In what other setting could you find the Jewish Mayor of Jerusalem introduced in both Hebrew and Arabic, followed by the President of the Jerusalem Foundation, herself addressing the audience in English, Hebrew and Arabic, followed by a Muslim Canadian keynote speaker of Pakistani origin? Only at the “Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City” conference, which we hosted, along with the Jerusalem Foundation, at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Tuesday, May 17.
It was the culmination of 10 years of working to advance cultural competency, together with the Jerusalem Foundation. What began as focusing on health care, at the ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital, at Clalit primary care clinics and at the Hadassah Medical Center Mount Scopus has blossomed into a concept that encompasses all fields and all sectors, in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.
Throughout the day over 300 people participated, listening to over 70 speakers. They came from all walks of life, from all different fields. We had professionals from the municipality, senior officials in planning, education, welfare and community life. We had researchers and leaders from colleges, universities and think tanks. We had active community residents. We had professionals from a wide range of NGO’s. We had the Israel Police and the IDF. We had Christian and Muslim Arabs, some residents of East Jerusalem, some not. We had secular, traditional, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews. The entire day was conducted with Arabic, Hebrew and English on equal footing. (You can see the tri-lingual program here.) We had it all. We had Jerusalem in all its wonderful diversity.
Throughout the day, we discussed ways that service providers, in all fields, can make their services equally accessible to all of Jerusalem’s populations, making them culturally competent. And on the residents’ side, we discussed ways that they can work to improve their own access to these rights and services, many of which are guaranteed them by law. We discussed strategies and challenges, and the process in between. It was fascinating, exhilarating and downright riveting.
Mayor Nir Barkat opened the conference, saying: “The starting point for any activity that we do in Jerusalem is the city’s unique DNA, which is unlike any other city in the world.” When the city was founded, more than 3,000 years ago, “its gates were open to everyone, all tribes, Jewish and not…No one felt like they were a guest in Jerusalem…Everyone found their place,” he continued. It is this philosophy, where everyone finds their place, that informs us to this day.
Yohanna Arbib-Perugia, President of the Jerusalem Foundation, was the next speaker. She emphasized the important role of cultural competence in a diverse and unique city as Jerusalem. Seeing the Jerusalem Intercultural Center as a strategic partner of the Foundation, she believes that the focus of the Foundation on cultural competence will deepen in the coming years.
Uzma Shakir, Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Human Rights, City of Toronto, was the keynote speaker. She described the processes taking place in Toronto and throughout Canada regarding multiculturalism and cultural competency, which include developing approaches appropriate to the vastly different population groups in Canada, from the native populations to the Francophone community of Quebec to recent immigrants from south Asia and elsewhere. She first defined the role of cultural competency:
Cultural competency can be viewed in two ways: it can either be seen as paternalistic and prescriptive – something you do for others who have either limited or unequal power to claim their rights; or transformative and critical – consciously producing spaces that address those power differentials in a meaningful manner and eventually lead to an equitable and just society. In other words, cultural competency can mean being nice to people while maintaining the status quo of inequality or it can mean empowering marginalized people to take control over their own destiny and to change the conditions in society to produce equitable and just outcomes for all. However, this requires an honest recognition of who is marginalized and then consciously co-creating the conditions for inclusion. In this sense, Toronto has its challenges just like Jerusalem and provides some compelling lessons.
She explained the desired outcome of culturally competent processes through this picture:
In the first approach, existing infrastructures render services equally for different people. However, since people’s needs are different, equal provision of services does not create proper equality. In the second approach, adjustments are made, often ad hoc, to be able to work within the existing infrastructure to provide services in a way that responds differently to the different needs. In the third approach, infrastructure is built from the start with the different needs of different people in mind, to enable each to meet his or her particular needs in the best way possible.
Here is Ms. Shakir’s full speech:
For the speech in written form, click here.
Following the opening session, four parallel sessions addressed different aspects of cultural competency. These included, “Setting & Implementing Cultural Competence Policy in An Organization,” “Cultural Competence in the Public Sphere,” “Coping with Social and Political Tensions in a Multicultural City,” and “Cultural Competence Activities of the Community.” Speakers included the directors of the Bloomfield Science Museum Jerusalem, Museum of Islamic Art, the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens, the ALYN Hospital Pediatric Rehabilitation Center, the Haredi College, community centers from around the city, senior officials in the Municipality, and many, many more.
Even lunch was an exercise in cultural competency. Different foods were labeled with no translation in a range of languages – from Amharic to Russian to Polish and more. Choosing food at the buffet became a funny challenge….
After lunch the plenary session discussed major organizations’ efforts to make their services culturally competent. Speakers ranged from the Director of Community Services Administration in the Jerusalem Municipality, the President of Hadassah Academic College, the Director of the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health, and the Commander of the David Precinct of the Israel Police (which includes the all resident quarters of the Old City (Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter, Jewish Quarter), plus sites such as the Western Wall, the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif, Mount Zion and the David’s Tomb complex). The final parallel sessions discussed case studies in cultural competency in different fields – education, health care (This was considered ‘advanced cultural competency’ since indeed our work began in health care some 10 years ago.), arts and culture and community activism toward tolerance.
Our heartfelt thanks go to the Jerusalem Foundation for their partnership and support over these past 10 years. And many congratulations on their 50th anniversary celebrations, of which this conference was a part.
It was the first conference surveying cultural competency in Jerusalem. Will there be another? Stay tuned to find out.
Looking for more? Here’s the video of the entire opening session: