Sometimes events make you take stock. We were forced to do that a few weeks ago, with the passing of Svetlana Fedotenko.
We first met Svetlana in the interviews to one of our first Project Managers Course some 12 years ago. She was the Absorption Coordinator in the Katamonim neighborhood, and it was she who accepted herself into the course, not the other way around. Within a short time Svetlana taught us a chapter on activism. She came with a dream that had nothing to do with her job – she wanted to establish a music center in the Katamonim.
We learned a lot about effective activism from Svetlana, even before we coined the term. People rejected her idea left and right. But when they threw her out the front door, she came back in through the window, finding ways to advance her ideas despite the rejections. Instead of fighting with people (a very ineffective technique that many activists love), she always found a way to bring people over to her side.
At the end of the course she caused us to convince the Partnership 2000 project of the Jewish Agency and the UJA Federation of New York to give her $20,000 for the project. Eran Ovadia, a hi-tech professional and music lover, was a consultant in our course and became her personal mentor and mentor to the project, and she was on her way. Year after year she gritted her teeth and raised a little more money each time. Even when the going was tough, she managed to find just one more partner, and then another, who couldn’t resist her charms. It was always just enough to keep it all going.
The events in the Katamonim were amazing – one minute a Persian singer, another a rock band of Russian youth from the neighborhood, and then a flute ensemble of Ethiopian children, and then the neighborhood Kurdish dance troupe. She and her team built a music center to be proud of.
It wasn’t by chance that when the Community Center Director had to suggest how a new community building would be used, he suggested it be a music center. Today, the Gonenim Music Center is a huge and impressive building that attracts residents from the neighborhood and throughout the city to study and to experience music. And all this because of Svetlana’s amazing activism, that continued to be the spirit of the Center.
While this was happening, she became sick and it developed into cancer. She would rest and work, work and rest, and not give up. Six months ago we found out that it was the end, that she had days, maybe weeks, to live. We helped to quickly organize a tribute in her honor. Very quickly we organized an amazing evening. We were all very emotional. She looked so healthy then.
And Svetlana being Svetlana, those weeks turned into months, and a few weeks ago she passed away. She left behind a memorable heritage – an amazing music center, and a spirit of stubborn activism that insists on outcomes and uncompromising success.
And on that evening six months ago, she told us that the only thing she’s sorry about is that she won’t realize her next dream. “Jerusalem is so dirty,” she said. “I already have a name for a project in which children and youth in Jerusalem work to ensure that the city is clean – The Little Prince.”
Because this sentence from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s story had stuck in her head:
“It’s an issue of discipline,” the little prince explained afterward. “After we finish the morning washing up, we must dutifully make sure that the planet is clean.”
So now we’ve been left with Svetlana’s project, and we know that since no one can stand in her way, it’ll have to happen, even if she’s passed away. The little prince is making sure that the Jerusalem planet is clean. May we be able to fulfill that dream, for her, and for ourselves.
May her memory be blessed.