Jerusalem Foundation Moderates Panel on Jerusalem Civil Society

Jerusalem Foundation Moderates Panel On Jerusalem Civil Society

Jerusalem Foundation Moderates Panel on Jerusalem Civil Society

Diversity was on full display at a panel at Beit Alliance moderated by Jerusalem Foundation Chief of Staff and Director of Marketing Ariella Bernstein. The focus was on civil society and activism initiatives in Jerusalem, many of which are supported by the Jerusalem Foundation.

The panel included Michal Shilor of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, Fay Sukenik from “B’asher Telchi,” and Ariel Levinson from the Secular Yeshiva.

With passion and commitment to their cause, the panelists explained that Jerusalem’s complexity is what makes it fertile ground for civil society. Each discussed their own activism, what led them to start their initiatives, how they overcame challenges and when they knew that their initiative struck a chord.

Michal Shilor, Coordinator for the Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance program at the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, spoke about empowering the residents of Jerusalem to help them turn it into an oasis of pluralism and diversity. “Jerusalem is a magnet for change-makers,” she said, explaining how volunteers from throughout the city joined forces to create an alternative Jerusalem Day with 80 events that that reached tens of thousands of people.

Ariel Levinson, Director of the Secular Yeshiva, spoke of creating a community of secular Jews celebrating their Jewish identity in Jerusalem, including the 70% of the Yeshiva’s alumni who continue to live in the city after graduation. Asked why so many activists chose to move to the city, he credited the Bible and the Prophets for creating a vision of a Jerusalem utopia that inspires residents even today to turn reality into an ideal.  The Secular Yeshiva  remains home to students who are rewriting their Jewish heritage, creating a young, vibrant, dynamic and new Jewish identity.

Fay Sukenik, founder of B’asher Telchi, a nonprofit that helps ultra-Orthodox women in the process of undergoing divorce, spoke about her awakening as a woman, and the realization that if she did not stand up for herself, nobody would do it for her. She created a café where all women are welcome to share their experiences and gain a perspective that might not be accessible to them.  She expressed frustration at not being adequately represented by the current ultra-Orthodox Members of Knesset, and decried the government’s recent decision to freeze plans to establish an egalitarian prayer space in Robinson’s Arch, next to the Western Wall. “My grandparents are from Poland and no on asked them what percentage of their identity was Jewish when taking them to the camps. How can people forget that?”

The panelists left the audience with some important thoughts about Jerusalem’s civil society:  “Believe in us,” they urged the audience, as the panel dispersed to continue their work changing the world, one day at a time.

The panel was organized by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, an applied research think tank established by Mayor Teddy Kollek and supported by  the Foundation throughout the years.