Tension and conflict between Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) and non-Ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations in Jerusalem has sadly become the norm, raising its ugly head from time to time. Jerusalem has a growing Jewish population, yet affordable housing is almost non-existent, and tensions arise between sides when spaces needed for parks, schools, and religious facilities are are being fought for, on either side. Particular clash-points are when cultural events are planned, or authorities act in a way that does not respect the sensibilities of all Jerusalemites. The Municipality has begun to recognize the urgency of this matter, as the need for systemic solutions grows increasingly critical.
At the same time, between well-televised crises, there are a number of steady, quieter trends that have been taking place in different parts of Haredi society:
- Growing interest and participation in vocational training and higher education that would increase earning ability and income of Haredi families;
- Growing interest in science and other ‘secular’ enrichment activities for schoolchildren that would broaden their educational experiences;
- Growing interest in a number of predominantly of Haredi and mixed (Haredi – non-Haredi) neighbourhoods to participate in community processes to solve local problems, together with the authorities.
- Growing realization by many health and welfare providers that services must be provided in a culturally competent manner.
JICC Efforts in Haredi – non-Haredi Relations
On a citywide level, the JICC has maintained a Task Force on Haredi – Non-Haredi Relations for the past several years. This strategic task force includes the Haredi and non-Haredi deputy mayors of Jerusalem, religious and lay leaders from both sides, and experts in a variety of fields. In addition to regular meetings for practical, long-term planning, the Task Force also acts as emergency responders when a clash erupts. The JICC has been the organization that has helped to: devise agreements to end rioting over the opening of an indoor parking lot (Karta) on Shabbat; enable the Gay Pride Parade to take place without incidents for several years running; achieve an agreement between welfare and legal authorities and the Haredi community, in a case in which a mother (that claimed to have Münchausen syndrome by proxy) was accused of starving her infant son.
On a neighborhood level, the JICC has been involved with conflict management, mediation and consensus-building processes in recent years. We initiated 2 neighborhood forums consisting of Haredi and non-Haredi residents, one in Kiryat Hayovel and one in Rehavia. In both places this helped to ease tensions and to create ties and connections between those who are seeking to solve local issues. In Rehavia, such open and honest dialogue about such sensitive issues has not been seen in years. As a result of this dialogue process, residents – community leaders in both secular and Haredi communities – formulated an Agreement of Understanding, which lay down the principles of action for all residents in the neighborhoods. In Kiryat Hayovel, too, significant strides were made in smoothing rising inter-group tensions. In both cases, the spectrum of viewpoints, discussions and decisions were transparently presented. Residents and professionals learned to accept and welcome diversity, cultivating leadership that is sensitized to the complexities of Jerusalem’s diverse society. In the future these forums will address and work to resolve specific problems, as well as work on joint initiatives to increase community solidarity.
Our successful work with the Haredi – non-Haredi residents in Kiryat Hayovel has gained the attention of the general population, and the current director of the community center has invited us to begin working in Kiryat Hayovel in a more intensive manner. We have also been invited to begin working in the Haredi area of Meah Shearim.