Monthly Archives: May 2013

Neighbors…. Haredi and non-Haredi in Kiryat Hayovel and Rehavia

Neighbors. Neighbors can be a problem, even in the best of communities. But what happens when neighbors move in who are very different from you? Or when old-time neighbors’ families grow and grow, and seem to be taking over the very nature of your neighborhood? From the ‘other’ side – you’re just looking to living in a nice neighborhood with your family – what’s all the fuss about?

This has been the dynamic in two Jewish neighborhoods – Rehavia and Kiryat Hayovel – that we’ve been working in recently. Both are traditionally secular / national religious neighborhoods – in fact, they’re considered bastions of these populations in Jerusalem. Recently, Kiryat Hayovel has seen an influx of new Haredi residents. In Rehavia, there has always been a Haredi community, but in recent years more and more Haredi families were getting in the neighborhood, changing the demographics. In a city where the Haredi population is growing quickly and non-Haredi populations are feeling threatened, this can definitely cause tensions.

However, if one of our goals is to work to preserve a diverse Jerusalem, tensions are the last thing we need. So in an effort to assuage building tensions between the Haredi and non-Haredi residents of Rehavia and Kiryat Yovel, and thanks to the support of the Jerusalem Foundation and the UJA-Federation of New York, we’re working with 2 very special neighborhood forums.

In Rehavia, we’re working together with the local community council with a group of 20 Haredi and non-Haredi residents, many of them are the leaders of their communities. This includes a fascinating combination of young and older people, national religious, as well as Haredi and secular, men and women. By the end of the second meeting we’d come up with a Summary of Principles for working together. This of course doesn’t mean that individual – and sometimes far-reaching – issues have been solved. But right now we’re focusing on the ‘how we handle issues’, before we move on to the ‘what is the solution’. This includes sometimes basic statements, such as ‘live and let live’, ‘mutual respect’, ‘love of the neighborhood’ and an ’emphasis that we’re all one people’. But we all know that when tension threatens to boil over we need simple, basic principles to guide us through. This group has met twice, and will continue to meet. It has been decided to significantly expand this forum, so that broader agreements can be made and more people and groups can be represented.

In Kiryat Yovel the situation is a bit different. The entrance of Haredi families, even as a small percentage of the population, has raised numerous battle cries against the ‘Haredization’ of Kiryat Yovel, which arises in various forms from time to time. The group in Kiryat Yovel is still smaller – 8 people, all are main leaders – and thus far the two meetings have consist of ‘getting to know you’ conversations. Yet, because Haredi-non-Haredi relations are much terser than in Rehavia, the very existence of these meetings is of utmost importance. While Kiryat Yovel is a tougher nut to crack, we believe we’re on the right path, creating a safe haven for dialogue and conflict resolution. In the last meeting, two Neighborhood Council members hugged each other at the end. This was an unusual occurrence, since one was Haredi and the other was secular who is very active against the Haredization of the neighborhood. “Finally, here, I can give you a hug,” said the Haredi Council member. Another, a secular woman, requested that Haredi women come as well, so that she wouldn’t feel lonely. Currently there is no other place this could happen.

In both neighborhoods, there is energy  to continue the processes, and a feeling of hope that is very important for the future of these communities, as well as for Jerusalem.

Happy 90th birthday Talpiot-Arnona!

We’re feeling a bit of parental pride these days. With assistance from the UJA-Federation of New York, we’ve been working intensively with residents in the Talpiot – Arnona area in methods of deliberative democracy. The goals – engage residents in their community, enable them to take ownership of their community, making it a place they want to be, and stemming years of negative migration of Jerusalem’s young families and professionals.

When we began, the Arnona-Talpiot area was officially part of the Greater Baka’a Community Council catchment area. However, residents did not cross Derech Hebron to the main Community Council facility to receive services, nor did the Community Council staff make efforts to include Talpiot-Arnona residents in its activities. From a community standpoint, it was dormant – no community events; its commercial centers were quiet, barren places; no more than 3-4 children were found in playgrounds at one time.

Last fall we began working with the Community Council, the newly-elected neighborhood committee members from the area, and interested residents. We helped them form several task teams that concentrated on bringing about practical change throughout the neighborhood in a number of areas: the environment, public spaces, Jewish-Arab coexistence, local security, forming community gardens, and more.

This activity seemed to wake up the community, and developments were quick to come. This process had given residents a chance to take responsibility for their neighborhood, to influence the public sphere, to initiate projects, to become a part of the decision-making process, together with the Community Council, and they scooped up the opportunity. The original task teams bore additional ideas for action, which, in a period of only a few months, led to the idea of a huge, neighborhood-wide event, open to the entire city, celebrating Arnona’s 90th anniversary. The fact that the event grew from idea to fruition in only a few short months – returning vibrancy to the neighborhood – is a tribute to the transformation that has taken place over the past year.

Entertainment for the whole family in the commercial center

Entertainment for the whole family in the commercial center

The positive ripple effects were felt near and far. Residents rallied to the cause. Institutions, organizations, businesses and local artists – all wanted to be a part, to contribute to help make the event an amazing one. Their reward – a renewed sense of community in Arnona, a feeling of pride and solidarity.

The afternoon – evening of May 23 was chock full of events, from the fairs and performances in the neighborhood commercial center to community garden to Shai Agnon’s house to exhibits in artists’ homes, to tours of the community. (Click here for the event’s web site in Hebrew). “We are happy to invite you to a community event, the product of the community processes we held over the past year,” reads the invitation’s accompanying letter. “Over the past months we have held a number of meetings with residents in which task teams were formed that deal with many areas. [That’s where we came in, by the way.] We are surprised to discover how diverse and how many community institutions there are in the neighborhood…We invite everyone, children and adults, to participate in the event and to enjoy a wonderful chance to start on a new path in the neighborhood.”

Arts and crafts in the commercial center

Arts and crafts in the commercial center

We can safely say the event accomplished its goal. People came out from their hibernation, met friends and neighborhoods, got to know a little about the neighborhood in which they live. The commercial center has never seen so many people. People attended the artists’ open houses, as well as tours of the neighborhood. Indeed, the feeling of pride and excitement – and a new beginning – was palpable at all the event venues.
Residents, together with institutions in the neighborhood and staff from the Community Council, were the ones who did all the work. But we’re still taking kvelling rights on this one, and we’re proud of our part in the process.

Performance in the community garden

Performance in the community garden

Neighbors as Your Safety Net: Community Empowerment toward Emergency Readiness

Neighbors can be problematic (click here for a recent post about such neighbors), but they can also save your life, especially in an emergency. In the Emergency Response Networks program in east Jerusalem, we are helping bottom-up grassroots initiatives of residents to build the skills and capacity for emergency preparedness.

Imagine an earthquake. Especially in an area such as east Jerusalem, where infrastructure is poor – roads are narrow and poorly kept on good days, many buildings and additions did not take into consideration building codes and safety standards.

There is no time. Buildings have crumbled. Pipes and gas lines might have burst, power lines might be down. People might be trapped, and time is not on your side. All around the world, experts say that for the first few days – the community cannot hope for rescue teams to come from somewhere else. The formal rescue teams are going to be busy, very busy.

The best solution for these first few days is a team of local volunteers, who are responsible for the Emergency Response Network of the neighborhood. This team is trained in advance. As a part of their preparation, they create a detailed plan to have in place. All relevant infrastructure and equipment in the neighborhood will have been mapped – the schools and other public buildings, the health clinics, ambulances and other medical equipment, bulldozers, trucks and other heavy machinery, everything possible in the neighborhood that might help in an emergency. All relevant professionals in the neighborhood will also have been mapped and coordinated – from nurses and doctors to social workers to construction workers and engineers. They will have been organized into clusters by a number of resident-cluster heads. The Israeli police and other rescue workers will also have been notified, so that they know who from the neighborhood is in charge and so that rescue efforts can be streamlined.

We’ve been working to develop such Emergency Response Networks for the past 3 years, and currently there are trained teams in the neighborhoods of Jabel El-Mukaber and Silwan, Abu-Tor and Sur Baher, covering tens of thousands of east Jerusalem residents (out of 300,000 residents in East Jerusalem). Today they undergo practice simulation exercises like those described above. An earthquake is just one example of such an emergency to be prepared for. The concept of local team based on residents is novel. Usually in Israel these “local teams” are based on professionals who work in the community. But many of them reside outside the community, and it might be that in an emergency such as an earthquake, they will find it hard to come. The intensive mapping of resources is also unique to East Jerusalem – in neighborhoods that were originally villages of a few large families, where most people knew each other anyway, mapping and recruitment of community members that have expertise and tools (As bulldozers) is easier.

But we were frustrated…. The current training model enabled us to cover just 10% of East Jerusalem over 3 years. So now, based on what we’ve learnt so far, we are improving our pace. Utilizing a ‘Train the Trainers’ methodology, we are on the brink of training teams in all east Jerusalem neighborhoods over the next 2 years. Starting next week, on May 20, we are supervising the training of 12 Emergency Response Network trainers. These leaders had been trained before to be in their own local emergency team; now we are training them to train others. When these trainers complete the 40 hour course by the middle of July, they will then be able to organize and train volunteers in each of the neighborhoods, and survey the physical and human infrastructure in the neighborhoods. That work will take time (albeit, much less than in our previous model), but the results will be well worth the wait.

What is fascinating about this project is that neighborhoods do not only learn to save lives and save their neighborhoods in the case of an emergency. They also get to know one another and pool local resources. They are been empowered to help their community, whether they are doctors, social workers, teachers or construction workers. They are their own safety net. In the week of flood this winter (that ended with a full-blown snowstorm), these teams helped a lot in solving local problems of closed roads etc., whenever the citywide limited resources could not get in. This week showed the importance of these networks, even without major emergency situation.