Over the past few months, thanks to support from the Commission on the Jewish People of the UJA – Federation of New York, we’ve been working with a number of neighborhoods in the city in order to encourage and to operate processes of community dialogue and deliberative democracy.

Together with professionals in the community centers and councils, we are planning and developing processes that are adapted to the characteristics of each neighborhood’s population and to the specific issues each neighborhood is most concerned with. Our goal is to bring all the voices of all the different identities in the community to be part of a decision-making group and to enable each resident to advance ideas and initiatives that are important to him.

In each neighborhood the process is taking on its own identity, and each neighborhood is focusing on different issues. Below are a few examples of the work we’re doing:

Creating a set space for discussion and entrepreneurship. In Givat Massua (part of the Ganim Community Council) and in Arnona (part of the Larger Baka Community Council) we hold open meetings each 5-6 weeks. In these meetings, residents and community professionals raise issues connected to the public sphere (in every field: education, culture, physical development, early childhood, youth, etc.) that they are passionate about advancing. Residents come together, hold discussions, think creatively of initiatives to address the issues, and, together with professionals who are part of the discussion and the action, advance their ideas toward implementing change.

Some of the meetings concentrate on a single issue – such as youth – and discuss a number of sub-issues connected with it. For example: informal activities for youth, education for youth, youth at risk, Parents Patrol to prevent at-risk behaviors among youth, and more.

Solving problems or resolving conflicts in the public sphere, where there is a conflict of interest between residents who live in close geographical proximity (same street, neighborhood, complex), regarding an issue affecting the joint living space. For example, disagreement regarding the use of a structure, parking arrangements, rules of conduct in a public space, and more. In this situation we bring together all the stakeholders in order to raise all the needs and interests of all the sides, and we create a process of in-depth discussion and agreed-upon alternatives to deal with the conflict. One example is the process of engaging residents in solving the problem of parking on a street in the Gilo neighborhood. There is a street where there are a lot of parking problems. Some residents wanted to dedicate the parking on the street only for residents, or for paid parking, to ease the problem. Others, who had more than the allotment of cars, didn’t want the street to be designated parking. What do we do? Do we designate the street or not? Do we designate part of the street and leave the rest untouched? Meeting of residents helped to formulate remedies that are now being implemented, with the help of professionals.

In Talpiot there is a similar type of discussion over the use of a public building. The significant community of Ethiopian Jews in the area want to make an available public building a synagogue for the Ethiopian community; others want to turn it into a youth club. In the end a compromise was reached – the Ethiopian community received permission to pray in the building, while their own synagogue is being built for them.

Planning processes or building vision – in cases in which there is a need or opportunity to bring together the community to hear the different desires, positions or needs and to galvanize positions, goals and visions for the entire community to work toward. For example, there was a need in the Baka neighborhood to create agreement between all the different stakeholders on the desired direction of the planning and physical infrastructure in drawing up a new master plan for the neighborhood. Such a process enables us to envision our ideal future and to figure out how to take steps to realize this ideal state. In the process we learn, have in-depth discussions, build agreement, think creatively and develop alternatives to dealing with conflicting desires. A similar process is beginning around planning the land use of the main entrance to the Gilo neighborhood. Here, the Municipality allocated a sum of money to plan and develop the entrance to this southern neighborhood. This is a long strip that borders the Beit Safafa neighborhood. Instead of just developing the area, the Municipality is engaged in a decision-making process with the residents, involving them in discussions and making them partners in action.

Engaging the Community Council Board in community dialogue – a series of encounters between the JICC and representatives of community council boards. These are elected representatives and we work with them to learn how deliberative democracy and representative democracy can work best together. As a part of it, we create a new model of work for such boards – based on passion and resposibility in task forces, rather than ineffective committees.

In parallel to all these processes, we are holding professional development seminars for community centers/councils professionals (community workers, planners, project coordinators, absorption coordinators, youth coordinators, and more) who work in the neighborhoods. They themselves represent the diversity of Jerusalem – Haredim, religious and secular; religious and secular who work in Haredi neighborhoods. The goal of the seminar is to contribute to their knowledge of community dialogue and deliberative democracy. We currently have 18 participants, even though we originally aimed to have 11 – 12. We’ve had 2 out of a planned 5 meetings, and it has been absolutely amazing!

In this training seminar the participants are introduced to the approach of community dialogue and to the theory of deliberative democracy, as well as to leading models and principles of community dialogue. They received tools to help them implement deliberative processes in the neighborhoods, and developed their ability to act in complex situations in the community. Throughout the program, which includes a series of meetings from May – November 2012, each participant will lead a process of community dialogue in his or her neighborhood, with our mentoring and consultation.

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