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

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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