CJN Article: "Joint project to build playground in Jaffa"

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CJN - Jaffa Playground

WINNIPEG — A children’s playground in the crowded Ajami neighbourhood in Jaffa, Israel, is in the planning, as the result of a joint Manitoba-Tel Aviv effort.

The project was announced here at a special reception attended by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and more than 200 guests from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

Melnick - HuldaiThe Manitoba-Israel Shared Values Roundtable (MISVR), led by Manitoba Minister of Water Stewardship Christine Melnick, will partner with the Tel Aviv Foundation to build the park, whose estimated cost is $200,000 (US). It is envisioned as a place where Jewish, Muslim and Christian children who live in low-income neighbourhoods of Jaffa can play side-by-side in a peaceful atmosphere. It will be both environmentally friendly and fully accessible.

Huldai told The CJN that the idea of the park is to promote peaceful coexistence between the residents of Jaffa and nurture a sense of shared community. The project is being launched as part of this year’s centennial celebrations of the city of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

“There are about 60,000 residents of Jaffa, about 40,000 Jews and 20,000 Arabs. Over the last 11 years since I have been mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I have invested over one billion shekels, just in Jaffa alone, for improvements to the sewage system, for electricity, as well as kindergartens, schools and parks,” Huldai said.

The crowded, mixed Arab-Jewish neighbourhood of Ajami was the first Jaffa neighbourhood built outside the old city walls.

At the reception, Melnick said the purpose of the MISVR is to strengthen the relationship between Manitobans and Israelis, who value democracy, freedom of speech, public health care and education.

“So far, about $130,000 Cdn has been raised for this park project, and we are in the process of raising the remainder,” said Melnick, who hopes to inaugurate the park when she is next in Israel in January 2010 for the Second Annual Manitoba-Israel Water Conference.

She noted that the India School of Dance, Music and Theatre, the Jewish National Fund, the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, B’nai Brith Canada in Winnipeg, the Faith Temple and a devoted group of volunteers, had all helped raise funds for the project.

The park, to be called Playground for Peace, was designed by Moria-Sekely Landscape Architecture. The “plan of the park will encourage a lot of interactive group play,” Melnick said.

Rachel Manelson of the Tel Aviv Foundation, who also flew here for the event, said the mandate of the foundation is to enhance the quality of life of residents of Tel Aviv by investing in education, kindergartens, schools and resource centres.

“The project that the MISVR chose was specifically designed to promote cultural coexistence between all the residents of Ajami and Jaffa generally,” Manelson said.

Following the announcement of the project, Israeli singer Eytan entertained while the crowd began dancing horahs, led by an energetic Huldai. The spirited dancing continued until most of the audience, including Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, were participating.

Earlier the same day, Huldai met with the new Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, during Selinger’s first day in office.

Former Winnipegger Jackie Simkin, now living in Florida, donated to the park project and flew here to support the event. It was “incredible to see so many people of different backgrounds participating in a celebration of Israel,” Simkin said.

The event, held at the Manitoban-Indian Cultural Centre, included a dance performance by the India School of Dance.

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