Day 5

Written by Shira Berkowitz 

We continued to delve into the experience of shared society in Israel by visiting with nonprofits each that address the unique historical multifaceted infrastructure issues that leave its societal islands separate.

The Interagency Taskforce met with us at Lod, to explore the city’s unique history and provide context to the entire state’s infrastructure ramifications that have brought the government towards prioritizing funding the need for change. The systems and infrastructure that developed as Israel became a nation separated by communities based on meeting necessary independent needs, sets the stage for the systemic difficulty in bringing societies back together. Today, the Israeli government is prioritizing the largest investment ever to closing socioeconomic gaps financially and programmatically. For many areas in Israel, that means the national government is working with municipal governments and local residents to make adaptations to their services in order to reach people effectively. Nonprofits have established to address these unique issues within particular regions and spheres, each with their own ideology and set of tools.

Lod is an incredibly unique example, as a historical center for 8,000 years of history, and an ideal modern city location to build the central train station and first airport. This history of centrality has led Lod to be the most diverse city in the state – a microcosm of Israel as a whole, mirroring the country’s diverse populations, history, struggles, and opportunities; with issues of socioeconomic struggle, rapid population growth, religious and economic gentrification, and identity conflict. Major contemporary challenges are manifested by the city’s history with bankruptcy and three changes in municipal oversight attempts that further impacted low income residents, and marginalized the majority Palestinian-Arab and Arabian-Jewish demography, with an implant of a new young affluent Hasidic minority that grew and assisted in building back up the municipal stability. These diverse populations share the society of Lod today. The idea we were brought to is, if Lod can reach its potential in building a shared society, it provides a model for the future potential for Israel as a whole.

Here, we met an incredibly powerful Arab woman leading the charge for her own community, in insisting that change occurs through actions in building a city where each child feels is their home. She’s been independently building her community for years through reactivating the community center with activities that reach all ages, and mirroring programs by floor separated by Arab residents and Jewish residents. Her trust throughout the communities and innovation in application, has her collaborating with Jindas, a nonprofit St. Louis has been partnering with for many years.

Jindas, was established to promote social mobility through the use of physical and community urban regeneration processes, with an emphasis on Israel’s socio-geographic periphery. The organization initiates and leads inclusive, long-term rental housing projects, alongside an array of social services, based on the proven McCormack Baron Salazar model that creates cooperation between the public sector, the business sector and civil society. They have been working since 2012 to redesign the city of Lod and convince a country that has never seen a nonprofit organization collaborate across multiple sectors to create a multifaceted solution.

The main issue Jindas is working to solve in Lod is how to prevent gentrification by maintaining access, housing, and services for its majority low- income residents. The current physical infrastructure in Lod was built in 1948 by private developers, and today not one unit exists that wasn’t built at that time, even though the population demand grew. Through their model, and very recent government Tender, which allows them to move forward with implementation, they plan affordable housing opportunities combines with community resources and services for all residents to “bridge” the needs of the community. They are replacing 64 existing units with 543 new mixed income units and the social services to maintain the model, and in addition to a community center, arts and culture center, and greenways that connect existing infrastructure with the new. St. Louis is investing in the social task force (similar to Urban Strategies, the nonprofit partner with McCormack Baron Salazar) to work with the neighborhoods to provide tailored services privately to each household that desires assistance in order to become independent as well as to assist in organizing the communities and develop bridges between them.

In the afternoon we looked at two more unique models of nonprofits building shared society. Q School (named for insisting their school provides quality), to Arab children by way of Arab women who are deeply invested in instilling education to their youth. The school is built on a model of instilling pride in identity for each student, pride in being part of Israeli society, and pride in being part of a global world. The school teaches significantly in English which assists young students in finding their way to university success. They create communities of kids with loving values that grow outward into their larger communities in order to effect their holistic view to their family and neighbors. The program currently has a preschool and after school Model UN program for teens. In its future it’s looking to establish a high school in which teachers and staff make up the diversity of Israel to teach its students a stronger appreciation for the county they are part of.

Shaharit is the last project we visited that looks at building a shared society by developing future leaders for the county- nationally and locally. Shaharit 120 is a multiyear-long initiative on its 6th cohort, that builds by adding 20 new leaders each year. The program is imbedded on building cross differential relationships through a unifying lens of a passion for change and aspirations to influence national politics. The cohort is made up of participants that mirror the diversity in Israeli societies: Haredi, Modern Orthodox, Arab, Religious, Secular, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Ashkenazi, Bedouin, Druze, and immigrants from the FSU.

Here we explored two ideas pivotal to how Shaharit sees future change: exposing and understanding the narrative of Jewish peoplehood in Israel from the experience of Arabian Jews, and breaking down the concept of a Liberalism of peace, insisting that if Israel is built on two very traditional foundations, how can peace be manifested through religious perspectives rather than contemporary political perspectives. Both ideas develop for cohorts through forming deep relationships among participants.

Looking forward, our committee is assessing the multifaceted climate of shared society in Israel, each of the independent models tailored to influence differential change from small residential spheres to very large national spheres. In doing so we are considering how each of these models and nonprofits fit into the full scope of priorities of our St. Louis Jewish community, and where it makes most sense to add our impact in the coming years.