Archive for December, 2014

MiniActive Youth – Now Empowering Teens as Well

December 31st, 2014

We never ceased to be amazed by the MiniActive project – the scope and volume of their activity (some 1,000 activists, 7,800 subscribers on their Facebook page), what they’ve been able to accomplish, all are the subject of our admiration.

Until a few days ago, MiniActive was only for women above 18 years old (up to 70 and beyond…). Last week we started our first groups of teenagers, “MiniActive Youth“. The program includes training on how to be pro-active in changing one’s immediate environment. They will assist their mothers (who are MiniActive volunteers) in identifying projects for improvement, and also lead other teens in neighborhood-based beautification projects. Because they are minors, their mothers will make the calls to the municipal hotline or other service providers, but they will be the ones doing all the footwork.

The first group of teenagers is in Issawiyah (and a few more are formed now), and this group decided a week ago to take care of one of the old, run-down staircases in the neighborhood. They cleaned it, and then painted it, taking inspiration from the “Rainbow Stairs” that made headlines in Turkey last year, as well as our own local version.

Issawiya Stairs

Issawiya Stairs: before and after

Issawiya stairs: beginning work

Issawiya stairs: beginning work

Painting in progress

Painting in progress









May this be the first of many successful projects of this group!

MiniActive Women – Opening Critical Lines of Communication

December 30th, 2014

On December 28, 2014, our MiniActive women activists found a notice on a few walls in Shuafat and Beit Hanina, stating that the next day there will be no water in this large area due to maintenance work. The activists understood that these postings would not reach very many people. There is no formal way to spread the word in East Jerusalem, and it was obvious to them that many would find themselves unprepared for a full day without water.

So we used our Miniactive Facebook page. Around 6,000 of the 7,800 on the page are Palestinian Jerusalemite women 18-34 years old (this is 15% of this age group in East Jerusalem!!). We boosted the post and in a few hours, it was “virally” spread to more than 8,000 residents! This meant that almost all the relevant families knew on time!


Notice for water line maintenance – and the statistics of the Facebook post

This is not the first time that we use the MiniActive network for spreading such a message. A few months ago, when there was a suspicion of sewage getting into the drinking water, we used this communication channel to spread the word about using only boiled water. Then, too, it worked very well.

“The Resident at the Center” – Empowering City Center Residents through Deliberative Democracy

December 15th, 2014

For more than two years we’ve been using deliberative democracy methods to foster a sense of community and belonging among Jerusalem’s diverse populations, thanks to the generous support of the UJA-Federation of New York. We’ve been working with a number of Jerusalem neighborhoods, from Gilo and Baka’a to Romema, Kiryat Hayovel and Rehavia, as well as in regional (Jerusalem Railway Park) and citywide initiatives (training of community workers).

Open Space in City Center

Open Space in City Center

The latest neighborhood to embark on this process of empowerment is the City Center. As part of a community-building process that began in March of this year, on December 1, 2014, some 200 residents squeezed into the gymnasium at the Experimental High School in downtown Jerusalem for a town meeting based on Open Space Technology. The group was incredibly diverse – Ultra-Orthodox, Secular, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, immigrants from all around the Jewish world, and even a few asylum seekers from Eritrea! Three elected City Council members, one of them a Deputy Mayor, joined the group and later joined the task teams.  All came to discuss issues in the neighborhood that they were passionate about finding solutions for.  For the first time, residents were excited to finally be able to give voice to their everyday concerns, and meet other people who were potential partners in finding solutions. Examples included noise, sanitation, parking, quiet on Saturdays, improving safety, the elderly, growing plants in the city center, ecology, and more. These 200 people split up into different task teams, and we will continue to mentor them to ensure that the issues are advanced.

According to the residents, this is the first time ever that residents have been led in any community-building process in the downtown Jerusalem. Until now, many felt that they were “transparent” in relation to the business-owners in the city center, and that their needs were secondary to the businesses’. They’d tried to organize themselves around different issues (planning Nevi’im Street, the pedestrian malls, and more), but there was never an organized, long-term process that allowed residents to have their own say in the future of their neighborhood. We see this as just the beginning, and are going to help the groups that were formed to continue to work and impact downtown. We truly believe that this is a new beginning for the residents of the City Center.

Changing the Music – Expanding the Fight against Racism and Xenophobia

December 4th, 2014

“Today the streets are filled with a ‘music’ of hatred and intolerance. Jews, Arabs, religious, secular, right, left, anyone who is not ‘us,'” notes our own Tal Kligman. “We have to change the ‘music’ that’s playing out there.” This was the impetus for the Open Space Workshop for Activists and Organizations that we facilitated at the Jerusalem International YMCA on November 24, 2014. “We expected 20 – 30 people to come,” continued Tal. “We did relatively little advertising – Facebook, a few mailing lists. But we’ve obviously hit a nerve – more than 100 people came to the meeting, and more than 150 people have asked to join the GoogleGroup we’ve established since the meeting. The event  received many likes on Facebook, and a number of people have told us, ‘Thank you! We’re so happy to have a framework in which to do something about the situation.'”

Indeed, the situation has been difficult. On the backdrop of the kidnapping and killing of the three Jewish teenagers, the kidnapping and killing of an Arab teen, and the military operation in Gaza that began in the summer months, the Jerusalem street has been anything but quiet. Verbal and physical attacks from all sides, to all sides, have raised fear and tension throughout the city.

We’ve been working since our inception to open channels of communication between different population groups in Jerusalem. But over these past few months we’ve been working more intensely to stem the tide. As soon as the Arab boy was found we augmented our efforts to bring calm to the city. We also stepped up our work to bring positive messages to the public sphere. We were – and continue to be – on the ground, in public squares, engaging people – left, right, vocal demonstrators – in dialogue as a means to decrease violence in these areas. Both national and local newspapers have written about us here and here.

Initiating in Open Space

Initiating in Open Space

Still, for us, this was not enough. Incidents continued to occur, and fear continued to abound. Within the Arab-Palestinian sector of Jerusalem, most of our relevant work on this issue is through our on-going activist networks of MiniActive, Emergency Readiness Networks, etc. In our work in the Jewish sector, we found that there are a lot of people and initiatives, who might have different political views but all believe that violence, incitement and fear are not the way forward. So we decided to bring them all together to brainstorm, network, strengthen existing initiatives and create new ones, all in an effort to advance a more tolerant Jerusalem. Thus, the Open Space Workshop for Activists and Organizations was born.

Over the past few years, with the assistance of the UJA- Federation of New York, we’ve been working to engage with individuals to improve inter-group relations and promote deliberative democracy within communities as well as to solve common problems and advance common initiatives. It was an immediate outgrowth and a natural extension for us to use the approaches developed in this ongoing program to tackle issues affecting the public sphere of the entire city. Indeed, we used a methodology in this event that we developed over the past two years, based on Open Space Technology, that is well-adapted to energetic activists.

Choosing Initiatives

Choosing Initiatives

The atmosphere at the Workshop was both accepting of everyone and all ideas, and charged with an exciting eagerness to get down to work. The Open Space methodology enabled people to connect, discuss and create working teams for their ideas and initiatives. Participants broke into groups according to the initiatives they felt passionate about, and brainstormed about the next steps to advance and develop their initiatives.This passion was palpable in the air throughout the evening.

Ideas ranged from expanding existing initiatives to new ones. One example is “Speaking in the Square,” which has been focusing, since the summer months, on creating a new approach for approaching teens and adults in the streets (e.g. Zion Square, which is known as a center of non-tolerance in Jerusalem), and having effective dialogue with them about tolerance and xenophobia. (In the above links, we wrote about this exciting group of volunteers and their novel approach.)  For the Hebrew readers, a new article about this group was published in Maariv recently (the print edition can be found here). As a result of the Workshop, partnerships were formed between this volunteer-based group and a number of organizations who are willing to teach their dialogue methodologies to these volunteers, as well as learn from them.

Another existing initiative looks for ways for the tolerant voice to reclaim the public sphere. Yet another, newer, initiative sought to influence key decision-makers. All these initiatives had an opportunity during the event to find new passionate members and partners, gain some new ideas and directions, and find means of cooperation among themselves.

Working Group

Working Group

New activities have already started, like sticker and T-shirt campaigns with anti-racist sayings, working with businesses that employ Arabs to make sure that they are not threatened in attempts to make them to fire their Arab workers, engaging in dialogue in mixed Jerusalem neighborhoods as Abu-Tor, mutual teaching of Arabic and Hebrew by Jews and Arabs etc.

Since the Workshop the JICC has opened up an Internet-based forum to enable activists from all the initiatives to continue to network and share ideas and experiences. We promised to mentor the initiatives and to have more energetic meetings for the initiatives in two months time.

We can’t close without a huge thanks to our strategic partners in this work, the Jerusalem Foundation, and the UJA- Federation of New York, who contributed in many ways to the success of our work in this new direction of fighting xenophobia in Jerusalem. We believe that many of the activities and approaches we use in Jerusalem can be of use in other places in Israel (and probably beyond).

New Courses in Handicrafts for MiniActive Volunteers

December 1st, 2014

We’ve spoken proudly about our MiniActive network, which today encompasses 900 women in East Jerusalem who work day in, day out to improve everyday lives for them and their families. The network also includes over 7,400 likes on its Facebook page.

MiniActive handicrafts

MiniActive handicrafts

Since the beginning of the program in 2012 we’ve not only wanted to develop the network’s grassroots leadership and professional skills, a main goal has also been to foster community through a wide range of enrichment activities. Over the past few years this has included photography courses, environment and health courses, exercise classes, tours and trips, and more.

This year we’ve added yet another aspect of community-building – handicraft classes. Thus far there are some 30 women participating in a class in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Additional classes – also with 30 women in each – are slated to open in Issawiya (northern Jerusalem), Umm Tuba – Sur Baher (southern tip of Jerusalem), and Kufr Aqeb (northern tip of Jerusalem).

Handicrafts Workshop

Handicrafts Workshop