enough, it's a big public project with no practical benefit to anyone besides the artist and those involved in tis construction. There's no money for schools, but as always, there is money for a 220 million shekel (that's about $58 million bucks) sculpture. It’s called the "Chords Bridge." It has nothing to do with music and it’s not a bridge. It’s a monument to rest at the entrance to the city in a base of glass and local stone. It will be the highest feature of the city, visible almost everywhere. This is a nice thought- it is sure to be very pretty.

Jerusalem is a city with problems. It remains divided along racial and religious lines (I'm sure you're shocked) to begin with, and the city faces massive challenges to infrastructure. For example many homes still use sewer systems last repaired during the Ottoman Freakin' Empire.

Shamefully, on the fringes of the city of Jerusalem there are Bedouins - and Jews - living in squalor. There are schools without the supplies they need. Affordable housing is disappearing, as more and more luxury apartments go up. As more and more of this city becomes empty for 50 weeks of the year, the economy dies a bit more, and life becomes a bit more of anightmare for local retailers. The makolet down the block can not survive on the influx of jews from Teaneck who come in for Passover and Sukkot. Its getting too expensive for students and families to live here-- crisis is looming over the city's future.

There are all these real problems in addition to the fact that the light rail is several years (years, not months) behind schedule and several tens of millions of shekels over budget. Yet this thing can go up with no problem? Yes, art is critical to the development of a city. But if it was your house, you would make sure there was food and water and light before you went shopping for replicas of your favorite Picasso print. Massive civic artworks should wait when kids don't have what they need to learn and when families are hungry.

In the words of Tevye, "There is no other hand." This thing is a shameful waste, no matter how pretty it will look.

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