Monthly Archives: August 2015

Speaking in the Square – Getting the Word Out Beyond

Even more press coverage for the Speaking in the Square group, which we’ve been mentoring since last summer. (See here and here for more information.) This most recent string began with Ossnat Sharon’s August 8, 2015 column on Sichah Mekomit (Hebrew for local discussion). (Ossnat is one of the active core of volunteers who gather in Zion Square in Jerusalem’s downtown each week.) The English version, entitled, “The right-wing group trying to keep downtown Jerusalem Arab-free,” ran on August 21 on the sister site, It describes the basics of the Lehava organization, an extremist organization whose followers often parade with racist chants in downtown Jerusalem mostly on Thursday and Saturday nights, and their weekly activities in downtown Jerusalem. This column led to an interview with Israel Channel 10’s veteran reporter, Yaron London on Sunday August 9, on the daily news magazine show, London et Kirshenbaum, which airs every weekday at 6 pm. The original column was also translated into Arabic and published on the Times of Israel Arabic site on August 12. Click here for the 5-minute interview, in Hebrew:

In the London et Kirshenbaum studio

In the London et Kirshenbaum studio

In it, like in the column, she describes the people in Lehava. “This is a phenomenon of youth,” she said. They are mostly youth and young people, looking for a meaningful way to, in their eyes, save the Jewish people from destruction. Some are youth at risk, while others are not. Some wear Lehava’s signature black and yellow T-shirts, and others do not (which makes it more difficult to identify them). While social service organizations and agencies are present in the Square to help youth at risk, the youth aren’t looking for their services. “These are youth who are looking do something, to create real change,” Ossnat added,  and Lehava is the way that they’ve found to do it.

Speaking in the Square’s role, as she notes in the column, is “to make it difficult for them to operate unhindered.” With activists that run the gamut of political viewpoints, including secular and religious Jews, they keep an eye on the youth, more than the police, and let them know they’re being watched. They speak with them and passersby, and engage them in discussions that run deeper than one-line slogans. “We initiate a different kind of political discussion,” Ossnat explains in her Channel 10 interview. “We’re ensuring a moderate political presence [from all over the political spectrum], and not a nationalistic one. It has an effect that other kinds of activities don’t have…Something else is created [in the Square]. Something that dissipates the violence.”

Activity in the Square

Activity in the Square

We believe that the activities of Speaking in the Square have indeed changed the atmosphere in Zion Square, to one that truly enables Jerusalem’s extremely diverse populations to express themselves in a respectful manner. Many thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their support, which have enabled us to advance this project. Many thanks to these and other media outlets that have publicized Speaking in the Square’s work over the past several weeks. Join us in downtown Jerusalem on Thursday or Saturday nights!


Can Israel’s Police Force Become Culturally Competent?

The news is full of stories of the police’s treatment – appropriate or not – of civilians. Just recently Americans marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting of a young, black, unarmed man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, USA, which led to riots and civil unrest for some time.  In May of this year Israeli police officer were shown beating a soldier of Ethiopian descent, which led to a wave of demonstrations of the Ethiopian community in Israel, and unrest in the streets.

Israel’s police force – and any police force – are under constant and almost unbearable pressure to keep law and order, working among a vastly diverse population. Educators in the Israeli Police Force recognized this complexity, and requested to begin working with us to develop a cultural competency training module for police cadets. To their credit, planning work actually began before relations between the police and the Ethiopian community made headlines. But the light shown on the police during the full-force demonstrations of the Ethiopian community this spring underlined the necessity of this kind of training. As a result, we began to working with all new police cadets, as part of their 14-week basic training course. At the same time, we are beginning an in-depth process with 23 police stations throughout the country.

At this first stage we are implementing introductory workshops to different training courses – basic policing, detectives, border police, cavalry, advanced policing – all are undergoing the basic 1 1/2 hour workshop. Since the beginning of June we’ve held 40 seminars, with 20 – 30 police cadets in each group. That’s  already 1,200 cadets! After this, we will be organizing a Train the Trainers course for the regular instructors in the police academy, so the principles can be fully integrated into their training regimen.

More in-depth processes will be taking place in 26 police stations throughout the country that have high concentrations of Israelis of Ethiopian descent, including two in Jerusalem, Moriah in the south and Shufat in the north. In this process we are partnering together with the Gishurim project. The first step of this process will be a half-day seminar on cultural competency, using facilitators that we’ve trained. We will begin training the facilitators in September; they will then lead 150 seminars throughout the country.

And what do the police think about these training sessions? We’re finding that many, especially Jerusalemites, are already very in-tuned to the cultural complexities of our city, and make every effort to consider the effects that cultural sensitivity has on the residents with whom they come into contact. We are honored to be part of a process that seeks to bring law and order to all residents of the city.