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Amid scuffles with police, hazardous sukkah taken down in Jerusalem

Cops assist municipal authorities in taking apart structure balanced high atop scaffolding in ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood

Police and Jerusalem city workers take apart a sukkah in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood that was deemed a safety hazzard, September 19, 2021. (Israel Police)
Police and Jerusalem city workers take apart a sukkah in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood that was deemed a safety hazzard, September 19, 2021. (Israel Police)

Jerusalem municipal authorities took down a sukkah early Sunday morning that was deemed hazardous as it was perched on scaffolding over two stories above a residential street.

Local residents scuffled with police who assisted city workers in removing the structure on Rabbi Sonnenfeld Street.

Police said in a statement that the sukkah posed a “real danger to life and property, impact[ed] the public using the road and endanger[ed] the public arriving at a nearby health clinic.”

Video showed some protesters scaling the lattice of poles holding up the sukkah, apparently in an effort to prevent it from being demolished.

There were no reports of arrests or injuries.

The sukkah, a temporary abode that religious Jews move into for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, belonged to Rabbi Moshe Bransdorfer, a member of the hardline Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox faction.

The action was taken after negotiations in recent days for a peaceful solution led to the owners agreeing to take apart the sukkah themselves, but then appealing for a court order to delay its demolition, the police statement said. The court rejected the appeal and, since the sukkah was nonetheless left standing, it was demolished by the city, police said.

Last week at least one person was arrested amid clashes with police and municipal workers who had arrived to demolish the sukkah but were unable to complete the task due to the protests, which saw some people barricade themselves inside the structure.

Pictures of the wood-paneled hut balanced atop a precarious-looking jumble of scaffolding directly over a busy street had elicited shock when shared online.

The city declared the structure a public safety hazard and dispatched police to demolish the structure, though members of the community produced papers purporting to show that the structure had been inspected and approved by an engineer.

Police and Jerusalem city workers take apart a sukkah in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood that was deemed a safety hazzard, September 19, 2021. (Israel Police)

Police often meet with heavy resistance while trying to enforce government regulations in Mea Shearim, an insular Jerusalem bastion of hardline Haredi Judaism under the de facto thumb of rabbinical authorities distrustful of the secular government.

Clashes have been sparked in the past over attempts to arrest draft-dodgers or enforce coronavirus regulations there, among other things. But authorities have also been accused of turning a blind eye to avoid riling up the community.

The ultra-Orthodox community suffered two deadly structural collapses recently, focusing attention on overcrowding and safety regulations for makeshift structures.

On April 30, 45 people were killed in the worst civilian disaster in the country’s history when a system of ramparts at a shrine on Mount Meron failed during a Lag Ba’omer pilgrimage attended by hundreds of thousands, leading to a massive crush.

Weeks later, bleachers at a new Haredi synagogue in the settlement of Givat Ze’ev collapsed, killing two and injuring hundreds.

Because a Sukkah traditionally needs an open view of the sky, Mea Shearim’s cramped warren of tiny streets and older buildings are known to become even more crowded over Sukkot, with nearly every available plot taken up by a temporary structure, and forcing some to come up with creative solutions.

The week-long Sukkot holiday begins on Monday evening.

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