As part of the study unit on “Identity and Values,” in early December, the fellows of the Mandel Program for Local Leadership in Yeruham and Ramat Hanegev participated in a two-day retreat in Jaffa and Lod. These two cities were selected because the diverse nature of their populations – Arabs and Jews, old timers and new residents, secular and religious, wealthy and poor – poses identity-related challenges and dilemmas for their residents and leadership. The “garinim” (social-activist communal groups) that have settled in these towns in order to become part of the local fabric and develop the town and themselves, raise another unique dynamic of identity, since their members form “communities within communities.” In these two respects, there are similarities between the fellows’ home towns of Yeruham and Ramat Hanegev and the cities of Lod and Jaffa.
On the first day of the retreat, the fellows met with Aviv Wasserman, founder of the Lod Community Foundation, who explained the complexity of diversity and of small-town politics. Lior Zorno, one of the founders of the Lod Student Village and co-director of Totzeret Haaretz (an organization that develops student communities in Israel’s geographic and social periphery), described the role that the students play in revitalizing the city’s neighborhoods. Next the fellows visited the student village known as “The Containers Neighborhood” because its housing units have been created from recycled shipping containers. Later in the day, the fellows met with Ayelet Chava, one of the leaders of the religious garin in Lod, who spoke about the issues and dilemmas that face great ideas during their evolution.
The second day of the retreat began with a moving visit to the Collège des Frères School in Jaffa, where the fellows met with the principal, Maha Abed, and her deputy, Michael. The visit emphasized that co-existence is possible if compromises are made and careful attention is given to issues of language and culture. This was followed by a fascinating tour about identities and connections between neighborhoods and groups in Jaffa. The day concluded with a meeting with Ingi Rubin, the director of the Mandel Culture Center in Jaffa, where the fellows participated in a session in which they processed their impressions of the tour for the first time.
Removing ethnic concerns and redirecting their focus outward helped the fellows gain greater understanding of the problems and opportunities that exist in Yeruham and in the settlements of Ramat Hanegev. Similarly, becoming aware of “peripheral” dilemmas that exist in places that are so close to the center of Israel, shone a new light on the concept of “periphery,” which will be a key concept in the program as a whole.
The "Containers Neighborhood” in Lod