Inter-Cultural Community Dialogue

Experts in the Field, Writing the Manual – Cultural Competence in Community Work

We’re proud to announce the publication of a new manual, Cultural Competence in Community Work, that was recently published under the auspices of the Israel Ministry of Welfare. Our director, Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir and Dr. Orna Shemer co-authored the manual, which is available in Hebrew. You can download a copy here.

Cultural Competence in Community Work manual

Cultural Competence in Community Work manual

It seems to be the first extensive manual of cultural competence in community organizing / building / development, including some novel community approaches that are specifically useful for diverse communities. The 150-page manual covers a wide range of the many aspects associated with cultural competency and community work. It discusses the principles from 5 different angles – focusing on the personal – individual worker, on the professional, on the organization, on the community, on the public sphere. And it offers suggested methods in how to work with people from different cultures. Just like the Manual for Integrating Cultural Competency in Health Care Organizations that was published in 2015 (the Hebrew version is here), and the video units, we expect this to be the source of information for cultural competency in community work.

We would like to thank the Israel Ministry of Welfare and Bruce (Baruch) Sugarman, the Director of the Community Work Service at the Ministry, for publishing this manual and hope that it will be helpful to workers and activists in many communities.

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Our Cultural Competency Training for Police Makes Walla! News Site

Did you hear about the time when the police came into an tempestuous situation involving Ethiopians/Haredim/Arabs, and they succeeded in calming the waters, without incident and without anyone getting hurt?

Not usually your top headline. However, that is what we, together with the Israel Police Force, are striving for. We’ve been working with the Police over the past year to instill principles of cultural competency into the everyday training. You can read about this work with both officers and trainees, at the National Police Academy and at different police stations, here and here.

Recently, this ongoing training was covered by Walla! news in Hebrew, a major Internet news site in Israel. Click here to for the link to the entire article and accompanying video in Hebrew.  Click here to view a PDF version of the article.

Walla article

Walla article

How will this training affect police officers’ responses to everyday incidents? David Shoshan, one of the officers in the training course, noted in the video above, that:

The training basically opened my eyes to the different populations we serve. That, when we’re called to an incident, I might need to act a little differently, try to respect the people’s particular customs. Our main goal is to try to ensure that the incident is over as quickly as possible, that it’s been dealt with in the most professional manner as possible, in the calmest way possible, so that we can do our jobs as best as possible.

Thanks David. Let’s hope the other tens of thousands of police officers throughout Israel were paying attention as well.

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What does Yom Kippur / Eid al-Adha mean to you? Bridging conflict with a movie

For the second year in a row – the Jewish Yom Kippur and the Muslim Eid al-Adha fell almost on the same day. This situation had the potential of sparking even more violence, during a time tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, especially in Jerusalem but also in mixed cities throughout Israel, were high.

Both are among the most important holidays of their respective religions, but are celebrated quite differently. Yom Kippur is characterized by fasting and introspection, and, uniquely in Israel, refraining from driving (See here things that even the most secular Israeli Jews did on Yom Kippur when the roads were clear.) Conversely, Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, is celebrated with family get togethers, often slaughtering a goat or a sheep to mark the day. In an effort to diffuse tensions, the Gishurim program (which is being operated by Mosaica and us) and a range of other partners, produced a YouTube video, which was viewed throughout the country. It was a fully joint Jewish-Muslim production, and served as an important ray of hope during these tense times. Some 250,000 people were exposed to the film, and it was viewed by more than 150,000 people on Facebook, from all around the country. Happy (and hopeful) viewing!

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Building Community Solidarity through Themed Playgrounds

How would you like your local public playground? Aimed at big or little kids?  With a pirate theme or dinosaurs or space travel?

Can you really have a playground made to order? Well, yes. During the spring and summer months we were involved in community-building processes that aimed to do just that – build community by building a playground. We were approached by the Jerusalem Municipality to lead processes in Gilo, Ir Ganim, Givat Hamivtar and Shuafat. With funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies, established by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, we set to work.

Jerusalem's diversity, building playgrounds

Jerusalem’s diversity, building playgrounds

The processes were led by the staff of the different community councils, alongside Municipality officials. Before meeting with the residents, these process leaders met to set joint project goals and ensure that everyone was on the same page. (Indeed, ‘informed decision-making’ is a key component of the principles of participatory democracy.) Different concepts were reviewed – what exactly are themed playgrounds, the rough budgets set aside for building the playgrounds, the timeline, safety standards, types of potential equipment, examples of themed playgrounds from around the world for inspiration, and more. We then set out to mentor the neighborhoods separately, as all residents in each community were invited to sessions that included brainstorming for different themes, coming to agreement on what residents wanted in a playground, and more. After both residents and community and planning professionals put their ideas on paper (illustrated in the pictures), suggestions were passed along to the landscape architects contracted to design the playgrounds.  In Gilo residents chose to establish a “Cub Park” (for example, trying to mimic characteristic movements of different animals in the park, such as, but not necessarily including, crawling like a snake, climbing like a monkey, jumping like a kangaroo, etc.). Residents in Givat Hamivtar chose “Man and his World;” in Ir Ganim, “Touching the Sky;” and in Shuafat, “Space Park.” The architects are now working on specific designs and are scheduled to present these designs to the neighborhoods very soon.

We came to this project as a result of our in-depth work with residents of Kiryat Hayovel and Kiryat Menachem / Ir Ganim in the Asbestonim Wadi, which runs between Kiryat Hayovel and Kiryat Menachem / Ir Ganim. We can’t wait to see how these new playgrounds turn out!

Plans on paper

Plans on paper

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Neighborhood Shared Living Forum in Gilo

“I lived in Ramat Eshkol before coming to live her [in Gilo],” said a secular Jew, who participated in the Shared Living Forum that we just finished facilitating in Gilo. “One day, some of the ultra-Orthodox residents were violent toward my family. I knew then it was time to leave.” ”That is not your problem,” responded an ultra-Orthodox man, another participant in the group. “It is our problem. We [the ultra-Orthodox community in Gilo] won’t let that happen here.”

These two people are part of an 80-member Neighborhood Shared Living Forum in Gilo, which sits on the southern tip of Jerusalem. The Forum includes residents from every possible group – religious, secular, ultra-orthodox, immigrants and veteran citizens, and more. Over a period of two months, in four sessions, they formulated a community vision (see the Hebrew document) for shared living community dialogue, as well as developed initiatives to advance that goal. An atmosphere of mutual respect pervaded all the discussions, and everyone was engaged in and committed to the process. In a neighborhood as diverse as Gilo, this was quite a significant achievement.

Gilo Shared Living Forum

Gilo Shared Living Forum

The first workshop concentrated on introducing the process and discussing examples of positive aspects of a diverse community in Gilo in the past, challenges of having a diverse communities, and their vision for an ideal situation in Gilo.In ensuing workshops the residents focused on principles of community dialogue, including how four principles of community dialogue – dialogue, partnership, fairness and values – can be practically assimilated into community life. Residents also came to agreement on a set of principles for shared living in Gilo, and developed a number of initiatives, from joint study of texts, to work with teenagers, to inter-generational projects to building a community mediation framework. We will be following up with the Gilo Community Council in helping to get these initiatives off the ground.

Discussing Issues

Discussing Issues

The Neighborhood Shared Living Forum is part of our greater involvement in the Gilo community over the past few years, part of our Deliberative Democracy in Jerusalem Neighborhoods project, supported by the UJA-Federation of New York. You can read about other processes we’ve facilitated in Gilo here, here and here.

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Working Together to Improve our Environment in Gilo

With assistance from the UJA – Federation of New York, we’ve been working in the Gilo neighborhood for the past five years, helping the Gilo Community Council. Utilizing principles of deliberative democracy, we’ve been helping residents to take initiative and responsibility for their communities. Most of our efforts have until now focused on parking and education issues. Other initiatives have focused on public – private spaces (PPS’s), but on a small scale.

all pitching in

Since January we’ve been helping local activists who reside in the area of Tirosh St., a long street that includes a number of PPS’s, in planning on which issues to deal with, what to do and how to go about doing it. After several meetings, they held a major, community-wide clean-up and renovation event on June 27, 2014, with help from the Jerusalem Municipality. You can see all this documented in a short video.


picture collage

everyone helping

In all more than 160 took part – 100 children from the neighboring schools, and 60 residents. The residents were in charge from beginning to end – they were in touch with the Municipality, they organized the volunteers, they were in charge of the implementation. The Municipality worked hand in hand with the residents, preparing the area beforehand, and providing tools and work materials. Moving forward, there’ll be continued work on that PPS, most likely in smaller groups to make upkeep easier to maintain.

Kudos to all involved! We can’t wait to see more initiatives coming out of that area.

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The JICC Calming the Waters in this Time of Crisis

garbage-cans-full1It’s been a difficult few weeks here in Jerusalem and in Israel in general. First the kidnapping and murder of 3 Jewish high school boys who had been studying in a yeshiva in the West Bank, then the kidnapping and murder of an Arab boy in Jerusalem, which sparked demonstrations in Jerusalem and even throughout Israel. And then missiles and air strikes and increased fighting.

Jerusalem Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem Dome of the Rock

We have been working to ease tension and conflict, and to promote civil engagement in Jerusalem’s future, since we were established in 1999. Thus, when tensions heightened and reached breaking points, we were there, trying to help residents re-gain order, first in their everyday lives, and then on a community and city-wide level.

Over the past few weeks we’ve played a key role in Jerusalem. We helped to spread a message of calm and a return to routine, through our broad network of contacts throughout the city.  In consultations with key figures we advised using a range of methods that successfully brought quiet to the streets relatively quickly. These consultations also returned routine services – garbage collection and sanitation, for example – back to the residents, reinforcing the feeling that everyone wished to get back to normal as quickly as possible.


It seems that these actions – and the influence of their messages – proved true in the field. Shuafat, the neighborhood where Muhammad Abu Khdeir (the Arab boy who was kidnapped and murdered) was from, became completely quiet during the day and incidents at night decreased quickly as well. Outbursts of violence and vandalism in different Arab neighborhoods were handled similarly, with similar calming results.

As soon as the military activity began in Gaza (July 6) and the missile attacks throughout Israel, including Jerusalem, we moved into a different mode of operation. We summoned the independent Emergency Readiness Networks that we helped to establish in East Jerusalem, which are a central component of the readiness of East Jerusalem in any emergency situation (from the snow storms in December 2013, to potential rocket fire like there is today) , and they continue to be on alert today. We are also helping many community councils in west Jerusalem that needed help in responding to the current crisis. For example, in the Greater Baka’a Community Council we helped to draft information and special messages of calm from the Community Council, which offered volunteer psycho-social professionals to help neighborhood residents. We advised other community councils regarding their responses to the situation as well.

In addition, because of our deep and extensive work in cultural competency in the health care system, we prepared special guidelines for health care workers for when social and political tensions are high, as they are now. In more normal times, hospitals and health care systems are often rare examples of coexistence and cooperation – between Jews and Arabs, religious, secular, ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Jews, etc. However, in times like now, when tension is palpable throughout the country, the situation inside hospitals and other health care institutions is affected as well. Indeed, in the past, there have been numerous instances of verbal and physical violence within hospitals, between patient and caregiver, between patients, and in rare cases, between caregivers. The guidelines help to delineate a professional response to prevent these situations and to deal with them quickly and effectively when they occur.

While today most of the attention is not on Jerusalem, we continue to work hard to maintain an everyday routine – and quiet. Under the circumstances it has become a state of “Emergency – Routine”. Much of the work continues to rely on the MiniActive and Emergency Readiness networks. The Emergency Readiness Networks continue to be on alert, ready to spring into action if necessary. The MiniActive groups continue, especially now, to contact service providers and report problems and demand repairs and improvements, which are able to take place because of the relative calm in the city. A lot of the work is being in contact with as much of the network as possible; the situation is not easy for any Jerusalem resident. Both Jews and Arabs are feeling the polarization and tension in the air.

Let’s hope for better times to come, soon.

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Deliberative Democracy in Gilo – Continuing the Process

We’ve described before (here and here) our efforts of bringing deliberative and participatory democracy methods to solve everyday problems in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood, thanks to the assistance of the UJA-Federation of New York. Recently, we’ve been helping to lead a new process of community initiatives, concentrating on two streets – Tirosh and Odem. This is done, of course, through our partner in Gilo, Gilo Community Council.

What? Only two streets? Bear in mind that Gilo is a huge neighborhood, both geographically and demographically (some 30,000 residents). Thus, Tirosh and Odem streets comprise more than 2,000 residents, according to the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies.

We held our first meeting on January 29, 2014, with about 30 residents, which raised initial concerns and issues that the residents sought to solve. Two weeks after that a number of residents toured the neighborhood together with the city planner assigned to southern Jerusalem, to go over the complaints and issues that were raised in the meeting.

Discussing issues for improvement

Discussing issues for improvement

On March 9 a second meeting was held, encouraging residents to take the lead in solving problems that are important to them. Seven initiatives were born at this meeting; a follow-up meeting to see how they are progressing is scheduled for next week, May 19. The initiatives included:

  • Creating a recycling / composting center on the street;
  • Safety of pupils going to school;
  • Improving the public garden on  Tirosh St.
  • Sanitation on the street;
  • Deal with issues of traffic and road safety;
  • Cultivating greenery and plants in the neighborhood;
  • Improving signage on Odem and Tirosh Streets.
Going into detail, formulating a plan

Going into detail, formulating a plan

Stay tuned for more updates!

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2014-05-31T16:53:33+00:00May 12th, 2014|Blog, Deliberative Democracy, Gilo Community Dialogue|

Emergency Services in the Storm of the Century – MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks Join Forces

December 12 – 15, 2013. More than a foot of snow falls on Jerusalem over 2 days. It’s the worst December snow storm in Jerusalem since weather conditions began being recorded more than 100 years ago. Trees were down, electricity and telephone lines were knocked out, roads were blocked – all over Jerusalem. Residents were without electricity and telephone service for days. In a region where one snowstorm is considered unusual (Before the snowstorm in January 2013, the previous last snowstorm to hit Jerusalem was in 2008.), a storm of this magnitude had the potential of being devastating and disastrous, especially for the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, where physical infrastructures lag far behind other areas of Jerusalem and Israel.

We are proud to have 2 programs – MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks – that took leading rolls in helping the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem weather the storm, again. It can even be said that in the chaos that the storm brought, the networks we cultivated (MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks, see below) were the only ones that actually functioned. Not only did they function, they joined together to help residents weather the storm.

MiniActive set up virtual and real ‘situation rooms’ that coordinated the onslaught of reports and problems from the field, via its hundreds of volunteers throughout East Jerusalem. Those in the situation rooms were in constant contact with the appropriate service providers – from the electric, telephone and gas companies, with the Emergency Response Networks to try and clear roads and deliver vital goods to stranded families, to the municipality, reporting fallen trees – to report damages and find solutions to these and other urgent problems. Updates were uploaded to the MiniActive Facebook page.

Special cars used to help residents

Special cars used to help residents

The Emergency Response Networks that had been organized in a number of Palestinian neighborhoods and villages in and around Jerusalem were as ready as they could be. The populations of these areas had already been mapped (to know where all the doctors, nurses, social workers, contractors, owners of tractors and 4X4 vehicles were, etc. See here for more information). Practice drills had already taken place. So when the snow began to fall, the Networks knew what to do. They worked throughout East Jerusalem, from Jebel Mukaber and Sur Baher in the south to Silwan, and Sheikh Jarrach to Beit Hanina and Shuafat in the north, and even extended beyond the security fence to Kufr Aqeb. They succeeded in recruiting all the local 4×4 vehicles, tractors and other heavy machinery to clear away snow and provide aid to individuals in need. They cleared snow and alerted others to hazards. They helped go door to door to deliver emergency assistance to those in need.

Besides the immediate emergency relief, both programs cultivated communication between residents, and between residents and service providers. Residents gained confidence in their ability to take care of themselves. The end result – community solidarity toward improving their everyday future, together.

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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.

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