Ramot is a Jewish neighborhood that consists of ultra-orthodox, modern-orthodox (well, in Israel they are usually referred to as “national-religious”), conservative, reform and secular Jews. Ramot is known in the past twenty years for rifts between the ultra-orthodox groups and other religious denominations. Practically, the percentage of ultra-orthodox people rises and other denominations feel that they are losing their “turf”. The Ramot Community Council, which also serves as the local community center, mainly represents these “non-ultra-orthodox” groups.
The Jerusalem Inter-Cultural Center was involved around the year 2000 in a high-rank negotiation process between the main ultra-orthodox leadership and the heads of the Community Council. The achievements of this process were limited, but it created some basic understandings. In 2008, the Ramot Community Council asked the JICC to help in creating a participatory community development process in the neighborhood. The selected model was Open Space Technology, a powerful way to engage passion and responsibility for action among large groups of residents, leaders, activists and professionals. To prepare for the Open Space event in December 2008 we formed a steering committee that includes all relevant stakeholders. The committee then discussed main questions for the event and ways to engage the community in the process.
On October 5, 2008, we held a meeting with the Board of the Community Council to expose them to the methodology and concept of the Open Space, and to emphasize their role as active partners. The board endorsed the process and raised important questions – mainly around best ways to engage as many residents as possible. Similarly to previous meetings, people expressed their concern that due to the demographic threat felt by non-ultra-orthodox residents, despair will cause many not to attend the event. As one participant pointed out, it might be hard for some to discuss “the quality of living in Ramot”, when they are not sure about “living in Ramot” for the long term. As we hoped, the board members were invited to the next meeting of the Open Space steering committee in November. This will enable them to take an active role in making the process successful.