Cultural Competence in Government Institutions

Celebrating a Decade of Cultural Competence

It’s really been 10 years, a decade since we began our Cultural Competency project in the health system. In March 2008 we held what turned out to be the first conference on  Cultural Competency at the ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital. In the 10 years since, we, and ALYN, have been trailblazers in cultural competency in Israel. ALYN was the first hospital to strive for full cultural competence on an everyday level, and we have become national leaders in cultural competency not only in the health care system, but in a range of different areas – from the work place to welfare and other municipal departments.

Dr. Maurit Be'ere and Daud Alian, addressing the first lecture celebrating a decade of Cultural Competency

Dr. Maurit Be’ere and Daud Alian, addressing the first lecture celebrating a decade of Cultural Competency

We decided to celebrate this accomplishment with a series of lectures on Cultural  Competency. The first focused on a lecture by Daud Alian, Director of the Atta’a Assistance Center for the Rights of Palestinian East Jerusalem Residents, on accessibility of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to health, welfare and education services.

The audience, listening attentively

The audience, listening attentively

ALYN’s lecture hall was full. Dr. Adit Dayan, Director of Community Projects from the Jerusalem Foundation, our strategic partner in Cultural Competency since its inception, opened the conference, along with Dr. Maurit Be’ere, Director of ALYN and the person responsible for bring cultural competency to the hospital, and Tal Cohen, who today is the coordinator for cultural competence at ALYN.

We can’t thank the Jerusalem Foundation enough for their partnership over the years.

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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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Groundbreaking Cultural Competency Work with the National Insurance Institute East Jerusalem Branch

We’ve been describing here and here the long and complicated process of how we’ve been helping the East Jerusalem branch of the National Insurance Institute (NII) become more culturally competent. We’ve also described here and here the efforts of Atta’a to work with different government and municipal bodies to improve access to rights. Last week, the joint efforts of our Cultural Competency desk and the Atta’a program led to groundbreaking meeting between Palestinian Arab residents of East Jerusalem and the National Insurance Institute.

Meeting with the National Insurance Institute

Meeting with the National Insurance Institute

The meeting took place on February 8, 2017, as part of the NII’s process of becoming more culturally competent. The goal was to hear about real experiences of the residents who need to receive services from that branch. Residents described language obstacles, complicated bureaucracy, long waits in several lines, and more. Importantly, resident-participants who were brought in were educated – including a lawyer, a doctor and other medical personnel, a social worker and mothers to children with special needs. This means that, unlike many Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, these residents are more familiar with Hebrew and more familiar with the rights they are supposed to be receiving, but still, obtaining those rights in East Jerusalem is very, very difficult. Through Atta’a, we – and they – are trying to change that.

Voicing concerns for change

Voicing concerns for change

NII representatives listened. When possible they tried to offer specific solutions. The main purpose of the meeting was that they would take these issues back to the entire branch and discuss ways in offering solutions adapted to the specific needs of East Jerusalem residents. Both residents and workers felt that such meetings should become regular encounters.

Can’t wait to see how this develops!

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its ongoing support of both cultural competency processes in Jerusalem and of Atta’a.


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2016 – What a Year!

As we jump head-first into 2017, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on 2016, and what a year it’s been! Overall, a year of unprecedented growth and development, and we can’t wait to get started in 2017. Here are some highlights:

Cultural Competence

  • The Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference in May 2016, organized jointly by the JICC and the Jerusalem Foundation as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, was a turning point for the JICC. Attended by hundreds of professionals, from Jerusalem and throughout Israel, the conference presented strides that have been made over the past 10 years, and set the stage for the next step of meeting diverse residents’ diverse needs, in all areas of life.
  • Continued work in the health care system, in Jerusalem and as a model throughout Israel, training in-house coordinators and facilitators to increase sustainability and adaptability within individual institutions. For the first time, work included a national network of hospitals and clinics.
  • Expansive work in the Israel Police Force, reaching most police stations and present and future commanding officials, and continuing to expand training in 2017.
  • Groundbreaking work with the National Insurance Institute (NII), East Jerusalem branch, the first NII branch in the country to undergo a process of cultural competence.
  • In the Jerusalem Municipality, the entire Community Services Administration, which includes welfare, public health, immigrant absorption, and more, is undergoing training, as well as the Auditor’s Office which will be able to look at the entire Municipality’s operations through the prism of cultural competency and sensitivity.
  • Santé Israël, the first web site to make Israel’s health care system accessible to French speakers, celebrated its first birthday. 
Ms. Uzma Shakir, Keynote Speaker

Ms. Uzma Shakir, Keynote Speaker, Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference

Paramedical Professionals

Making healthcare practitioner exams accessible to Arab residents of east Jerusalem

2016 was an important year for us to take stock of the past four years of this program. Our conclusions show that:

  • The number of certified Arab paramedical professionals in East Jerusalem has grown significantly.
  • The program has enabled the JICC to more clearly map the situation of different paramedical professions in east Jerusalem, contributing to the knowledge of training in the Jerusalem area.
  • The awareness both among Palestinian institutes of higher education and health care institutions in east Jerusalem as well as Israeli Ministry of Health has been raised significantly.
  • A large window of opportunity for Arab women paramedical professionals to improve economic opportunities has been opened.

Nurses studying to pass their Israeli certification examinations

Talking Coexistence – Arabic Language Instruction

Both 2015 – 2016 and 2016 – 2017 broke enrollment records. In 2015-16 there were 180 students in 12 classes, over 5 levels. In 2016-2017, there are 240 students in 16 classes, also over 5 levels. We also held several cultural evenings to enrich students’ understanding of Arabic culture. Here’s a short video about the program:

Atta’a Assistance Center for the Rights of East Jerusalem Residents

The Atta’a Center has been in existence since 2004, and in 2015 it came under the aegis of the JICC. In 2016 we have seen:

  • 70% growth in number of requests
  • Ballooning of its Facebook page to over 7,100 ‘likes,’ and launching of its web site.
  • Publication of a widely-referenced booklet on the Ministry of Interior
  • Expansion of network of partners in action, both from NGO’s and advocacy groups as well as municipal and government agencies.

Atta’a Presenting workshops

MiniActive for Arab Residents of East Jerusalem

  • For the first time ever, MiniActive activities led to a change in policy. After months of campaigning, MiniActive led the way toward the addition of 3 million NIS to the annual municipal sanitation budget for east Jerusalem, and 16 million NIS for the purchase of additional equipment for sanitation. As a result of this work, the entire Municipality is focusing their attention on garbage collection throughout
  • In January 2016, MiniActive organized the first ever Arabic language Horticulture Therapy course in Jerusalem for special education teachers, in cooperation with the David Yellin Academic College of Education.
  • Bus stops in entire neighborhoods were repaired and replaced, thanks to MiniActive.
  • 210 women – including 50 youth – are studying Hebrew through a volunteer NGO to improve the effectivity of their activism. This is a record-breaking number, which broke last year’s record of 150 women.
  • In MiniActive Youth for the Environment, teenage girls learn leadership skills while participating in major environment-improving public art and other projects in neighborhoods throughout east Jerusalem.
  • MiniActive became a model for international work, hosting a delegation that works with the Roma population in the Czech Republic in November 2016.

Take a look at MiniActive’s own year in review. It’s pretty easy to understand, even if you don’t know Arabic:

Emergency Readiness Networks

In 2016 we expanded the network to include 14 communities throughout Jerusalem. In addition to training new volunteers, the program included training of existing networks to maintain ability to respond and increase sustainability.

Planning on map

Planning strategy on map

Multicultural Participatory Democracy

In 2016 we mentored community center staffs in Gilo, Kiryat Menachem, Givat Messuah, Baka’a and south Talpiot. For the first time, residents – especially the Ethiopian community in Kiryat Menachem and the highly diverse community of south Talpiot –felt that they were able to influence issues that affected their everyday lives. Training included using Facebook as a community-building tool key to increasing residents’ engagement in community processes.

Writing and submitting objections

Writing and submitting objections in Gilo

Promoting Tolerance in the Public Sphere

Since the summer of 2014 the JICC have been at the forefront of promoting tolerance in Jerusalem. 2016 accomplishments include:

  • A Different Day in Jerusalem celebrated Jerusalem’s diversity through 50 coordinated events, affecting tens of thousands of people on Jerusalem Day. It was the first time such a broad effort has been made to celebrate Jerusalem’s diversity.
  • JICC-mentored Speaking in the Square and other tolerance initiatives that came in their wake led to the redesigning of Zion Square, to be called Tolerance Square. The initiative’s Effective Dialogue methodology spread, and is now being presented in national frameworks.
  • 0202-Points of View from Jerusalem are now liked by nearly 80,000 people and reach some 150,000 people weekly on Facebook and the Internet. The network now includes pages that translate from Arabic to Hebrew, from Arabic to English and one which brings news from the Ultra-Orthodox world to the awareness of the general population.
  • The JICC was asked to be one of the leading organizations in the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations to Promote Tolerance, formed by the Center for Young Adults and the Municipality’s Young Authority.
  • The JICC is continuing to develop Tolerance Network Teams (TNT’s), a series of neighborhood-based and theme-based grassroots initiatives that seek to advance tolerance in Jerusalem.
Elhanan Miller Haaretz article

Haaretz article about A Different Day in Jerusalem

Window to Mount Zion

Since October 2015, Window to Mount Zion has bridged inter-religious and inter-community gaps that have festered between Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups for centuries. As a result of its activity over the past year:

  • In unheard-of cooperation, religious Jewish and Christian groups have issued joint statements condemning hate crimes on Mount Zion.
  • Christian ceremonies, which in the past have caused inter-religious tension, proceeded without incident.
  • The celebration of Christian and Jewish holidays that coincided simultaneously, which in the past had been the source of conflict and tension, also proceeded smoothly.
Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Asylum Seekers

The JICC, together with the Jerusalem Municipality, sponsor the only paid public servant in Israel to help asylum seekers, outside of Tel Aviv. We are also part of a consortium of organizations and agencies that seek to meet the needs of asylum seekers living in the city.

Tour of Nahlaot neighborhood

Families of asylum seekers on tour of Nahlaot neighborhood

Thank You!

Many many thanks go out to our partners in action and our donors. You can read about our activities in more detail either by clicking on the hyperlinks above, or by clicking here.

Looking forward to making 2017 even better!

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NII – Knowing We’re Having an Impact in Cultural Competency

It’s always nice to be appreciated, but it’s especially nice to know we’re being appreciated in one of the most culturally tense places in Jerusalem – the East Jerusalem branch of the National Insurance Institute (NII).

During the recent site visits

During the recent site visits

We’ve described here how we’ve been working with them over the past year or so. This is groundbreaking work – the first NII branch in Israel to undergo a process of cultural competency training and adaptation, all in one of the most tense, most sensitive areas, East Jerusalem.

We also described here how, as part of this process, we organized site visits of four major organizations with which we’ve worked, so that NII team members could better understand how different aspects of cultural competency are implemented on-the-ground.

Just a few weeks later, we received a thank-you letter. It read:

Dear Hagai,

On behalf of the employees of the East Jerusalem branch of the National Insurance Institute, I would like to express our appreciation and gratitude to the staff of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, and especially Ms. Orna Shani…[As a result of the site visits] the staff returned excited and challenged to work together to learn lessons [from these experiences] and obtain the right tools for our organization and branch.

…The fact that you chose to invest your best efforts, your time and your knowledge in us is not to be taken for granted. For this we have immense gratitude.

We are only beginning the process, and are pioneers and leaders in the National Insurance Institute.

Waiting for continued joint work,

Eti Ra’anan Ezer


East Jerusalem Branch

In response, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, National Director of the National Insurance Institute, noted that this was a “unique, significant and worthy activity.”

Here’s a link to the original letter in Hebrew:

NII thank you letter

NII thank you letter

We’re also proud of our joint work with the NII East Jerusalem branch, and look forward to continuing to integrate principles of cultural competency in their important work.

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First Annual Conference for Aliyah Absorption Directors: Spreading Cultural Competency throughout Israeli Local Governments

What if all local governments in Israel were culturally competent?

Last week’s first annual conference of Local Authorities’ Aliyah Absorption Directors was the first step in doing just that.

Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir as the keynote speaker

Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir as the keynote speaker

The story goes like this: In light of the Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference that we held, together with the Jerusalem Foundation, in May 2016, representatives of the Association of Aliyah Absorption Directors in Local Authorities, including the Director of the Jerusalem Absorption Authority, asked us to help them incorporate subjects relating to cultural competency in their first professional conference.

Of course we agreed, and we helped them build an entire conference around the theme of cultural competency. This conference took place last week, December 5-7, in Jerusalem. Our own director, Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, was the keynote speaker. He introduced the concept of cultural competency, and explained how it can be integrated into and contributes to work in the Aliyah Absorption Authority.

After he spoke, four organizations spoke about different ways to implement cultural competency in their organizational culture, all of whom work in cooperation with the JICC. These included: ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital, the Israel Police, the IDF, and a major bank.

Dr. Maurit Be'eri, CEO, ALYN Hospital

Dr. Maurit Be’eri, CEO, ALYN Hospital

The following day we held a round table discussion, in which they shared examples of successes and challenges in their everyday goings-on at their respective authorities, through the prism of cultural competency.

Getting specific in round table discussions

Getting specific in round table discussions

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Adapting the Best Type of Cultural Competency at the National Insurance Institute, East Jerusalem Branch

We described here our process of making the East Jerusalem branch of the National Insurance Institute (NII) culturally competent. We began with training sessions in the beginning of the year; now, we’re deepening that learning.

Over the summer we met with the “Excellence Team” of the branch, a dedicated group of 8 professionals who volunteered to improve the level of service given at the branch. They are also in charge of the assimilation of cultural competence principles. During the meetings the group began to develop a training workshop for all workers.

Exercises in Cultural Competence

Exercises in Cultural Competence

As part of this development, the Excellence Team is also going out into the field. Last week they visited four organizations that have already undergone processes of cultural competency adaptation: ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital, Hadassah College, the Municipal Welfare Office in the Bucharim neighborhood, and the David Precint (which includes Mt. Zion and the Old City) of the Police Department. The Team interviewed representatives in order to better understand the processes each one went through, and to see what can be applied to the NII East Jerusalem branch.

At the ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital, for example, the team were surprised and impressed by the (culturally competent) services, and felt that the hospital wasn’t known well enough in East Jerusalem. It seems that they’ve now become ALYN ambassadors in East Jerusalem.

Seminars in and outdoors

Seminars in and outdoors

In the future the Team will also be involved in the planning principles of the new branch, which can also have a significant impact on its cultural competency. Items on the list include: physical accessibility, signage, a nursing room, a prayer room, thinking about if it’s necessary to have separation between men and women, strengthening language among workers, and more.

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Cultural Competence at the National Insurance Institute in East Jerusalem

Would you believe that the East Jerusalem branch of the National Insurance Institute (NII) is becoming culturally competent? Yes, this is the same Israeli bureaucratic welfare institution that’s gotten a bad name for its being cumbersome and unwelcoming, especially for the city’s Arabic speakers. Being an Israeli institution in East Jerusalem these days, especially if people are looking to you for support, is also rather difficult.

This is where we salute the branch’s workers, especially the upper management, who recognized the complexity of this situation, and sought to better accommodate the public they serve. Several months ago we were approached by the director of the East Jerusalem branch to develop a system of cultural competency. This is the first cultural competency work that has been done in any NII branch throughout Israel.

East Jerusalem National Insurance Institute

East Jerusalem National Insurance Institute

Over the past year we’ve been meeting with and observing different staff members, adapting our training modules to the particular model of the NII. Last week (January 27) we had our first training session with the workers. Much of the session focused on social-political tensions in interactions with clients. Many of the workers were happy to have gained tools to enable them to do their jobs better.

This session was the first, and we’ll continue to follow up and mentor the management and workers. One of the subjects of future workshops will be ‘Linguistic Simplification,’ which means to simplify the often jargon-laden text of NII forms into simpler language that non-native speakers can understand. In fact, the West Jerusalem branch liked the idea too, and soon we’ll be giving  a workshop on Linguistic Simplification for the West Jerusalem branch as well!

Stay tuned for further updates from the National Insurance Institute – Jerusalem.

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