Monthly Archives: February 2016

It’s Official: Zion Square is branded as a Square for Tolerance and Dialogue!

In summer 2014, Kikar Zion (Zion Square) in Jerusalem became a hot spot and flash point of racism and xenophobia. It was not the first time for the Square (read here about its history), but this new wave began after the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys in June 2014 seemed to usher in a new era of constant violence and tension in downtown Jerusalem.

However, something unexpected happened. A group of activists came to the Square, in the beginning to mourn the murder of the three Jewish boys, and then the murder of the Arab boy, Muhammad Abu Khdeir. But unlike other activists who shouted slogans at one another and sometimes escalated to violence, these activists showed empathy and suggested dialogue, even to those who perceived them as the ‘enemy.’ These activists came from the entire political spectrum, and eventually adopted the name, Medabrim Bakikar, (Speaking in the Square). Theirs is an exciting story, the story of hope for the Square, for Jerusalem and hopefully for the region. You can read more about these brave activists here, in our last blog post about them, or by clicking on the Promoting Tolerance in Jerusalem Activism category. Many of the posts there are about them. Speaking in the Square is an independent group but the JICC helps them in many ways, with the support  UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation.

When Speaking in the Square began in Zion Square it was scary to sit on the ground or speak about politics in the darkness. Violence and hatred were in the air. With time, their persistence in coming every week and speaking about about dialogue in the square as well as on social media, the atmosphere changed. Many heard about this miracle of dialogue and then other groups were able – and wanted – to come. It was natural, then, that when there was a murder during the Gay Parade of 2015, the vigils of mourning and calls for tolerance did not take place at the point of murder, but instead at Zion Square. This is when we first understood that Speaking in the Square had succeeded in “re-branding” the Square to a Square of Tolerance and Dialogue. In the wake of the murder this past summer, Speaking in the Square were joined by the Yerushalmit Movement, the Jerusalem Open House, top municipal officials, and others who started to arrive to promote these values in the Square.

But now, it is official!!!! The municipality announced that Zion Square will officially become a ‘Square of Tolerance.’

Newspaper article, "Zion Square for Mutual Respect and Tolerance"

Newspaper article, “Zion Square for Mutual Respect and Tolerance”

The Municipality has recently announced an architectural competition to re-design and re-brand Zion Square. And this new design must include elements that advance tolerance and mutual respect.

Mayor Nir Barkat noted on the Jerusalem Municipality’s Hebrew web page and on his Facebook page, “From a square that has many times represented disputes within society, we decided, together with the Banky family [whose daughter, Shira, was murdered during the Gay Pride parade in August 2015], to turn the Square into a place that advances connections, tolerance and mutual respect, just like Shira, z”l. I am sure that it will be a fascinating, important and value-laden challenge to the architectural competition – that will add a great deal.”

This accomplishment is the result of the collective work of all those who continue to speak, talk, discuss and argue in Zion Square.

And they’ll even be able to influence the physical aspects of the public sphere – At the request of the competition organizers, Speaking in the Square and other Zion Square activists are meeting on Sunday, March 6 to brainstorm design ideas for the new Zion Square.

We’ll definitely keep you updated!

Recognize Zion Square?

Recognize Zion Square?

We must thank again the the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their support of our efforts to promote tolerance in the public sphere in Jerusalem. Without their help, we could not impact the squares of Jerusalem!

MiniActive Horticulture Therapy – In the Spirit of Springtime

We’re enjoying unseasonably warm weather here in Jerusalem, and we thought we’d share some beautiful pictures from our MiniActive Horticulture Therapy Course. This first-ever course in Arabic began in December and is running through May, in cooperation with the David Yellin Academic College of Education.

Working in the garden

Working in the garden

The course is taking place at one of the largest schools for special education in East Jerusalem, in Beit Hanina. Alongside the theoretical study, the women have begun working with the children. Such fun to be working outside!

With individual attention

With individual attention

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for their ongoing support of this program.

Learning about nature

Learning about nature

Promoting Tolerance on the Radio

Radio? Did someone say radio?

Yesterday, three initiatives that we’ve been working with over the past year and more – 0202 – A View from East Jerusalem (both in Hebrew and in English), Speaking in the Square, and the Abu-Tor/A-Thuri Good Neighbors project – were featured on the Microphones for Peace program on the JLM.FM web radio station.

Daniel described what he’s learned and discovered as part of “Speaking in the Square”. “I’ve discovered the great diversity of Jerusalemites; I’ve met many of the ‘reasonable Jerusalemites.’ We’ve discovered that in Zion Square, even the raging masses are willing to listen.”

In the Microphones for Peace studio

In the Microphones for Peace studio

Aliza described the uniqueness of the program in Abu Tor / Al-Thuri, which is currently developing a number of joint programs. “As opposed to trying to influence the entire public sphere, we’re working on a much more personal level. We’re building trust on a very personal level, and only then will we even think about opening up our activities to people from outside the neighborhood. I’m discovering, to my pleasant surprise, that both sides are excited to get to know one another, to see what life is like for our neighbors.”

Michal, who made 0202 happen, told the story of the making of a Facebook channel of communications that transformed for many the understanding of East Jerusalem. She also talked about her work with us at the JICC in creating the tolerance neighborhood network of Jerusalem.

Kol Hakavod for everyone’s efforts – keep up the good work!

Many thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their support of our work to promote tolerance in Jerusalem.


MiniActive – Seeing Physical Improvements Again

We’ve reported here in the past about the plethora of projects that the MiniActive women have been able to get done in their neighborhoods over the past several years. This has been an exponential increase over even the smallest improvements that had taken place previously.

Unfortunately, the past few months have been challenging – as the security situation became more tenuous, services from the municipality noticeably slowed. MiniActive women, however, did not give up. They continued to call, and began to write letters, and did not stop posting on their Facebook page. In addition, some of the posts from the MiniActive Facebook page were also translated into Hebrew on the 0202 Facebook Page and in English on the 0202 – A View from East Jerusalem Facebook page, which are followed by top municipal officials, journalists and human rights organizations. Regardless of the political situation, the municipality is required to provide basic services to its residents.

It seems as if this persistence is paying off. This past week MiniActive posted two instances of the municipality fixing local roads – something we haven’t seen for a long time. Here is one instance in Beit Hanina:

Road work in Beit Hanina

Road work in Beit Hanina

And another from A-Tur:

Road work in A-Tur

Road work in A-Tur

Fighting Racism and Xenophobia through Effective Dialogue

Last Thursday, Speaking in the Square activists, including our own Michal Shilor, led an Effective Dialogue workshop,  as part of the 9Adar Project – the Jewish Week of Constructive Conflict, which is operated by the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies together with Mosaica: The Center for Conflict Resolution by Agreement.

Learning principles of effective dialogue

Learning principles of effective dialogue

Here are some conclusions that were posted by the Gishurim program / Mosaica (in Hebrew):

  1. Something good is happening in Jerusalem.
  2. More specifically, something good is happening in Zion Square. 🙂
  3. If you want to have dialogue with someone whose opinion contradicts yours, try to find a point of agreement between you.
  4. When you speak with someone else, listen, really listen to him or her. Try and learn something new.
  5. Sometimes we enter into a conversation and forget what we were originally arguing about, our goal in the conversation. It’s important to keep asking yourself what you want to achieve with what you’re saying.
  6. Try to find positive points about the person with whom you do not agree / like. Sometimes it’s very difficult. But each discussion will look different if you try.
  7. It’s very easy to let a lot of anger loose in a heated argument. Try to have a pleasant discussion, one that preserves everyone’s personal space and mutual respect.

Members of Speaking in the Square have been successfully developing the Effective Dialogue methodology since they began providing an alternative to racist activists from the Lehava organization in Zion Square in the summer of 2014. In recent months members have held a number of workshops that explain the principles of Effective Dialogue.

Flyers with principles of effective dialogue

Flyers with principles of effective dialogue

Effective Dialogue assumes that a common denominator between two people can be found, even if differences at first seem gaping. Much of the conversation is concentrated on finding elements to agree upon. The goal is to show the other that not everything is black and white, that there are many shades of gray in each issue.

Practicing effective dialogue in Z ion Square

Practicing effective dialogue in Z ion Square

We had about 20 people at the theoretical training, and 5-6 joined the Speaking in the Square regulars in Zion Square to try out their new skills, including with Lehava members.

Speaking with everyone in Zion Square

Speaking with everyone in Zion Square


Jews and Arabs, Fighting Racism, Fighting for Abu Tor / A-Thuri

Abu Tor / A-Thuri was one of the first Neighborhood Tolerance Teams we began working with as part of our Campaign to Promote Tolerance in Jerusalem. We wrote here about a number of joint initiatives that they and other groups are advancing. In fact, the attempt to create such a group in Abu Tor was made by a few devoted local activists a while ago who then asked for our help. This is the best approach – helping a committed group who owns the process. Indeed, these groups are not “ours” – we help them get established, but they remain independent.

Now, they’re leading an urgent initiative – the fight against the development of what is called the “Greek Compound.” The Greek Compound, owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, is important to Jews, Christians as well as Muslims. For Christians it is thought of as the original Hill of Evil Counsel (where Jesus was handed over to the Romans), for Jews and Muslims it also boasts a history that dates back to pre-Canaanite times, early Islam and the First and Second Temples. You can read more on the campaign’s web site.

In a boost to their fight, the group was profiled in an article in the Ha’aretz Daily newspaper.

Many thanks for the UJA-Federation of New York for their support of this program.


Petition! Santé Israël Website – Example of Helping French-Speakers in Israel in Healthcare

“For years, the Pharmadom Foundation has helped the most vulnerable populations in Israel to seek and support emerging or not covered by government requirements. This is what led us to recently create the Santé Israël (“Health Israel”) website, which has quickly established itself as a valuable tool to help French Olim to navigate the Israeli health system.”

This is what the Pharmadom Foundation said about our Santé Israël website in a recent petition  that seeks to enable French-trained pharmacists to practice in Israel without being required to take certification examinations.

Pharmadom petition

Pharmadom petition site

Santé Israël was launched in September 2015, and was developed thanks to a partnership with Pharmadom. Santé Israël is a mobile-friendly website makes Israel’s health care system accessible to French speakers. The site offers comprehensive explanations about Israel’s health care system, which is vastly different from that of France, as well as its four main health funds.

We’re happy to be a prime example of their work. Many wishes for success with the petition!

Many thanks to the Pharmadom Foundation for their ongoing support of the project. The Pharmadom Foundation works under the auspices of the Foundation of French Judaism (FSJU) and the Rashi Foundation.

Neighborhood Tolerance Team in Baka’a Gets Underway

What is common in the following experiences?

“The train (on the old Ottoman line) was our alarm clock – when it went past our house every morning at 7 am, mom knew it was time to get up and get ready for school.”

“We rode our broken scooter to the YMCA to get into the Hapoel soccer game at halftime, with sunflower seeds in hand. We came back on foot, tired but happy, scooter in tow.”

“We didn’t lock our doors then. We knew everyone’s family backgrounds: Kurdish, Iraqi, Turkish, Moroccan. We didn’t know what “Ashkenazi” (Jew of Eastern European descent) or “Mizrachi” (of Middle Eastern descent) was. We were one big family.”

“The jelly cake at the Smadar Cinema, and Chechik who would stop the movies in the middle to yell at us to be quiet. We also learned to smoke at the Smadar Cinema.”

At the Smadar Cinema

At the Smadar Cinema

These are all common experiences that were shared last week at the Baka’a Neighborhood Tolerance Team’s first meeting. Dozens of residents came to listen and to tell stories about Baka’a of yore, from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. The stories brought together new and veteran residents, young and old families as well as students, in reminiscing about Baka’a’s fascinating past.

Baka'ah meeting

Baka’ah meeting

In such a diverse neighborhood it was important to bring the unique texture of the neighborhood to the fore. We have found in our work to promote tolerance in Jerusalem, that tolerance is not only something that must be practiced toward the far-away ‘other’ – Arabs, the Ultra-Orthodox. Tolerance begins in our neighborhoods, with our neighbors, in the local supermarket and post office, in the way we treat other people. The first step in treating them in a tolerant manner is to get to know them on a more personal basis. Thus, the fascinating stories of neighborhood veterans were a perfect way to launch the Baka’a Neighborhood Tolerance Team.

Sharing experiences

Sharing experiences

Many thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York for their support of this program.

If you want to see some videos from the event, here they are:

Healthcare Certification Training: Taking Stock

Over the past few weeks we’ve gotten some great news – that 6 more occupational therapists who took our course passed the Ministry of Health certification exam, and several more were very close. As the results continue to come in, we thought we’d take stock over the past 4 years of the program. We’ve really come a long way:

  • The program has increased the number of certified Arab paramedical professionals in East Jerusalem exponentially. Since it began in 2012, nearly 70 nurses, occupational therapists, and physical therapists to pass their Israeli certification exams. This includes 37 nurses, 24 occupational therapists and 6 physical therapists. Beforehand, only 1-2 would pass each year in each discipline. It would have taken many years to achieve these results otherwise.
  • The program has enabled us to more clearly map the situation of different paramedical professions in East Jerusalem, contributing to the knowledge of training in the Jerusalem area. As we developed courses for different disciplines, we have gained an in-depth knowledge of the state of diverse fields in East Jerusalem. This is the first time ever that any type of mapping has been done, and this information is now available for the first time to health care and educational institutions, as well as the Israel Ministry of Health.
  • The program has raised awareness both among Palestinian institutes of higher education and health care institutions in East Jerusalem as well as Israeli Ministry of Health. When we began the program, there was little compliance and even less awareness about the need and benefits of having staff that have passed the certification exam in their fields. Today, all the major health care institutions in East Jerusalem, Palestinian universities, as well as Ministry of Health, better understand this need. We believe this understanding will lead to an improvement in health care in East Jerusalem.
  • The program has opened a large window of opportunity for Arab women paramedical professionals to improve economic opportunities. After they pass their certification exams improves their access to employment rights, which includes an increase in pay and employment conditions.
  • As a result of the program, the JICC has earned a prestigious reputation for offering high-quality courses. Since we began these courses, graduates of the physical therapy and occupational therapy courses have had high rates of success in passing the certification examinations. As a result of this success, graduates, and even expectant graduates, of the different Palestinian universities have requested to register for courses well in advance.
  • Our reputation proceeds itself in expanding to new disciplines. As a result of the success of graduates of physical and occupational therapy, graduates of other paramedical professions – speech therapists and medical laboratory technicians – have requested we develop courses, which are now in various stages of development. Thus, we have expanded our offerings from two to six (also including physical therapy, speech therapy, medical laboratory technicians and medical Hebrew). We are also in regular contact with the medical faculty of Al-Quds University, ready to assist if needed.
A meeting of the nursing course

A meeting of the nursing course

We’ve just started a new course for physical therapists, and are developing courses for speech therapists and medical lab technicians. We’ll keep you posted on further updates.

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation and the Hadassah Foundation for their support of this program.


Continuing to Build Community by Solving Problems in Gilo

Extension of the light rail to Gilo is a good thing, right? Or will it just bring years of disruptive construction and lost income for local businesses?

These were some of the issues that we’ve been having in Gilo, together with professionals from the Gilo Community Council and the staff of the transportation master plan.

We’ve been helping the staff from the Gilo Community Council lead the process with local residents for the past few months. Residents first learned about the new line that is being built to Gilo and how it will affect their everyday lives. They also met with staff from the transportation master plan, and presented them with their questions and concerns. And last week, on February 2, residents had an opportunity to submit their objections to the current plan.

Helping to write objections

Helping to write objections

We’re not talking about objections to the overall concept of the construction of the light rail. These objections were more like specific requests on how to improve the way the rail is built (in stages, instead of all at once), the placement of electrical lines, objections by local businesses on how to minimize the damage during and after construction, etc. We helped the process by making this event a one-stop shop – the room was divided into a number of geographical and other areas, and professionals were on hand for consultation and help in writing up the objections. A lawyer was also there to sign the objections before submission. Most importantly, residents of Gilo felt they have the power to influence the construction of the light rail line. And they have the power to influence other areas of their lives as well.

Writing and submitting objections

Writing and submitting objections

Since this process is long-term (given previous experience, it could go on for a decade), the partnership we’ve all been working toward is also a long-term partnership, one based on mutual respect and a desire to respond to residents’ real needs. In this process we’ve built up a community that communicates with each other – on Facebook, through the community newspaper, and more – and solve problems together, in real time. We’ll keep you posted on the continuing developments.