The ups and downs of an increasingly ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem

Despite secular residents' objections, Talbieh building to get Shabbat elevator.

Haaretz, Israel/October 11, 2011

Yes, there will be a Shabbat elevator in the seven-story building at 14 Jabotinsky Street in Jerusalem, after a majority of the homeowners voted in favor of the change. Among those in favor were broadcaster Haim Yavin and his wife, Yosefa, who no longer live in the building.

A Shabbat elevator has a mechanism that, when set, modifies the elevator's electricity consumption to avoid violations of Jewish law, and stops the elevator on every floor.

The more than three years of tension that preceded the vote tell yet another tale of secular woe over what they call the "encroachment" of religious and ultra-Orthodox families on secular areas of Jerusalem - like the Talbieh area, where Jabotinsky Street is located.

"We are afraid of becoming extinct. Talbieh is the last secular bastion in Jerusalem," said Yemima Gabai, a resident of the building who opposed the Shabbat elevator.

"When the religious moved into the building they accepted that it was not a religious building, and now, retroactively, they want to turn the elevator into a Shabbat-observant one and shove us secular residents aside," Gabai added.

The Yavins were the ones who had raised the issue to the other tenants, even though they moved to Tel Aviv several years ago, residents said.

Elevator opponents said that the Yavins, who saw the writing on the wall, wanted the building to be more attractive to religious families so they could sell their apartment at a better price.

"We ended up with an absurd situation," said Shlomo, another one of the elevator opponents. "People like the Yavin family, who left Jerusalem because of its 'Haredization,' now want to be able to sell their apartment at the highest possible price and are thus making Jerusalem even more Haredi."

It should be noted that unanimous agreement among the neighbors is no longer necessary to install a Shabbat elevator. The Knesset passed a law in March stipulating that in a building with only one elevator, residents can vote to turn it into a Shabbat elevator by a simple majority.

The law, initiated by MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi ), had the support of numerous secular MKs, including Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beiteinu ) and Eitan Cabel (Labor ).

"When the Knesset voted on this law, it might have looked as if it was just," said Dina Ilan, another Shabbat elevator opponent. "But they didn't realize that this is the tip of the iceberg of religious coercion."

Yosefa Yavin explained that the character of the building had changed, just as the character of much of Jerusalem had changed.

"If the majority wouldn't have wanted [the Shabbat elevator], it wouldn't have passed," she said. "It will operate only during prayer times, to allow older people who live in the building to get home without having to climb the stairs on Shabbat.

"I really don't understand the avarice of people," Yavin said. "We're talking about three people. Fifteen families, almost half of whom are secular, were interested in the Shabbat elevator."

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