A rendering of the development that is planned to replace the current Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. (image from JCCGV)
A recently signed agreement is a significant next step in the largest infrastructure project in the history of British Columbia’s Jewish community. The deal is expected to create a new Jewish community centre, as well as at least 300 rental housing units and larger, renewed facilities for many communal institutions, replacing the existing, almost 60-year-old community centre.
A memorandum of understanding between the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver was signed last month. The agreement will likely see the land owned by the JCC transferred to a new community-wide agency. According to a joint statement by the two organizations, the proposed new 200,000-square-foot “recreational, cultural and community centre [will include] new childcare spaces, more services for seniors, an expanded space for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, a new theatre and more.” At least 15 not-for-profit community organizations are anticipated to be housed there, as well as updated and enlarged facilities for arts and culture, aquatics, and fitness programs. Mixed-use rental housing units included in the plan are expected to be offered at or below market value and be open to everyone.
The project will advance based on a collaborative fundraising initiative. A campaign goal has not been announced.
“This agreement is an important initial step toward acting upon the community’s vision for a revitalized JCC that would become a legacy for the Jewish community and the city,” Salomon Casseres, president of the JCC board, said in the statement. “Our board is excited to partner with Jewish Federation. We believe that this collaboration puts the project on a strong foundation for success, from a community, financial and governance perspective.”
“An opportunity like this comes along perhaps once in a generation, so we are very proud to be working closely with the JCC on this historic project,” Alex Cristall, Jewish Federation’s board chair, said in the statement. “Jewish Federation takes a broad, long-term view of the sustainability, growth and evolution of the local Jewish community, and we believe that this project will create a strong core that will ultimately allow us to increase our reach and our impact.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation, told the Independent that the collaboration is a “big win” for the community.
“Federation has always been a proponent for the concept of working together on projects that have an impact that’s beyond the reach of one agency and we are thrilled that the JCC agrees with us that this is one of those projects,” he said. “It absolutely should be common in all cities.… For me, it’s best practice.”
The new JCC will strengthen the entire community, he said, adding that the impacts will reach far beyond the Oakridge neighbourhood.
“We are not just creating a strong future for that 41st and Oak corridor, the Vancouver Jewish community, but I believe we’re creating a strong future for the community across the Lower Mainland as a whole,” Shanken said, expressing his gratitude to the JCC and its leadership.
“I think the JCC has shown immense foresight and courage in coming together with us, to have the openness to work through the challenges and opportunities that exist in partnership, and I believe that this partnership will glean really great results for the Jewish community as a whole,” he said.
Eldad Goldfarb, executive director of the JCC, said working together hand in hand is the best way forward and the partnership is a natural one. The collaboration between the JCC and Federation is the largest partnership, but is part of a broader engagement process, he added.
“The master planning process of this legacy community project has involved an extensive engagement effort by the JCC, reaching out and having conversations with more than 30 Jewish community organizations, many stakeholders, donors and community members,” said Goldfarb. “The JCC, as we know it today, is home to 15 different Jewish community organizations and the new redevelopment might increase these collaborations opportunities.”
Discussions about the partnership between the two organizations have always been very collaborative, open and in good faith, Goldfarb said.
“This project is about creating a JCC for the future of the community, with more and better childcare, seniors, wellness, arts, culture and education state-of-the-art spaces, but is not limited to only that,” he said. “Our vision is to create an innovative community site which will include a brand new J, as well as a welcoming and collaborative home for many other community organizations and, of course, the much-needed large rental affordable housing towers.”
Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the JCC site redevelopment plan in September 2018. Several major steps remain in the design and planning process, as well as the raising of the millions of dollars required to complete it.
Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building of King David High School, are back for the expansion. (image from KDHS)
Bucking a trend that is seeing Jewish day schools across North America struggling to maintain enrolment, Vancouver’s King David High School is about to launch an expansion that will grow the space by 40% to accommodate increasing demand from students.
The Diamond Foundation, which purchased the land on which the school sits and funded construction of the school, which opened in 2005, has committed $6.5 million for the expansion project. Building is expected to begin in spring 2020, with completion in time for the opening of school in September 2021.
The school was built for 10 classes – two cohorts in each of grades 8 to 12.
“The challenge is, unfortunately, they don’t come in even numbers,” said Russ Klein, King David’s head of school. “You have some years where you have huge groups and then you have years where you have lesser groups. The challenge of dealing with a third cohort in a grade is really, really challenging. It was really built for two classes per grade and, as soon as you add a third class in a grade, it changes the whole structure.
“For the last three years, we’ve been squeezing in,” he continued. The expansion will permit 13 or 14 classes, with the flexibility to accommodate bulges, like the large cohorts in the current Grade 8 and Grade 11 classes.
Originally envisioned for about 200 students, the school’s enrolment is now 236.
“Thankfully, when we talked to the Diamonds, they were totally on board with helping us get to where we want to be, to be the best school we can be for our community,” he said.
The project will add an additional 13,000 square feet to the school’s current 33,000 square feet. Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building, are back for the expansion.
The two-storey existing building is the maximum height allowed by the city, so the increased space will be accommodated by digging down. There is already an underground level featuring a parkade. That will be extended and an additional sub-basement dug beneath it. The land around the school will be excavated to allow natural light into the new sub-level spaces, with stairs and an accessible ramp leading to the outdoor activity area.
The lowest sub-basement level will include changing rooms for students, additional gender-neutral bathrooms, a computer technology room and storage, which is lacking in the existing school.
The basement level will feature a state-of-the-art music room with three rehearsal areas and a control room so that students can record music. Also on that level will be an office for the physical education staff.
Added to the existing main floor will be a drama space and film studio with a green screen, where students can work on movie-making, film-editing and drama programs. Also in the works is an “innovation lab,” still in the planning stage, which could include 3-D printers and other hands-on learning tools where students can co-create a range of projects and explore individual interests. The existing drama and music spaces will be converted into general classrooms, Klein said, “so we get the extra bang there as well.”
The top floor will accommodate more new classrooms and a teachers’ workroom. A number of small offices will also be integrated into the new design.
When completed, the school’s existing space and new areas will merge seamlessly, Klein said, as if part of the original structure.
Notably, despite the expansion to the east of the existing building, useable outdoor space will increase with the removal of a hill at the edge of the property and a reorganization of the playing courts.
The entire project will involve minimal disruption to students because most of the work will take place outside of the existing school. One area that will be affected is the loss of outdoor space for a school year. Aside from that, the most disruptive impacts should be some construction noise, said Klein.
The $6.5 million commitment from the Diamond Foundation covers all the brick-and-mortar components. As part of the commitment, the King David community is to raise an additional $765,000 for furnishings, technology and other “soft costs,” Klein said. Also part of the agreement is that the school increase its existing endowment, which stands at about $1 million, to $5 million over the next five years. The revenue from the endowment is intended to create a fund that ensures tuition affordability and accessibility regardless of family capacity.
Klein lauded the Diamonds’ visionary commitment to continuity.
“They are the greatest supporters of Jewish education in the city,” said the principal. “We are so in awe of what they’re doing and their willingness to do it and just step up and support the growth of the school, to demonstrate how proud they are of what the school has done and not just with their talk but with their actions and their leadership.”
The co-presidents of the King David board of directors, Jackie Cristall Morris and Neville Israel, noted that school enrolment has increased 70% in 10 years.
“The expansion will allow us to grow and to keep striving towards meeting our school vision of being a dynamic leader in empowering Jewish minds and engaging Jewish hearts for the modern world,” they wrote in a statement to the Independent. “We are incredibly grateful for the Diamond family’s support of King David since the school’s early days. Simply put, King David would not have existed without the support of the Diamonds both in building the school, providing us free use of the building and in supporting our Judaic studies program, which is now well regarded under the leadership of Rabbi Stephen Berger.”
The Diamond Foundation has been run by Gordon and Leslie Diamond and their daughters Jill Diamond and Lauri Glotman. Recently, Leslie Diamond said, the next generation of family – Glotman’s children Bram Glotman, Sadye Dixon and Carly Glotman – has joined the foundation.
Leslie Diamond acknowledges that she has been King David’s most avid proponent within the family foundation. “To me, it was very important there be a high school to carry on those traditions and to instil the purpose of keeping those traditions,” she said. “I think that kids going to King David will have a better chance of feeling their roots and not leaving them.”
The need for more space is a sign of the excellent health and strength of the community, she said.
“Even though we think that we’re small compared to Toronto and the east, we really are a strong community,” Diamond said. “The success of the school proves that. The fact that they’re growing by leaps and bounds means there is a need for a Jewish high school, which goes back to my thoughts in the very beginning.”
In addition to excellence in Judaic and general education and the range of additional curricular and extracurricular options, there is something that Diamond said King David offers that she sees as vitally important for young people. “There is this need of belonging, which you don’t get in a public school,” she said.
The landmark synagogue before being
dynamited by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948. (photo from Wikipedia)
A cornerstone laying ceremony was held May 29,
2014, for the rebuilding of the Old City of Jerusalem’s Tiferet Yisrael
Synagogue, which was dedicated in 1872 and dynamited by Jordan’s Arab Legion in
Speaking nearly five years ago, then-Jerusalem
mayor Nir Barkat declared, “Today we lay the cornerstone of one of the
important symbols of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. The municipality
attaches great importance to the preservation and restoration of heritage sites
in Jerusalem, and we will continue to maintain the heritage of Israel in this
Citing Lamentations 5:21, Uri Ariel, housing
minister at the time, added, “We have triumphed in the laying of yet another
building block in the development of Jerusalem, a symbolic point in the vision
that continues to come true before our eyes: ‘Renew our days as of old.’”
The two politicians symbolically placed a stone
salvaged from the ruined building, and construction was supposed to take three
years, according to the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the
Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC), a public company under
the auspices of the Ministry of Construction and Housing.
Fast forward to Dec. 31, 2018, and the exercise
was repeated, this time with the participation of Jerusalem minister Zeev
Elkin, construction minister Yoav Galant, deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman
and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon. But, this time, according to the JQDC, much of
the project’s NIS 50 million (approximately $18 million Cdn) budget has been
secured, in part thanks to anonymous overseas donors. With the Israel
Antiquities Authority’s salvage dig of the Second Temple period site headed by
Oren Gutfeld completed, work can now begin in earnest.
Fundraising to purchase the land for the
Tiferet Yisrael, also known as the Nisan Bak shul, was initiated in 1839 by
Rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn, Ukraine, (1797-1850) and his disciple Rabbi
Nisan Bak, also spelled Beck (1815-1889). While der Heiliger Ruzhiner
(Holy Ruzhyner), as his Chassidim called him, purchased the hilltop in 1843,
the mystic didn’t live to see construction begin.
His ambitious plans in Jerusalem reflected his
grandiose lifestyle in Sadhora, Bukovina, in Galicia’s Carpathian Mountains,
pronounced Sadagóra in Yiddish. There, he lived in a palace with splendid
furnishings, rode in a silver-handled carriage drawn by four white horses and,
with an entourage, dressed like a nobleman, wore a golden skullcap and clothing
with solid gold buttons, and was attended by servants in livery. This unusual
manner was accepted and even praised by many of his contemporaries, who
believed the Ruzhiner was elevating God’s glory through himself, the tzadik
(righteous one), and that the splendour was intended to express the derekh
hamalkhut (way of kingship) in the worship of God.
In one incident, described in David Assaf’s The
Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin (Stanford
University Press, 2002), the Ruzhiner’s Chassidim noticed that, notwithstanding
that their rebbe was wearing golden boots, he was leaving bloody footprints in
the snow. Only then did they realize that the gold was only a show and his
shoes had no soles. Indeed, he was walking barefoot in the snow.
Rabbis Friedman and Bak were motivated by a
desire to foil Czar Nicholas I’s ambitions to build a Russian Orthodox
monastery on the strategic site overlooking Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Bak
consulted with architect Martin Ivanovich Eppinger. (Eppinger also planned the
Russian Compound, the 68,000-square-metre fortress-like complex erected by the
Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society west of the Jaffa Gate and outside
the Old City, after the czar was outmanoeuvred by the Chassidim.)
Bak, who both designed the massive synagogue
and served as its contractor, spent more than a decade fundraising and six
years building it. Inaugurated on Aug. 19, 1872, he named the three-storey
landmark in honour of his deceased rebbe.
According to a perhaps apocryphal story, the
quick-witted Bak was able to complete the ornate synagogue thanks to a donation
from Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. In 1869, while visiting Jerusalem
en route to dedicate the Suez Canal, the emperor asked his subjects who came
from Sadhora in the remote Austrian province of Bukovina why their synagogue
had no roof. (In 1842, having spent two years in Russian prisons on charges of
complicity in the murder of two Jewish informers, Rabbi Friedman fled to
Sadhora and reestablished his resplendent court.)
Seizing the moment, Bak replied, “Your majesty,
the synagogue has doffed its hat in your honour.” The kaiser, understanding the
royal fundraising pitch, responded, “How much will it cost me to have the
synagogue replace its hat?” and donated 1,000 francs to complete Tiferet
Yisrael’s dome, which was thereafter referred to by locals as “Franz Joseph’s
Tamar Hayardeni, in “The Kaiser’s Cap”
(published in Segula magazine last year), wrote that, while the kaiser
made a donation, the dome was in fact completed with funds provided by Rabbi
Israel of Ruzhyn’s son, Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov of Sadhora (1820-1883).
In the winter and spring of 1948, the dome
served as a key Haganah military position and lookout point for the Jewish
Quarter’s outgunned defenders.
Children were recruited for the battle for
Tiferet Yisrael. Some as young as 9 built defence positions. The “older” ones –
12 or so – carried messages, food, weapons and ammunition. Some were killed,
including Grazia (Yaffa) Haroush, 16, and Nissim Gini, 9, who was the youngest
fallen fighter in the War of Independence. Like the others who fell in the
defence of the Jewish Quarter and were buried there, his remains were exhumed
after 1967 and reinterred on the Mount of Olives.
Badly damaged by heavy shelling, the synagogue
was blown up by Jordanian sappers on May 21, 1948. A few days later, following
the neighbourhood’s surrender on May 25, the nearby Hurva Synagogue – the main
sanctuary of Jerusalem’s mitnagdim (anti-Chassidic Ashkenazi followers
of the Vilna Gaon) – met the same fate.
With the rebuilding of the Hurva completed by
the JQDC in 2010, Tiferet Yisrael became the last major Old City synagogue
destroyed in 1948 not rebuilt.
Hurva is a stone-clad, concrete and steel
facsimile of its original structure, updated to today’s building code and
equipped with an elevator. The same is planned for Tiferet Yisrael.
The reconstruction of faux historic synagogues
has not been without critics. Writing in the Forward in 2007 as the
Hurva was rising, historian Gavriel Rosenfeld, co-editor of Beyond Berlin:
Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past (University of Michigan Press,
2008), noted the manifold links between architecture, politics and memory.
“The reconstruction of the Hurva seems to
reflect an emotional longing to undo the past. It has long been recognized that
efforts to restore ruins reflect a desire to forget the painful memories that
they elicit. Calls to rebuild the World Trade Centre towers as they were before
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks represent a clear (if unrealized) instance of this
yearning. And the recently completed reconstruction of Dresden’s famous
Frauenkirche – long a heap of rubble after being flattened by Allied bombers in
February 1945 – represents a notable example of translating this impulse into reality.
“And yet, the reconstruction project is
problematic, for in seeking to undo the verdict of the past, the project will
end up denying it. Denial is inherent in the restoration of ruins, as is
frequently shown by the arguments used to justify such projects. In Dresden,
for example, many supporters of the Frauenkirche’s restoration portrayed
themselves as the innocent inhabitants of a city that was unjustly bombed in
1945, thereby obscuring the city’s longtime support for the Nazi regime and its
war of aggression during the years of the Third Reich. Similarly, the physical
appearance of the restored Frauenkirche – despite its incorporation of some of
the original church’s visibly scorched stones – has effectively eliminated the
signs of the war that its ruin once vividly evoked.
“In the case of the Hurva,” writes Rosenfeld,
“the situation is somewhat different. If many Germans in Dresden emphasized
their status as victims to justify rebuilding their ruined church, the Israeli
campaign to reconstruct the Hurva will do precisely the opposite – namely,
obscure traces of their victimization. As long as the Hurva stood as a hulking
ruin, after all, it served as a reminder of Israeli suffering at the hands of
the Jordanians. [Mayor Teddy] Kollek said as much in 1991, when he noted: ‘It
is difficult to impress upon the world the degree of destruction the Jordanian
authorities visited upon synagogues in the Old City…. The Hurva remnants are
the clearest evidence we have today of that.’ Indeed, as a ruin, the Hurva served
the same kind of function as sites such as Masada and Yad Vashem – which, by
highlighting the tragedies of the Jewish past, helped to confirm the Israeli
state as the chief guarantor of the Jewish people’s future.
“At the same time, however, it seems the
Hurva’s existence as a ruin conflicted with the state of Israel’s Zionist
master narrative: the idea that, ultimately, heroic achievement triumphs over
helplessness. In fact, in the end, it may be the project’s ability to confirm
the national desire to control its own destiny that best explains its appeal.
Israel faces many intractable problems that make present-day life uncertain.
But, in the realm of architecture, Israelis can indulge in the illusion that
they can at least control and manipulate the past. In this sense, the Hurva’s
reconstruction may express deeper escapist fantasies in an unpredictable
Rosenfeld’s theorizing about architectural
authenticity made little impression on the JQDC chair, Moti Rinkov. Indeed the
JQDC, together with the Ben-Zvi Institute, recently published High Upon High,
in which 12 historians trace Tiferet Yisrael’s history. Rinkov noted at the
second cornerstone ceremony: “The renovation and restoration of the Tiferet
Yisrael Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is one of the most important and
exciting projects I’ve taken part in. Rebuilding the synagogue is, in fact,
raising the Israeli flag in the Jewish Quarter. It’s truly a work where they’re
restoring the crown to its former glory and restoring glory to the Jewish
The rebuilt Tiferet Yisrael, together with the
Hurva, will engage Jerusalem’s skyline not as authentic landmarks but, as
Rosenfeld noted, “postmodern simulacrum.”
The other Tiferes Yisroel
In 1953, Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, the
Boyaner Rebbe of New York, laid foundations for a new Ruzhiner Torah centre in
west Jerusalem to replace the destroyed Tiferet Yisrael. Located on the western
end of Malkhei Yisrael Street between the current Central Bus Station and
Geula, the downtown of the Charedi city, the Ruzhiner yeshivah, Mesivta Tiferes
Yisroel, was inaugurated in 1957 with the support of all of the Chassidic
rebbes descended from Friedman, who was the first and only Ruzhiner Rebbe.
However, his six sons and grandsons founded their own dynasties, collectively
known as the “House of Ruzhin.” These dynasties, which follow many of the
traditions of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, are Bohush, Boyan, Chortkov, Husiatyn,
Sadigura and Shtefanest. The founders of the Vizhnitz, Skver and Vasloi
Chassidic dynasties were related to the Ruzhiner Rebbe through his daughters.
A grand synagogue built adjacent to the new
Ruzhiner yeshivah also bears the name Tiferes Yisroel. The current Boyaner
Rebbe, Nachum Dov Brayer, leads his disciples from there. The design of the
synagogue includes a large white dome, reminiscent of the original Tiferet
Yisrael destroyed in 1948 and now being rebuilt.
Construction on the Centre of Excellence for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is expected to be complete by fall 2019. (photo from WIDHH)
British Columbians who are deaf and hard of hearing will soon benefit from a state-of-the-art Centre of Excellence for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing that is being built by Vancouver’s Conwest Group of Companies.
The Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (WIDHH), a registered charity established in 1956, together with Conwest, has commenced construction on a new $16 million facility with $1 million in funding from the Ministry of Health. The $1 million in government funding, which was announced Sept. 26, will be applied to an $8 million capital fundraising campaign that WIDHH is aiming to launch to the public early next year.
“From youth to seniors, this new centre will improve people’s quality of life and help prevent those with hearing and communication challenges from feeling isolated,” said David Eby, attorney general and MLA Vancouver-Point Grey.
The centre will provide hearing aids and assistive listening device services, employment counseling, seniors outreach programs and a refurbished hearing aid program for people on limited income. It will also accommodate expansion of WIDHH’s clinical research program within the field of hearing health, telecommunications and accessibility.
“We look forward to using technology in the new facility to reach out and provide unparalleled levels of hearing health care and support to homebound seniors and those living in rural communities across British Columbia,” said Grace Shyng, interim executive director of WIDHH.
Construction on the new centre at 2005 Quebec St., in Vancouver, is expected to be complete by the fall of 2019.
Petach Tikvah’s Calatrava bridge. (photo from Ashernet)
Petach Tikvah’s Calatrava pedestrian bridge and glass walkway was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed Chords Bridge at the western entrance to Jerusalem. The Petach Tikvah bridge, erected in 2005, connects the Beilinson hospital complex with a shopping mall and a central park. Situated some 11 kilometres east of Tel Aviv, Petach Tikvah continues to expand to accommodate its increasing population and its appeal to high-tech, pharmaceutical and distribution companies. Today, the city, with its population of more than 240,000 individuals, ranks as the fifth biggest city in Israel, and has one of the larger percentages of religious Jews in the country. However, while some 70,000 religious Jews are served by about 70 synagogues of various sizes, there are more than 300 schools in the city that serve children of all religious and non-religious affiliations.
On Sept. 5, Vancouver City Council will hold a public hearing to help determine the next steps of the planned redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCC).
Serving more than 40,000 community members each year, the JCC has been bursting at the seams for years and needs a significant upgrade. “Our community centre, which is Jewish at heart and, therefore, open to and used by everyone, is aging,” said JCC executive director Eldad Goldfarb. “We’re a not-for-profit that’s been serving the Oakridge area and beyond for 60 years and we are determined to continue this tradition.”
The new facility, planned to be built over two phases, will feature expanded aquatic, gymnasium, fitness and studio space, new cultural arts facilities, a theatre, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, office space for more than 15 other nonprofit community organizations, expanded licensed early childhood education facilities and significantly enhanced outdoor spaces.
“We just don’t have enough room for all of our activities, so I would love to see the JCC expand and continue to be inclusive for everyone,” said JCC Seniors committee member Cori Friedman.
The City of Vancouver anticipates the population of the Cambie Corridor will double by 2041.
“With all the growth and changes occurring to the community around our centre, it is important for the JCC to grow and change as well – to be prepared for the future and all that it is bringing to our surroundings,” said JCC board president Salomon Casseres.
When the project is complete, the JCC site will also include 299 family-oriented rental homes. “We are going to put the land into a community land trust, so we can create long-term affordable housing and community amenities,” Goldfarb explained.
The proposal has undergone an extensive rezoning process, including a number of different designs, three community open houses and outreach to partner organizations within the Jewish community. For more information on the project, contact Susan Tonn ([email protected]). For details on how to share your thoughts directly with city council, visit rezoning.vancouver.ca/applications/950w41stave/feedback.htm.
An aerial view of the proposed redevelopment of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver site, looking south. (image by Acton Ostry Architects Inc.)
On Feb. 7, the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver was packed with community members, as well as some area residents. For the three-hour open house hosted by the City of Vancouver, visitors worked their way through the crowded atrium, reading the numerous poster boards about the proposed redevelopment of the centre site, and how that redevelopment fits in with the massive changes proposed for the Oakridge neighbourhood.
While it is still early in the process, the City is looking for public feedback by March 30 on the rezoning application it has received for 950 West 41st Ave., i.e. the JCC.
The proposed redevelopment comprises a nine-storey building to replace the current JCC, a 13-storey replacement for the Louis Brier Home and Hospital and a 24-storey residential building.
According to the rezoning proposal, the new JCC would include “recreation space, including pools and gyms; ground-level commercial space; an Early Childhood Education Centre, including 104 private daycare spaces; cultural arts, auditorium and theatre space; [and] nonprofit office space.”
The new Louis Brier would have “266 senior assisted living, complex care and memory care beds,” and the residential building would have “160 secured market rental units,” including 64 studios, 40 one-bedroom units, 40 two-bedroom units and 16 three-bedroom units. “Underground parking, with 693 vehicle parking spaces and 250 bicycle parking spaces, is proposed.”
The rezoning application is being considered by the City under the Oakridge Transit Centre Policy Statement.
The City of Vancouver explains on its website that the Oakridge Transit Centre, across from the JCC, “was formerly home to 244 trolley and 182 diesel buses, and employed over 1,200 transit staff including drivers, mechanics and administrators…. With the completion of the Vancouver Transit Centre on the Eburne Lands in 2006, almost all services moved out of the OTC” within several years and TransLink determined that the OTC was no longer required as a transit centre. TransLink approached the City about the redevelopment of the site: “Council approved a cost-recovered planning program to create a policy statement for the site in February 2014 and the program was publically launched in June 2014.”
The statement was approved in December 2015, after “an 18-month process involving community engagement at key points, and technical planning and design work.” It guides “the rezoning and redevelopment of the Oakridge Transit Centre,” as well as that of the JCC, the Petro Canada Station at the corner of 41st and Oak, and Oakmont Medical Centre (809 West 41st).
The JCC rezoning application was coordinated by Acton Ostry Architects Inc., the JCC and the Louis Brier Home. In the application, which is on the City’s website, Acton Ostry explains that the “surrounding context is in a state of transition and transformation from a low-density semi-urban neighbourhood to a high-density urban centre. Transit is a driving force at the heart of the new town centre with the Canada Line on Cambie Street and a new B-line proposed for West 41st Avenue.” The document notes that King David High School, which is east of the JCC, on Willow Street, uses and “shares many spaces in the existing JCC and is intended to have a dedicated gym in the proposed new JCC, in addition to access and use of many other activity spaces.”
According to the timeline on one of the posters at the February open house, there was a pre-application open house in November 2016 and the rezoning application was submitted in December 2017. With the City-led open house now having been held, there will be a public hearing, “pending staff review and feedback,” followed by a council vote, again “pending staff review and feedback.” If the rezoning is approved, “the proposal becomes a development application.”
Development and building permits would take months to years to procure, and the construction itself would also take a few years. Since the JCC cannot be non-operational for that long, the project is envisioned in phases. The existing JCC would remain in place as the main building of the new JCC is built on what is now the centre’s parking lot, followed by the construction of the new underground parking lot. Once the new JCC was operational, Phase 2 would start with the new Louis Brier Home, to be located at the opposite end of the development site, then move to the construction of the residential tower and the rest of the JCC, located in between the main JCC and Louis Brier.
Merom Yerushalayim’s new condominiums. (photo by Gil Zohar)
Having recently acquired Toronto’s troubled 65-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower, now rebranded as the St. Regis Toronto, Joseph Waldman – one of the principals of the city’s Rothner Highgates Group – has set his sights on Jerusalem.
The Antwerp-born developer and his partner, Ricky Rothner, are looking to Merom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Heights), a project of 218 luxury condominiums located on Malchei Israel Street at the highest point in central Jerusalem.
Notwithstanding that the Holy City is awash with unsold luxury apartments and unfinished high-end towers, Waldman and Rothner, together with their Jerusalem partner Shmuel Narkiss, have found a niche market. They’re targeting Charedim, a segment of Israeli society stereotypically characterized as having low economic status. With only 34 of the 172 units in Phase I left unsold and the unit owners occupying their homes since Passover, the Merom Yerushalayim project has succeeded beyond expectations.
Prices start at NIS 35,000 ($12,500 Cdn) per square metre. Who are the purchasers of these more than $1 million homes? They’re equally divided between North Americans and Europeans with a smattering of Israelis, said Merom Yerushalayim’s sales manager Yehuda Eagle, who fluently banters with clients in Hebrew, Yiddish and English.
Designed by Jerusalem’s Braidman Agmon Architects, the project adds seven residential buildings to five historic buildings, which are being preserved and given new functions. The derelict Schneller Orphanage, with its distinctive Bavarian onion-dome cupola, is slated to become a museum of Jewish heritage. Another 19th-century structure will be refurbished as a synagogue and a third as a yeshivah for teenage boys.
Of the seven new residential buildings, five have been completed. Two are eight floors high. Three were built to a height of five storeys, pending a zoning-density change to permit an additional three levels. The housing blocs are clustered together and nearly four-fifths of the historic compound has been set aside as green space. Parking is underground.
Waldman hedges about the schedule of the final two buildings. While a huge hole has been excavated for them, construction will depend on sales, he said.
Acknowledging that he will keep a condominium for his family’s use, Waldman told the Jewish Independent, “Try not to write about me. I’m a simple guy. I don’t want kavod [honour].”
The Schneller Compound has a storied past. In 1860, Johann Ludwig Schneller (1820–1896), a Lutheran missionary from Basel, Switzerland, established the orphanage for nine survivors of the Druze massacre of 10,000 Maronite Christians in the mountains of Lebanon. By the next year, the orphanage had taken in 40 boys, and soon also began accepting girls. For eight decades, the Syrisches Waisenhaus (Syrian Orphanage) flourished, expanding to include an institution for the blind and a vocational school. It provided both academic and vocational training to orphaned boys and girls from Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Armenia, Turkey, Russia, Iran and Germany. By the end of the 1800s, it had become the largest compound outside of the Old City.
During the Second World War, British Mandate officials interned and deported the orphanage’s German staff. The sprawling site was turned into the largest Allied ammunition dump in the Middle East. In March 1948, with Britain quitting Palestine, the base was seized by the Zionist military organization Haganah. Following statehood, and until 2008, it served as an Israel Defence Forces camp.
When the Israeli army redeployed to bases in the Negev, the state-owned property was put up for sale by the Israel Lands Authority and ultimately purchased by the Rothner Highgates Group. Before construction could begin, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) carried out salvage digs – and archeologists discovered a winepress and bathhouse that served Rome’s 10th Legion Fretensis.
While Charedim have opposed other archeological digs, these excavations were carried out without incident.
“This is an excellent example of many years of cooperation and deep and close ties with the Charedi community,” said IAA Jerusalem district archeologist Amit Re’em. “The general public is used to hearing of the clashes between the archeologists and the Orthodox community around the issue of the graves, but is unaware of the joint work done on a daily basis and the interest expressed by the ultra-Orthodox sector. The Israel Antiquities Authority is working to instil our ancient cultural heritage in this population, as it does with other sectors.”
Respecting Merom Yerushalayim’s Charedi character, the project’s marketing wing, Sun-Chen, sends out a weekly Hebrew-language commentary on the Torah portion. Rothner Highgates’ promotional video depicts preparations for Shabbat and, towards the end of the advertisement, it says that the development is “20 minutes from the Kotel, three minutes from Geula. Close to the centre, close to the heart. Merom Yerushalayim. The best of two worlds.” It also describes it as “country living in the heart of Yerushalayim.”
In 2011, Montreal billionaire Rabbi Hershey Friedman and a group of Canadian investors bought the heavily-indebted Azorim Investment Development and Construction Co. Azorim recently completed Boutique HaNevi’im on the Street of the Prophets near downtown Jerusalem. The seven-storey project includes 87 luxury apartments and a boutique hotel. The promotional video features Friedman standing on the roof terrace looking out over the golden Dome of the Rock citing, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.” (Psalms 137:5)