There’s nary a Jerusalem child who hasn’t stared in wonder at the triple-tongued Mifletzet (monster) slide, and most have scrambled up its gaping maw before sliding down one of the slippery red slides.
It’s a beloved monster, aka the Golem, but the shaded park behind it is slated for destruction as the Jerusalem municipality and the Transportation Ministry plan the extension of the city’s light rail project to the Hadassah Medical Center at Ein Kerem.
Located at a busy corner in the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood, Monster Park — officially known as Rabinowitz Garden — consists of the sandy plot on which the sculpture is situated, as well as a green space with mature trees and wooden picnic tables that is central to the neighborhood, according to council member Laura Wharton (a representative of the Meretz-Labor List), who put the matter to an online petition (Hebrew link) published on Saturday.
“They’re cutting off seven meters around the perimeter of the park,” said Wharton, a resident of Beit Hakerem who used to live in Kiryat Hayovel.
Little Hadassah, a standalone clinic behind the park, is situated on land owned by Hadassah hospital, added Wharton.
The construction of the light rail extension is expected to take two years, and some 120 trees along its stretch will be cut down, she said.
“Kiryat Hayovel is one of Jerusalem’s largest neighborhoods, and the park attracts many residents and visitors throughout the week,” Wharton wrote. “The wonderful slides on this well-known statue became a symbol of the area and of the city.”
The petition garnered over 3,700 signatures as of Tuesday noon, and Wharton wrote that she planned on pushing the municipality to find an alternative plan that doesn’t involve cutting down the trees and “nibbling away at this magical green area.”
Not all commenters seemed concerned, though.
“There’s a difference between ‘destroying Monster Park’ and ‘making it smaller and removing some trees,” wrote one Jerusalem resident. Another sniped: “Magical green area? More like crumbly earth with some bushes.” Others said given a choice, they’d opt for enhanced public transportation over the park.
Still, they were many who reminisced fondly about their childhoods spent playing on and around the big slide.
The municipality didn’t respond to questions on its plans regarding the park.
French artist Niki de Saint Phalle created the grotesque yet friendly monster in 1972, commissioned by longtime mayor Teddy Kollek, himself a resident of Kiryat Hayovel. Artist David Soussana, an adviser to Kollek, wrote that art always gave Kollek great pleasure.
“Despite Teddy’s stormy character and the impatience he would momentarily display,” wrote Soussana in a gallery catalog for a 2007 exhibit hosted in Vienna, Kollek’s hometown, “Teddy knew how to stand patiently before artists of various disciplines and creative genres to bear witness to the great works of art which his charismatic personality and great character inspired in different artistic mediums.”
But Saint Phalle’s somewhat ominous monster caused Kollek some grief. In a 1998 interview with The Los Angeles Times, she said a city commission rejected the Golem project, thinking the slide would be too scary for kids. Kollek, said Saint Phalle, calling him “really the king,” told the commission to vote again.
She said in the LA Times article, referencing psychologist Bruno Bettelheim’s writings about fairy tales, that presented correctly, “scary things are good because they help children conquer their fears.”
Whether that’s true or not, the monster slide fast became a Jerusalem attraction. An article in ArtToday stated that Saint Phalle once received a letter from Kollek telling her that the Golem attracted more visitors than the Western Wall.
She went on to create other works for Jerusalem, most notably the 23 animal sculptures created for a representation of Noah’s Ark in the city’s Biblical Zoo that was gifted to Kollek on his 90th birthday. The fantastically mirrored and mosaic-tiled animals are situated around a cavernous ark complete with a running stream of water, designed by architect Mario Botta.
Saint Phalle died about a year after the zoo sculpture garden was dedicated in Kollek’s honor. Kollek died five years later, in 2007.
As for the Golem slide sculpture, even if it needs to relocate it needn’t worry: it may end up in its original spot as did the city’s famed Calder sculpture, “Homage to Jerusalem – Stabile,” which was moved from its Mount Herzl perch in 2005 in order to build the underground parking lot for the light rail train station.
The 65-ton, bright red steel statue was part of the city’s plan to improve quality of life, and was installed in 1977 at Jerusalem’s Holland Square, just down the road from Kiryat Hayovel’s monster slide.