A Green Lung called Muslala in Jerusalem’s Clal Building

A green space for art, creativity and urban agriculture in the Clal commercial center in Jerusalem.
How can a green environment and urban life be combined? Is it possible to farm amid the hustle and bustle of the city? How can different sectors of the population be brought into contact with one another? And what power do art and creativity have to make all these connections? These are just a few of the questions that preoccupy members of Muslala, a group of young artists who live and work in Jerusalem. With the help of JNF Calgary (Canada) and its Friends, a green terrace has been constructed at Jerusalem’s Clal Center, on its roof, where the group meets for activities.

“Art is the international language that we all share, and it can bring different people together,” declared Matan Israeli, Muslala’s artistic coordinator. “Our ambition is to put people in touch with their environment, which is the thing that life in any city lacks most.”

The Clal Center, a big building in central Jerusalem that once housed a large number of businesses and offices, has fallen into neglect and abandonment with the passage of time. With the help of JNF Calgary, a green balcony – partly sheltered, partly in the open air – has been constructed on top of the building, where it serves as a center for urban nature, agriculture, sustainability and creativity. This remarkable new feature was inaugurated at a ceremony attended by a JNF Canada deputation from Calgary and by representatives from KKL-JNF and the Jerusalem Foundation.

Among those participating in the ceremony was donor Carol Ryder whose support, together with that of her late husband Larry, made the construction of the balcony and the green roof possible. The 2016 Gala Negev Dinner was held in honor of the Ryders to promote this unique project, and the result of these efforts is now plain to see.

“The opportunity to give something back to the community always imbued our daily lives with meaning and defined us as a team,” explained Carol Ryder. “Arts, education, friendship, understanding…building community through engagement – that’s what life is all about, and that’s Muslala.”

KKL-JNF Fundraising Director Zeev Kedem, who presided over the ceremony, expressed his appreciation for this group of young artists who work for the benefit of society as a whole. “This is the real Israel, the country you see around you,” he told the guests from Canada.

Executive Director of JNF Calgary Sandra Fayerman recalled how on her previous visit to the Clal Center a year or so earlier she had found the building in a state of neglect, but had nonetheless been impressed by the vision of the members of the Muslala group. “We are proud to have an influence on the artistic community in Jerusalem and to help to breathe fresh life into the area,” she said.

A picture of the neglected site prior to renovation hangs at the entrance to the Center so that all visitors can see for themselves the impressive changes that have taken place. The renovations were carried out personally by the artists and craftspeople of the Muslala group, and the wooden floor, the creativity areas and the remarkable furniture are all the product of loving hearts and skilled hands.

“I’ve been working here for thirty years, but until now I never noticed how beautiful this building actually is,” said Nir Yogev, who owns a store in the Clal Center that sells musical instruments. “As far as we’re concerned, this project has changed the rules of the game by creating a fresh atmosphere and building something new and different.”

Many people come to visit and enjoy the variety of activities held at the Center, which include carpentry workshops, modeling in clay, agriculture, bee keeping, yoga lessons, street art, advice on sustainability and green technology and much, much more: all in all, two hundred and fifty different activities have been held there over the past six months with the participation of many thousands of Jerusalemites and visitors to the city.

“It’s very important to bring the city back to life, facilitate coexistence and encourage culture, art and music in Jerusalem,” said David Lyons of Calgary, who supported the project through the Jerusalem Foundation in honor of his parents.  He told those present: “My mother’s love for art, music, the community and Israel will continue to live on here forever.”

In her speech Jerusalem Foundation CEO Anat Tzur emphasized the contribution the Center has made to the lives of local residents and to cultural life in Jerusalem.

“Together we are turning a dream into reality,” she told her listeners.

At the conclusion of the ceremony Carol Ryder impressed her handprints on the wall of the appreciation center established at the site. As she said an emotional goodbye to the Muslala artists she told them approvingly: “You are an inspiration to us all, and I know that this is only the start of your journey.”