Ethiopian Community – Talpiot Community Dialogue

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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Ethiopian Community, Talpiot, March 12, 2009

We continue with our efforts, together with Mosaica, to create better dialogue between the Ethiopian community in Talpiyot and the many agencies that serve them. Although some achievements were made (reported in previous posts), the  main difficulty of lack of trust and understanding still persists.

Today we (Mosaica and the JICC) had a meeting with most of the establishment agencies, community council, welfare department, absorption authority etc., were we presented our analysis of the situation, including three major challenges. According to our analysis the main problem is the proliferation of agencies that work with the residents concurrently and with no coordination between them. This can be harmful in any place, but it is worse when serving the Ethiopian community, which finds it hard to navigate the Israeli system. The second challenge is the cross-cultural communication, which is not working well due to the different value systems of the cultures involved. The last pressing issue is the tendency of the Ethiopian community to attribute the behavior of the agencies to racism. The fact that almost all professional staff members are not Ethiopian, and that they have never learnt how to work with the Ethiopian community, does not make the situation easier.

Our suggestion was to provide cultural competence trainings to the agencies that work with the Ethiopian community, as well as train the community leaders to deal with the agencies who serve them. We are pleased to report that the agencies accepted our proposal and a few dates were secured for trainings. In parallel, we will meet with the leaders of the Ethiopian community to talk with them about this new proposal.

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Ethiopian Community, Talpiot, Dec 4, 2008

On October 2 we reported in the blog on some achievements in the community dialogue process in Talpiot Ethiopian Community. The first was in solving the issue of language at the main HMO Clalit health clinic in the neighborhood. The second was the agreement by all relevant agencies to enable the Ethiopian community to have a weekend synagogue in a public location called Beit Hakehila (the Community Hall). These were certainly good news, although we estimated that the story was not over, and that other issues awaited their resolution in this neighborhood.

Indeed, during the holidays, a few issues challenged the mutual trust that needs to be built between the relevant stakeholders. The “weekend synagogue” model was found to be a source for many conflicts, some of which we have described in the previous blog posting. It is important to note that this model is used all over Jerusalem where religious communities are granted permission to use public facilities for their purposes, when these are not in use during the weekends, for example public schools. In Succot, although they were explicitly asked not to do so, the Ethiopian community built a Succah in the yard of Beit Hakehila. The municipality, which owns the place, perceives this and other incidents as violations of the ontract signed by the Ethiopian community for the use of the place. Since the episode occurred during the municipal elections campaign, municipality officials did not react this time. Politics, as we have seen many times in Jerusalem, is a significant player in the field. The elections have now passed and we will soon witness the next steps in this story.

And as if this is not enough, a new dispute emerged. The Ethiopian community asked that its members would be allowed to use another neighborhood public venue, Beit Lazarus, for private celebrations. It should be noted that in the Ethiopian community, religious life-cycle ceremonies (weddings, Bar Mitzvah, etc.) are a public event where the celebrating family invites all the community to participate. Having a public/private celebration in the middle of the village was an option in Ethiopia, but it is not so in Talpiot, where most of the residents are not Ethiopians. The alternative is to hold the celebration in a public facility, which the authorities allocate for that purpose.  However, in Talpiot such a solution was not achieved yet and the community asked that celebrating families would be able to rent Beit Lazarus for their events. The community Council that owns the place did not approve the request, stating that this public facility cannot be rented out for private purposes.

Practically, the community asked to use the place on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12, and threatened to hold demonstrations and protests if their requests were not answered. Last week, we found ourselves – the mediating team of Mosaica and the JICC – in meetings and conversations with the head of the Ethiopian community and the heads of the relevant authorities. However, it seems that the current lack of trust, resulting from the contract violations by the community at the synagogue, prevents such negotiations from being productive. Our experience shows that what is currently required is a process, that will probably be challenging for all sides, for the examination of the events that happened in the last months as well as their consequences for the trust building process.

Additional meetings will take place this week trying to decipher the way to resolution.

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Ethiopian Community Synagogue – Mediation meeting, Talpiot, October 2, 2008

After a seven-year struggle, the Ethiopian community in Talpiot at last got a synagogue. As a result of the community dialogue project, facilitated by the Jerusalem Inter-Cultural Center and Mosaica in Talpiot, the Ethiopian community received the right to use the local Community Hall as a synagogue on weekends and holidays.

When Mosaica and the JICC were summoned to the neighborhood in May 2008, the Ethiopian community was engaged in deep conflict on many different fronts with most of the local governmental and non-governmental agencies. In the Community Dialogue process we managed to bring all these stakeholders to the table and begin to tackle the relevant issues.

The first success was achieved immediately after the first assembly in June 2008. During the meeting several elderly members of the community attested that due to language barriers they do not receive proper care at the local Kupat Holim, the HMO clinic that serves most of the Ethiopians in the neighborhood. The residents described their apprehension in taking medications, not being sure whether the doctors actually understand their explanations and therefore prescribe them with the right treatment.  The clinic director, who attended the meeting, decided without delay to make use of a tele-interpretation service in Amharic, provided by Tene Briut [a “basket of health”]. Starting in August 2008, Talpiot’s HMO became the first health service in Jerusalem to use tele-interpretation (in any language).

The next major concern of the Ethiopian community was indeed the synagogue. Surprisingly, during the second assembly in July, a temporary solution was declared for weekends and holidays and in addition a building permit was granted meaning that a permanent venue will be available in 2-3 years time. This fast progression demonstrates the readiness of the sides to achieve a resolution to this issue. In September, with much excitement, the community began praying in the Community Hall. In parallel, additional issues were identified for discussion and resolution through the Community Dialogue path.

However, the happiness about the synagogue was premature. The solution was far from optimal. Time-sharing in a room at the Community Hall, which during weekdays is used by the welfare department as a daycare for kids at risk, was found to be a real challenge, and conflicts emerged around issues such as furniture, prayer books, cleaning, etc. We found ourselves micro-managing a conflict between the Ethiopian community and the daycare.Today, several days after Rosh Hashana prayers, we had a three-hours mediation process, mainly focused on the location of one small cabin holding prayer books… Of course, the cabin was not the real issue of the mediation. Rather we had to untangle many inter-cultural aspects and perceptions, with every potential solution dangerously nearing racism or child neglect… definitely a challenge. Eventually a short-term solution was reached for a few days, with a hope that a better solution will emerge by the end of the week.

We all know that the synagogue, with all the complexities it presents regarding turf issues in the neighborhood, will attract our conflict management skills and resources for quite a while. Our challenge will be to help the many stakeholders using the Community Hall build trust and find stable and mutually acceptable solutions.

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