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Pillars of smoke ascending over Sacher Park characterize, as every Jerusalemite knows, either Independence Day or the Mimouna festival, the Jewish-Moroccan post-Passover holiday. However, these days the smoke is rising over the park from the picnics of ultra-Orthodox Jews. They traditionally vacation in late summer in the period known as "between the times" (of important Jewish holidays), which is relatively free of religious obligations.

In recent years, and this year more than ever, Sacher Park has turned into a major recreation center for ultra-Orthodox families from the city and surrounding areas. Thousands of Hared Jews, from infants to the elderly and from all sectors, except extreme Hasidic groups who eschew public entertainment, gather there each afternoon. The [more extreme] "have their own attractions in Mea Sha'arim," a park visitor named Shalom says with a touch of sarcasm. "They can set rubbish bins on fire," he says, referring to Haredi protests against a municipal parking garage opening on Saturday.

Young Haredi families, often called modern Haredim, have increasingly adopted the time-honored Israeli custom of barbecues. "This place seems to cry out for barbecues," says one of the many park visitors fanning flames over a grill. Take, for example, this past Wednesday. Scores of grills are lit across the park. The more traditional lug big pots of dishes prepared at home or sandwiches to spread out, for reasons of kashrut, on large plastic sheets. Others are equipped with folding tents or piles of sheets fashioned into improvised tents. At the playground one hears parents scolding and children shouting with pleasure - in Yiddish.

"The Haredi public is forced to find low-cost recreation, because secular attractions are too expensive for families with large numbers of children. Here it's free and there's lots of space. It's important to remember that Haredi children are less demanding than secular children," says Yaakov Sherman, who came to enjoy the park with 42 members of his extended family, three generations, gathered from around the entire city.

Yossi Taviv of Modi'in Illit in the West Bank, who also arrives with a large contingent of family members, adds that "in ultra-Orthodox areas, it's hard to find large parks, so we come here."

Secular residents of Jerusalem complain about the large amount of garbage the picnickers leave behind. The municipality says it collected a ton and a half of waste from the park per day recently - three times as much as on ordinary days. However, the ultra-Orthodox are no different from other large gatherings in the park; they leave an enormous amount of refuse in their wake.

The "days between the times" - between the mourning day of Tisha B'Av and the first of Elul, when pre-New Year prayers begin - traditionally is a a period when the ultra-Orthodox leave their yeshivas and set out for nature. Nearly every year, the season is marked by disasters befalling yeshiva students or families who run into trouble on irresponsibly conducted outings. Leading rabbis and Haredi newspapers have come out against such dangerous undertakings. Wednesday the Internet site Haredim recounted the story of the "miracle" that occurred for teenager Ya'akov Shinkolovsky of Bnei Brak, who lost his way during a family hike on Mount Carmel. The 14-year-old boy miraculously found a bottle of water that saved his life; he was found the next morning by police searching for him.