By SIMONE COHEN SCOTT
Not often does the Remis Speakers’ Forum have two speakers at once. Further, we almost never have speakers honour us by planning their trips to accommodate our schedule.
But that’s what Shai Doron and Nomi Yeshua did, and we are the richer for it in our appreciation of Jerusalem. These two people are the President and the Chief Development Officer, respectively, of The Jerusalem Foundation, and their outstanding presentation was truly inspirational - at the Speakers’ Forum on July 29.
Nomi set the stage by giving an overview of the rationale for, and the founding of, the Jerusalem Foundation. She is well placed to do so, having made Aliyah from Vancouver in 1990, when she immediately landed a job in the mayor’s office. Except for various leaves of absence while she furthered her education, Nomi worked with Mayor Teddy Kollek, gradually transitioning from the mayor’s office to the Jerusalem Foundation.
Teddy Kollek became Mayor of Jerusalem in 1965, when part of the city was under occupation by Jordan. His jurisdiction included about 2,000 Arabs. Two years later, unexpectedly, East Jerusalem was liberated, and 69,000 Arabs joined the rest of the population.
Growing up in Vienna, Teddy had experienced a city where diverse groups interacted in a friendly fashion, everyone participating in everything the sophisticated city had to offer. This exposure to possibilities influenced his vision of what Jerusalem could and should become. He, of course, immediately became aware of, and was disturbed by the reality he’d inherited. East Jerusalem under Jordan had not developed anywhere near the cultural opportunities as had West Jerusalem, and he desperately wanted this situation to be rectified.
Teddy’s tax based civic budget would provide the basics such as schools, but was inadequate for the enrichment opportunities necessary to develop a modern, mid-century, city. It was the need to forge beyond these limiting parameters, that motivated him to develop the Jerusalem Foundation.
Thus, Teddy enabled himself to raise funds from lovers of Jerusalem everywhere, to build theatres, sports centres, concert halls, libraries, art galleries, museums, community centres, and plenty of parks and green spaces.
Nomi showed a series of graphs prepared by the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, which illustrated the lead-up to the demographic Teddy inherited.
In 1922, early in the British Mandate Period, the population of Municipal Jerusalem was 63,000 (including 29,000 Arabs). By the end of WWII, the population had grown to 164,000 (including 65,000 Arabs). During the years between the War of Independence and the Six Day War, the population had grown by about 30,000 (but including only 2,000 Arabs, the rest being in Jordan-occupied territory).
With the liberation of East Jerusalem, 69,000 Arabs became part of Municipal Jerusalem, bringing the total population to 267,000. Deciphering graphs is sometimes difficult, but what these numbers show is the proportion, the fracturing, and perhaps the temperament, of the population at the beginning of a unified Jerusalem under Mayor Kollek. A challenging situation indeed!
Within these general population numbers, the break-down of the study became more nuanced. In 2017, the year this study was completed, the population of Municipal Jerusalem was 902,000, 342,000 of which were Arabs. More graphs gave us more information.
Analyses of Jews, Muslims, Arab Christians, non-Arab Christians, those not identified by religion, were all displayed. Within these population groups further analyses proceeded. Age groups, gender, variations of religious observance, education, poverty rates, and on and on, were graphed out every which way.
Nomi accompanied each with explanations. By the time she was done, the enormity of the problem, the intricacies of the complications, had thoroughly sunk in. How was Teddy’s vision ever going to be actualized?
Then it was Shai’s turn. In 1989, Shai became the director of the mayor’s office, working closely with Teddy Kollek, coordinating and managing significant projects, including being involved in urban planning. In 1993 he was appointed Director General of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.
The zoo was Teddy’s brainchild, too. He wanted a place where every niche of demographic could bring their families, and feel ‘at home’, from Ultra-Orthodox Jew to Devout Muslim, to Christian, to visitors of every faith, to secular. Shai was more than inspired. He expanded and transformed the zoo into a meeting point for all Jerusalem residents and visitors. In 2011, he led and developed the construction of an aquarium, the first in Israel, adjacent to the zoo.
During his tenure, the zoo became the leading tourist attraction in Israel, attracting more than 700,000 visitors every year. Last year Shai was appointed President of the Jerusalem Foundation. Teddy must be qvelling over his protege!
When Shai expounds on what he sees Jerusalem becoming, in spite of its dizzying problems, one realizes not only has he caught Teddy’s vision, but he has run with it up into the stratosphere. In his words: “Jerusalem needs to be a model of shared living to the entire world…..not only Jews and Arabs but Jews and Jews”.
Teddy envisioned the goal; Shai sees the steps to the goal. He believes this shared living (not merely co-existence) will depend on the young people, and what is done for them now.
These children need these basics: Arabs and Jews need to learn each other’s language; need to learn English; need training in computer science; training in communication and leadership skills.
Today’s leaders must develop programs that will provide these ‘pillars’ as he calls them, which will ultimately implement a pluralist, productive, society. This should be done, Shai says, “…...creatively, in state of the art fashion,…..with a moral, not a political, agenda.”
It was not difficult to see why this man has been so successful in raising millions in funds, necessary not only for these completed projects, but for development of the ‘pillars’ he sees as vital.
Upon reflecting back on the analyses Nomi presented, showing multiple variations of demographics, one realizes how nuanced each project needs to be, to attract, draw in, and enhance, each unique segment of the community.
But Shai’s enthusiasm is contagious. He is on a grand Aliyah, a ‘going up’ to Zion, and the impulse to join him on his vision’s path is irresistible. Nomi and Shai make frequent trips through Canada. The Remis Speakers’ Forum has already placed them on the ‘must contact’ list for next season’s roster, so our members can follow Nomi and Shai’s progress.
The key will be enlisting those creative individuals with a moral, not political, agenda, who will put their shoulder to the wheel, helping to make Jerusalem….. “a model of shared living to the entire world.” Hmmm, sounds like something right out of Scripture.