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Social Entrepreneurship on the Jerusalem Railway Park: Deliberative Democracy at its Best

March 10th, 2014

How do you want to see your neighborhood, your city? And what can you do to get there? Often, in our everyday routines, especially after watching / reading / listening to the news, it is difficult to see how we can have an influence. The JICC’s Deliberative Democracy program seeks to change that.

Over the past few years, with assistance from the UJA-Federation of New York, we’ve been working intensively with a number of community councils to help residents influence and improve - and take responsibility for and ownership of - their neighborhoods, and their city.

As a result of our successful work in individual communities, we were asked to lead a larger process led by three community councils in the southern part of the city - Ginot Ha’ir, Baka’a, and Gonenim. The mission - enabling residents in neighborhoods that include the new Jerusalem Railway Park to fully enjoy and take ownership of this new pearl on the Jerusalem landscape. Here’s the flyer that was posted all over the Internet and social media:

The story of the Railway Park itself is one of social activism. The park runs along the section of the old Ottoman-era Jaffa-Jerusalem rail line, and includes the neighborhoods of German Colony, Baka’a, the Talpiot Industrial Zone, Katamonim and Beit Safafa, ending at Malcha’s Teddy Stadium and the new train station that is in use today. After being cancelled in 1998 the tracks fell into disrepair, and had become an eyesore and garbage dump. Several years ago a group of environmentally-conscious residents, community activists and architects, successfully lobbied to turn this area into a massive urban park instead. After intense lobbying, this plan was accepted by local and national planning authorities. After several years of construction and support by the Jerusalem Municipality, the entire length of the park is just being completed.

With such deep roots in the community, it is only natural that the next step, injecting community activities and responsibility, along the course of the park, would involve the community as well. On March 5, we held a town meeting for residents from all communities that border the Jerusalem Railway Park. In all there were some 50 people, coming from the northern to the southern tips of the Park. All came to discuss events, initiatives and characteristics that they wish to see in the Park.

We used Open Space Technology for this event, which enables participants to raise and choose the issues they are passionate about, and work to advance them. Residents broke up into a number of groups. They ranged from a music festival, to a Purim parade, to growing edible plants along the Park, to Jewish-Arab relations to security and cleanliness. All groups are now forming plans of action of the different initiatives in order to bring them to fruition.

Coming Soon: More Palestinian Physical Therapists in East Jerusalem

January 25th, 2014

We just got the great news - results of the Israeli Ministry of Health’s certification exam in physical therapy - 4 of our Palestinian students passed the exam! This is a phenomenal result, since before we began offering this course it was rare that anyone passed the English exam, including English-speaking immigrants! The results also indicated that the curriculum in this pilot course was soundly based.

These students had studied physical therapy at an institution in the West Bank or Jordan, and needed to pass the exam to be able to work legally in East Jerusalem. We’ve been operating courses for occupational therapists and nurses since 2012, with the assistance of the Jerusalem Foundation and the Hadassah Foundation, but this was the first time we’d offered the course in this discipline.

There were 18 people in the first course. In addition to the 4 that passed, another 5 who almost passed. We are helping these students to study for the next exam, which will take place in April. In preparation, we will hold review sessions at the JICC, some with the instructors and some on their own, with the theoretical material that we’ve purchased.

In addition to helping course participants prepare for the next exam, we are also preparing for our next cohort of physical therapists.  We are closely examining the method of study, and will make improvements and adaptations for new participants in 2014.

Emergency Services in the Storm of the Century – MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks Join Forces

December 25th, 2013

December 12 - 15, 2013. More than a foot of snow falls on Jerusalem over 2 days. It’s the worst December snow storm in Jerusalem since weather conditions began being recorded more than 100 years ago. Trees were down, electricity and telephone lines were knocked out, roads were blocked - all over Jerusalem. Residents were without electricity and telephone service for days. In a region where one snowstorm is considered unusual (Before the snowstorm in January 2013, the previous last snowstorm to hit Jerusalem was in 2008.), a storm of this magnitude had the potential of being devastating and disastrous, especially for the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, where physical infrastructures lag far behind other areas of Jerusalem and Israel.

We are proud to have 2 programs - MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks - that took leading rolls in helping the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem weather the storm, again. It can even be said that in the chaos that the storm brought, the networks we cultivated (MiniActive and Emergency Response Networks, see below) were the only ones that actually functioned. Not only did they function, they joined together to help residents weather the storm.

MiniActive set up virtual and real ‘situation rooms’ that coordinated the onslaught of reports and problems from the field, via its hundreds of volunteers throughout East Jerusalem. Those in the situation rooms were in constant contact with the appropriate service providers - from the electric, telephone and gas companies, with the Emergency Response Networks to try and clear roads and deliver vital goods to stranded families, to the municipality, reporting fallen trees - to report damages and find solutions to these and other urgent problems. Updates were uploaded to the MiniActive Facebook page.

Special cars used to help residents

Special cars used to help residents

The Emergency Response Networks that had been organized in a number of Palestinian neighborhoods and villages in and around Jerusalem were as ready as they could be. The populations of these areas had already been mapped (to know where all the doctors, nurses, social workers, contractors, owners of tractors and 4X4 vehicles were, etc. See here for more information). Practice drills had already taken place. So when the snow began to fall, the Networks knew what to do. They worked throughout East Jerusalem, from Jebel Mukaber and Sur Baher in the south to Silwan, and Sheikh Jarrach to Beit Hanina and Shuafat in the north, and even extended beyond the security fence to Kufr Aqeb. They succeeded in recruiting all the local 4×4 vehicles, tractors and other heavy machinery to clear away snow and provide aid to individuals in need. They cleared snow and alerted others to hazards. They helped go door to door to deliver emergency assistance to those in need.

Besides the immediate emergency relief, both programs cultivated communication between residents, and between residents and service providers. Residents gained confidence in their ability to take care of themselves. The end result - community solidarity toward improving their everyday future, together.

MiniActive at the Shared Living in a Mixed City Conference

November 22nd, 2013

Excitement was in the air on November 21 at the Shared Living in a Mixed City conference, which was organized by the Jerusalem Foundation, the Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace, and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. At the conferencem, we provided an overview of the amazing achievements and methodology of the Miniactive program in the session entitled, “Providing Service” - Municipal Services in Mixed Cities.” The session shed light on the tensions between ultra-Orthodox and non-ultra-Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh, the struggle for equal housing and education rights for Arabs in Jaffa, and on MiniActive project in East Jerusalem.

We started by describing what the project had done. Picture after picture of ‘before’ and ‘after’, a garbage receptacle, a traffic light, a safety barrier, a bus stop, water drainage. Everyday change taking place in almost every neighborhood. She then described the project’s methods of bombarding the 106 municipal hotline with requests and pictures, letters, etc.; of providing tours of different streets for municipal unit heads to see with their own eyes. Of organizing meetings between 106 workers and MiniActive volunteers, so they can learn the work process of the 106 hotline to make their work more effective.

From behind the words and pictures came the message - this is our house, and it’s time that we fight for it to be a pleasant place to live. And the Municipality and other service providers - it is their obligation to give us the services.

The description inspired everyone in the room. “Miniactive has brought about a huge change,” began Dr. Hagit Perez of the Department of Epidemiology, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Chair of the session, and an activist in the south in her own right. “In these cases usually two groups are blamed: one, the victims usually blames themselves. How did they let themselves get into this situation? And the second to be blamed is the service provider, who doesn’t provide sufficient services. Here, Palestinian women have said, ‘Let’s solve our own problems. We can do anything, we have no limits. We, as mothers, want to make sure our children have a better future. We want to make the change not only I our own back yards, but make a change in in our whole community’s awareness.”

One audience member commented, “It’s truly inspiring how Palestinian women presented the program to us, what they’ve done and their accomplishments. She is such a change maker.”

A question from the audience was, “If this methodology was so successful, what about MiniActive in other groups, such as the Haredi public?” Well, we’re working on that, too…

Learning from a Model, Adapting to their Needs: Visit to the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya

November 10th, 2013

It’s not easy being a Cultural Competency Coordinator. There are so many aspects that need to be dealt with it can seem overwhelming. It is exactly for that reason that we formed the Cultural Competency Coordinators’ Forum, so that they would not need to go it alone. Even more recently we formed an offshoot - a Forum for Cultural Competency Coordinators from Public Mental Health Institutions - since the field of mental health is drastically different than general health care. The 8-member forum includes representatives from all 7 public mental health institutions in Israel - from Acco to Beer Sheva to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv - and was formed on the heels of our networking / feedback session, before the Manual for Cultural Competency Coordinators was published. This forum meets monthly.

Members have already learned a great deal from one another. For example, the coordinator from Be’er Ya’akov heard about the medical interpreter’s course at Abarbanel, and the course is being implemented at Be’er Ya’akov. Similarly, the coordinator from Mizra heard about the workshops we did for the administration at the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health, and in January it will start workshops for its 50 administrative and managerial personnel.

On November 5, 2013 mental health forum had a special treat - a visit to the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. Why Nahariya? The first few meetings of the Forum had included introductions, peer learning and setting goals for the group, and after that it decided that it was time to learn from the field. Nahariya is a model example of both administration and staff being committed to making its care culturally sensitive to all its patients, and using creative means to do so.

Touring the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya

Touring the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya

The Cultural Competency coordinators at Nahariya had participated in our first course for cultural competency coordinators in 2012, and have come a long way in a short time, thanks to the continued support of the management at all levels. We came to see how they did it, and how we can adapt their methods to mental health institutions.

The visit had 3 parts:

  1. A presentation on how the hospital led the Cultural Competency training sessions for its staff. It was very important to the administration that local hospital staff lead the training sessions. This showed seriousness on the part of the hospital and sent a message to the staff that ‘we value this enough to dedicate two staff members for in-house training and integration, who will be here to follow up and make sure that the principles are implemented.’ Because the training was performed by local staff, there was more motivation, there was no need to wait for the training, and more help was on hand in assimilating the principles.
  2. A tour of the hospital. Participants were taken to the hospital’s Muslim prayer room, one of only a handful in all Israeli hospitals, which was established in cooperation with the Ministry of Religious Services. They were also shown the hospital’s creative method of multi-lingual signage. The hospital had already had signage in Hebrew and English, but needed to add signs in Russian and Arabic, and did not want to spend the high cost of re-printing all the hospital’s signage. Its solution - printing the requisite signs on giant stickers that were stuck to the floor. What a novel idea!
  3. Participants were also shown the pilot of a telephone interpreting system, which is being funded by the Ministry of Health. They first learned how the telephone system works. It uses a special telephone with two handsets - one for the patient and one for the physician. Both are listening to the interpreter, who is on the other side of the line, in a call center. The idea is that eventually all health care institutions in Israel will be hooked up to this system, and will be able to use it all day, every day, without having to wait for an interpreter to be on call in the building.

An example of a dual-handset telephone for interpreting

An example of a dual-handset telephone for interpreting

The day ended with participants discussing their thoughts on the most important points, and how they can assimilate any of the ideas into their own institutions. One action item that arose was the need for a Cultural Competency Manual dedicated to the unique needs of mental health facilities. We will begin to write this manual at the next meeting, which is in the middle of December 2013.

Let’s Make Ourselves a Holiday: Multi-Cultural Holiday Information Sheets to Improve Cultural Competency

November 1st, 2013

Hag Sigd Sameach. Yesterday, October 31, was the Sigd holiday, which is celebrated by the Ethiopian Jewish community. As part of our comprehensive support for cultural competency coordinators and health care providers in general, we prepared a special information sheet to help health care providers to give better care to their Ethiopian patients. It includes a short description of the holiday, special traditions that might affect patients on that day, and links to resources that can provide further information.

This isn’t the first time we’ve prepared these information sheets. We also prepared them for the Muslim holidays of Ramadan and Eid el-Fitr and Tisha b’Av, as noted above, and we’re going to continue to produce them for Eid el-Adha (Muslim), Passover and the 10th of Tevet (Jewish) and more. We’ve found that these information sheets have been immensely popular. They’ve been sent not only to our mailing lists, but we’ve found out that they’ve also been distributed throughout the different health insurance companies (Kupot Holim), and more.

In general, these information sheets offer comprehensive, concise overviews of the holidays, and cover particular issues that can affect patient care such as:

  • Special meals or foods related to the holiday;
  • Special fasts related to the holiday, and how it affects taking medication;
  • If there are conflicts regarding the taking of certain medications, who is the religious authority to turn to to discuss the issue;
  • Special daytime schedule during the holiday - more prayers or family visits, and more.

We work very closely with different organizations to ensure that important points are not missed, and that they are presented in a respectful, informative manner. For example, for Eid el-Fitr we consulted with the Al-Taj organization, which seeks to advance awareness of health issues in the Arabic-speaking population. We consulted with Rabbi Moshe Peleg of Sha’are Zedek Hospital for the Fast of the 10th of Tevet information sheet. For help on the Sigd information sheet, we consulted with the Tene Briut organization, which seeks to advance health care among Ethiopian immigrants in Israel.

When we are all finished we’ll have an entire year’s worth of holiday information sheets - an incredibly valuable resource for cultural competency coordinators and anyone who works in Israel’s multicultural health care system.

Making a Mental ‘Switch’: Cultural Sensitivity Professional Development Workshop for Staff at the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health, Kiryat Hayovel Clinic

October 23rd, 2013

What is the essence of cultural competency? More than the manuals, more than the training sessions - cultural sensitivity is the switch in approach to the patient-caregiver relationship, from ‘let me make you better’ (on my terms, using my rules) to ‘let’s work together to enable you to heal’ (mutual communication, bridging communication gaps of language and culture, realization that one’s background and culture dictates one’s actions and reactions).

The intention of the workshop held on October 21, 2013 for members of the Kiryat Hayovel public mental health clinic, part of the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health, was to help the 25 participants make that switch in their approach. The all-day workshop included a discussion of the present situation, and staff members raised a number of examples of social and political tensions in the clinic. As in other Cultural Competency Workshops, we also covered a theoretical section, in which we went over basic aspects of cultural competency - interpersonal communication, core issues, cultural dimensions, medical interpretation, social and political tension and more. In the afternoon the medical actress joined us and we practiced 2 real-life situations.

The director of the Kiryat Hayovel Clinic was very cooperative, both during and after the workshop. He told us that he received positive feedback from his staff, and that everyone recognizes the need for changing their approach, with an emphasis on everyday work. He noted that many of the staff were aware of the concept of cultural competency, but this all-day workshop allowed them to concentrate solely on how cultural competency / or cultural sensitivity influences their work as mental health caregivers.

The workshop also made the director as well as the staff more aware of the need for medical interpreters (translators) when working with patients whose mother tongue is not Hebrew. The workshop therefore increased his motivation for including his staff members in the upcoming medical interpreter’s course at the Jerusalem Center for Mental Health in Givat Shaul.

Creating a Cultural Competency Learning Community

October 10th, 2013

We’ve talked about our growing national network of cultural competency coordinators here before . As part of this effort, we held our quarterly workshop for 25 cultural competency coordinators from around Israel at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) on October 7. Participants came from hospitals as far north as Tiberias and Hadera, as well as the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv area. There were also representatives of the different HMO’s as well. This workshop focused on the Connection between the Community and Health Care Organizations.

The meeting included a panel discussion of 4 different perspectives:

  • Mr. Pekadu Gadamo, director of the Tene Briut organization, which works to improve health care for the Ethiopian community in Israel.
  • Mr. Or-El Ben Ari, director of the Ministry of Health’s clinic for migrants and political asylum seekers at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.
  • Rabbi Zvi Porath, rabbinic consultant to the ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital
  • Mr. Gabriel Pransky, the Pransky Project

Each member of the panel spoke about his organization, and the connection each one has to health care organizations. Mr. Ben Ariand Mr. Paransky also distributed information sheets about their organizations. Click here to see the Refugees Clinic information sheet and here to see the information sheet on the Pransky project.

We’d like to focus on two of them, Mr. Ben Ari, from what was formerly referred to as the Refugees’ Clinic, and Rabbi Porath, from ALYN. Mr. Ben Ari first described his clinic. Located in the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, the clinic serves the tens of thousands of refugees and political asylum seekers that live in the Tel Aviv area, none of whom have health insurance. Instead, they often rely on hospital emergency rooms for care, and then only in real emergencies. And it was found that many of the emergencies could have been prevented if they had sought medical care earlier. The clinic was established in 2008 by the Israel Medical Association and other partners and staffed largely by volunteer doctors and other medical personnel. In January 2013 the clinic came under the auspices of the Israel Ministry of Health. Today it includes a staff of 20 and offers a range of medical services, from regular clinics to urgent care facilities, operated by the Terem organization. In the discussion, Mr. Ben Ari asked the cultural competency coordinators to make the clinic known to the refugees / asylum seekers they treat, since after they are released they rarely seek follow-up care that the clinic can provide.

The coordinators were fascinated by the clinic. For most this was the first time they had heard of the clinic and its activities. They were so excited about it that they asked to have a tour. This is now being organized.
Another of the speakers was Rabbi Zvi Porath, of ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital. Rabbi Porath, himself Ultra-Orthodox, has done groundbreaking work in his position as an advisor to the staff and on Jewish law. In most hospitals the Rabbi deals mainly with issues regarding Kashruth and Sabbath observance, Rabbi Porath is the first hospital Rabbi in Israel to utilize his role for cultural competency issues as well. He advises both the staff and patients, especially when there are instances in which there are questions of Jewish law as it relates to specific treatments. Rabbi Porath not only gives his own advice, but also knows whom to go to when other authorities’ opinions are needed. This is because each community within the Ultra-Orthodox world follows its own community leaders, but not necessarily leaders from other communities. In this way Rabbi Porath is not only a consultant and an advisor, he is also a mediator, helping the ALYN staff provide the best care for all its patients, sensitive to the cultural traditions of its Ultra-Orthodox patients and their families.

The participants were also very interested in Rabbi Porath’s work, since all of them deal with issues of caring for Ultra-Orthodox patients in ways that are in line with their strict reading of Jewish law. Many even scheduled private meetings with him, to see how he could help in their respective organizations.

Rainbow Stairs in Jerusalem, Thanks to MiniActive

September 15th, 2013

Late this summer, Istanbul’s ‘Rainbow Stairs‘ made international headlines and, almost unintentionally, became a symbol of grassroots resistance, human rights and democracy. The Istanbul municipality painted over the stairs in a drab gray, numerous rainbow-painted staircases popped up all over Turkey in protest.

Inspired by the mass spontaneous outbursts of color that suddenly filled Turkish streets, our own MiniActive decided to take action in East Jerusalem. One of the main goals of MiniActive is to empower women and their families to take responsibility for their lives, especially their physical surroundings.They’ve worked a long time in improving things that needed to be fixed - roads, garbage receptacles, sidewalks, etc. More about that below.

But just as important as fixing the almost insurmountable amount of things that need to be fixed, is also a need to make your physical surroundings pleasant and special. MiniActive has come to teach its participants that, just like they are responsible for making the space inside their homes presentable, collectively they - all 1,000 of them and their families - are also responsible for making the space outside their homes not just presentable, but pretty, too.

The MiniActive participants recruited their families to paint public stairways in four neighborhoods -Silwan, Wadi Joz, Abu Tor, and the Old City. A local merchant donated half the budget for paint. Fortunately, the Jerusalem Municipality is not as zealous about gray stairs as that of Istanbul. Enjoy some pictures of our local Rainbow Stairs.

Left: stairs in the Old City; top: stairs in Silwan; bottom: stairs in Abu Tor

Left: stairs in the Old City; top: stairs in Silwan; bottom: stairs in Abu Tor

In taking responsibility to care for the collective public space, MiniActive has also made local streets accessible. The Jerusalem Municipality is in the process of planning physical improvements to neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. However, not all of East Jerusalem’s streets are included. The MiniActive women, together with the Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights organization, petitioned the Jerusalem Municipality to make major improvements to 3 roads that were not in the Municipality’s original plan. This will make it much easier for local residents, especially those with physical limitations, to navigate the streets.

Working in Wadi Joz to increase accessibility

Working in Wadi Joz to increase accessibility

A third accomplishment related to garbage. Garbage, or an overabundance of it, is a big problem in East Jerusalem. In a concerted effort to improve the situation, our MiniActive participants took to the phones. They inundated the municipal hotline with requests, and succeeded in obtaining 15 new garbage receptacles - 12 smaller ones as seen in the right-hand corner below, and 3 larger ones. They also coordinated the exact placement of the bins with the neighboring residents, so that everyone would be satisfied. Of course, this was only the tip of the iceberg. They are now waiting for 15 more receptacles.

Providing Services for African Political Asylum Seekers

August 15th, 2013

There are tens of thousands of African refugees living in Israel, Muslims and Christians from countries such as South Sudan, Darfur and Eritrea. Most live in the Tel Aviv area, and there are a significant number who live and work in Eilat and other towns in the south of Israel. There are about 2,000 who live in the Jerusalem area.

These people live in the worst conditions, work in the worst conditions, and, outside of Tel Aviv, no one is taking care of them. No municipal authorities, no NGO’s, no human rights organizations. We could not let this situation continue. We contacted the Jerusalem Municipality, and they described an unreal situation - they had the space available for an office to help political asylum seekers, but they had logistical difficulties in hiring personnel. Since helping asylum seekers fits within our mandate of empowering all Jerusalem groups to work with service providers and therefore resolving inter-cultural conflict, we decided to step in, and provided the funds necessary to hire a part-time professional. This is the only worker dedicated to helping African asylum seekers outside the Tel Aviv area. It is something we should be proud of.