Monthly Archives: July 2013

Haredi Society – A Democratic Society?

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish (Haredi) society is often thought of as a closed, hierarchical society. One in which each community asks questions of its Rabbis, and acts only after gaining approval from them. Definitely not the model of a democratic society.

And yet, we’ve found it’s possible to utilize democratic principles to build community in the Haredi neighborhood of Romema. We’ve worked with other neighborhoods on deep democratic processes, we’ve worked before with Romema and we’ve worked on Haredi issues. But we believe this is the first time that deep deliberative democratic principles for community building have been used in a Haredi community!

Last week we kick-started a process of deliberative democracy in Romema with two town meetings using the open space methodology – one for men, and, a week later, one for women. (This was the major way we adapted our ‘standard’ methodology to Haredi cultural morés.)

Some 250 women and 100 men attended the meetings. They discussed issues such as: traffic infrastructures and public safety, planning and public infrastructures (in different complexes, on different streets), sanitation, playgrounds and sports fields, curbing break-ins, and more. Residents divided into dozens of task teams, each with its own leader, which will work on each of the issues that is close to their hearts. You could feel in the air the passion and responsibility of the people who came. Open Space Technology is many times believed to be relevant to open societies with open communication, flat hierarchy and democratic tradition. In these evenings we found out that it suited very well the Haredi residents of Romema.

Romema isn’t a stranger to community-building activities. The community center has been partnering with the Jerusalem Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – Israel, but in areas concentrating on children, youth and education. In previous processes, deep democracy was not utilized. This is the first time that issues raised affected all areas of everyday life, and all ages. The first time that such a broad spectrum of problems was tackled, that such a broad spectrum of residents participated. We wish them luck, and we’ll continue to post updates. We thank the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for enabling us to guide this process. It is just the beginning – community work will require now to shadow the many teams that were born in the two events, helping them to reach their goals.

Cultural Competency in the Health Care System – for the Haredi sector

Enabling all of Jerusalem’s populations – Palestinians, immigrants (Ethiopian, from Former Soviet Union), Ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews – to receive the best health care possible is at the top of our priorities, and our Cultural Competency in the Health Care System project is designed to address the sensitivities of caring for all these populations. Thus, beginning April, we began holding seminars for the staff of a number of primary clinics of Clalit Health Services to help them better communicate with the Haredi populations in their areas.

The location of these seminars was important. They were held in what are considered ‘mixed’ neighborhoods – Neveh Ya’akov, Ramat Eshkol, and Ramot (A and B). These neighborhoods have quickly growing Haredi populations, but they are definitely not the ‘hard core’ (as in Meah Shearim, Geula, Romema, Sanhedria, etc.). Moreover, much of the staff of the Clalit primary clinics in these neighborhoods remains non-Haredi and unequipped to best communicate with their new contingency. Part of the problem, which we will touch on below, is that there is little or no connection between the clinics and the community – and especially the changing community – around them.

In these seminars we dealt with 3 areas:

1) Tools for practical action. Often in this type of work with the ‘other’ we think of the checklist of tips of what to do or not to do when treating the Haredi community – not closing doors, men not offering to shake women’s hands, etc. However, our workshop went beyond the checklist, and sought to change the approach that clinic staff take in treating their Haredi patients. We discussed with them how to bridge major cultural gaps. One example was raised of a Haredi man, whose wife was terminally ill, who came to the clinic to ask for a certain medicine. From the man’s point of view, this medicine, which would stop his wife’s menstrual period and therefore keep her from being ritually impure, would finally enable him to touch her, or even give her a glass of water. The doctor, from her point of view, was appalled. She could not give him the medicine he requested because it reacted with the other medications she was taking. She saw a man who was antipathetic toward his wife – here his wife was very sick and all he could think about was stopping her menstruation? It was a classic case of a cultural gap that needed to be bridged. It was then explained to her the reason behind his request; arrangements are now being made to work around the problem.

2) Community Dialogue. One of the many roles of the community clinic is to raise awareness of preventative health programs and to have an ongoing dialogue with the community to draw the community to take advantage of its services and feel comfortable doing so. Since these clinics had little contact with the community as a whole, it made their work supremely difficult. One of the goals of our seminars was to help the clinic staff first gain acceptance with the community leadership, which will significantly boost neighborhood involvement and patronage. When we surveyed the clinic staffs, we found that they either didn’t know that this fieldwork needed to be done, or did not know how to go about engaging the community. Attempts to call patients directly – without getting the leaders’ OK – led to low turnouts at events. In general, low turnouts leads to lower patronage, which is bad for constituents’ health, and also bad for the health services’ business. With our facilitation, we’re helping the clinic staffs make slow but steady inroads into the community.

For example, in Neveh Ya’akov we facilitated a meeting between the clinic’s staff and the Community Center’s lay leadership (9 out of 10 of whom are Haredi), which we anticipate will lead afterward to inroads into the community’s various spiritual leaders. After this type of connection, we expect a much higher rate of participation in Clalit’s activities in the future. We are using similar means to reach community leadership in the other neighborhoods as well.

3) A Safe Place to Vent. In each neighborhood, because the staff – themselves secular and religious, some, with no religious background – had started out in a religious / secular neighborhood that saw a rapid growth in the Haredi population, there was a general feeling of frustration and despair. They felt they were witnessing the great struggle for control in Jerusalem between Haredi and non-Haredi Jews, and the Haredim seemed to be winning easily, engulfing entire neighborhoods and forcing their beliefs and belief systems on everything around them. On the other hand, clinic staffs must draw patients in; otherwise they’ll go elsewhere and Clalit will lose money. And these workers are measured also according to their economic efficacy in the clinic.

We couldn’t really offer solutions to all the fears the staffs raised, but just the act of venting was important to them. For some, this was the first time that they’d heard other people venting the same fears, and that it’s OK to talk about it, and maybe even find solutions to some of the problems. Interestingly, these issues were raised in all 3 of the neighborhoods, independently.

MiniActive On the Road Again

In previous posts we spoke about the work of the East Jerusalem Palestinian MiniActive volunteers helping to deal with unwanted waterfalls and streams, that developed as a result of the major winter storm in January 2013.

Winter damage in A-Tur

Winter damage in A-Tur

Now, we’re here to show pictures of streams and waterfalls that are supposed to be there…

Banias stream

Banias stream

And its famous waterfall

And its famous waterfall

Earlier this week, a select group of MiniActive volunteers traveled north to the Golan Heights to enjoy the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve (known as the Banias). They left Jerusalem at the crack of dawn, drove all the way up to the Banias, had the full tour, ate lunch, and came back home.

Resting beside the stream

Resting beside the stream

This trip is another thank-you to the hard work these women put in every week in improving everyday life in East Jerusalem, one phone call at a time. For example, recent issues include:

Getting a bench installed at a bus stop outside the Old City:

Bus stop bench

Bus stop bench

And reporting health hazards, including areas prone to rat infestation:

In Silwan

In Silwan