By SIMONE COHEN SCOTT Nomi Yeshua occasionally passes through Canada representing the Jerusalem Foundation. Last summer she came through Winnipeg with Mayor Moshe Lion of Jerusalem. The delegation from Israel was thanking the Canadian donors who have helped to build and support projects geared to make Jerusalem the cultural and civilizational hub of the planet that she should be, and almost is.
Nomi was back in Canada again last month, planning a tour that would showcase an innovative project geared to help young women from all the diverse communities in Jerusalem to lift themselves up into independence – in other words, to train them to actualize their inherent entrepreneurial skills.
She was spending a few days in Winnipeg, and so we were able to book a little visit together. I met Nomi several years ago when she spoke in Gimli at a JNF brunch, and I wanted to update myself about recent changes in her title, details of how she landed her job in the mayor’s office upon making aliyah, and how she transitioned herself through various roles until she does what she does now. Our conversation revealed another transformation: that the art of fundraising has come a long way since Golda Meyerson travelled the United States in a housedress with her hand out.
Nomi was born in Vancouver, but the seeds of Zionism were planted early. When only in middle school, she applied to a program offering grade 10 on Kibbutz Kfar Blum. She was accepted and spent that single year of high school in Israel, no doubt delighting her grandmother who had made aliyah in 1977.
Finishing high school in Vancouver, looking for an education along the lines of liberal arts, she chose Political Science and obtained a B.A. from the University of British Columbia. In 1990, Nomi herself made aliyah, joining her grandmother and aunt, both Winnipeggers, Aunt Miriam having made aliyah in 1966. It was through them that Nomi, a brand new Israeli, found her dream job in Mayor Teddy Kolleck”s office.
In Nomi’s own words: “I went for lunch with my grandmother at the home of my aunt’s neighbour. The neighbour, Frada Feigelson, had a sister, Shula Eisner Navon, who had worked for Mayor Teddy since 1965, and she hired me as her assistant. Shula left a couple of years later and then I took over her position.”
Note that Shula began with Teddy (named Tadeuz after Theodore Herzl) the same year he became mayor, and worked for him for over 25 years, when she hired Nomi. Back in 1965. Jerusalem was still occupied by Jordan up to the Green Line (meaning the 1947 War of Independence ‘cease fire’ line which had been drawn with a green crayon).
By 1966, Teddy had founded the Jerusalem Foundation, a fundraising device to allow people of the world to assist,whether by large or small amounts, in the cultural development of their ‘city on the hill’. Its first initiatives were public parks in the poorer neighbourhoods, funded by donors in New York.
Without the Foundation, moving money smoothly between countries, as now, would not have been possible. Teddy was nothing if not charismatic, his personality permeating every field he entered. Before long he also planted the beginnings of the Jerusalem Museum. He was chummy with every cultural icon of the era, bringing them all to Jerusalem, making the city the focus of high intellectual achievement. Isaac Stern, Arturo Rubinstein, Saul Bellow, Isaiah Berlin, Marc Chagall, Yitzchak Perelman -these were all his friends.
Shula would have developed a high sense of aestheticism and beneficence. This was the aura of the workplace Nomi entered, the influence and legacy under which she was to walk her career path. Nomi told me she owes to Teddy her passion for classical music. I believe she has also internalized the values Teddy instilled into the Jerusalem Foundation.
During his life prior to his years as mayor, Teddy was a man of action. In 1942 he was appointed Deputy Head of Intelligence for the Jewish Agency. By 1945, he was in contact with the highly secretive MI5’s main representative of British Military Intelligence, (There is some mystery about his activities during this period.) Through 1947 and 1948 he represented the Haganah in Washington, during which time he managed, (working from within the Haganah), to clandestinely transport into Palestine used and leftover American military armaments, including ammunition, which formed the basis of what became the Mossad during the War of Independence.
From 1952 he served as the director general of the prime minister’s office. Teddy Kollek and David Ben Gurion were cut from the same cloth: neither was religious; both were educated in Vienna. Just as Ben Gurion didn’t whine that the land being offered to the Jews was inadequate, so Teddy took it in stride when his city suddenly ballooned in size and population/ His attitude was: “Of course, come in, let me help you.”
Immediately, he arranged for the provision of milk for Arab children. Then he placed City Hall smack on the seam line of the unification. Religious or not, if there were discontented naysayers, as in the day of the ten spies, these two men were able to withstand them.
It is fortuitous that the Jerusalem Foundation was already established by this time. From its beginnings it has been apolitical, embracing the Jewish mandate to be caretakers of Jerusalem for the benefit of all the people of the world. This mindset led Teddy to embrace his new communities with open arms, and strive to bring them the same enhancements he had begun in the rest of the city…. green spaces at first, then tentatively expanding to cultural and social centres.
Fast forward to the present, with 4,000 plus projects completed or in the works. Not that ‘completed’ is ever stamped across the page. And no longer is the meeting of open hand and deep pocket the way it’s done. In 1966 the Jerusalem Foundation was incorporated in New York City. In 1970 a Canadian Branch in Montreal was opened by the Bronfman family, a contact Teddy made when moving arms.
Beginning in the early 20th century, more and more philanthropic efforts were being channelled into entities like these, (the Rockefeller Foundation being one of the earliest), as efficient ways to expedite the movement of large sums of money through government regulations, and to facilitate the management of funds over long periods of time. Teddy obviously was an excellent people person, arranging his friends into donors, his donors into friends, and then, eek!…..channelling them into boards of directors.
It takes a special gift, and there is no doubt in my mind that gift also resides in Nomi. From Teddy’s office she went on to various fundraising and marketing positions, managing also to obtain a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Tel Aviv. At one point she served as liaison to Mayor Nir Birkat. As she told me, fundraising and what it accomplishes cannot exist without the building of relationships.
For Nomi to develop and direct this structure of board members and donors, as she does, bespeaks a temperament that loves and respects people. It’s a big job; it consists of many small jobs. Over the years Nomi has done everyone else’s job. I met her when she was Director of the Canada Desk; now she is Chief Development Officer as well as Executive Director in Canada. There have been others, each indicating an upgrade in skill and responsibility, but I get the feeling many of the duties are intermingled.
Projects over the decades have gone beyond parks and cultural centres, although its safe to say those haven’t stopped. Nowadays, a not so frequently mentioned element of the Jerusalem Foundation, words to the effect of ‘…….integrating the day to day lives of the city’s inhabitants…..’ has moved a little more front and centre. ‘Shared living’ is the phrase being used. ‘Easier said than done’ as the saying goes.
Nomi pointed out serious complications in accomplishing this, which originate in the city’s education system. She told me that there are four streams of public schools, all segregated, all paid for by taxes, with no way to loosen up and unravel them. The first time these kids have anything to do with each other is when they enter the IDF. Up till then, there is no interaction. They have not had any contact with other perspectives. Overcoming this alienation is going to take more than nice architecture.
Not to mention Arab communities established during the Jordanian occupation, including an early refugee camp cheek by jowl against an Arab village. Nomi, you’ve got a big job ahead of you! Knowing Nomi better now, I am convinced she will tackle it one knot at a time. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion was certainly wise to come and thank Canadian donors. I hope he’s also thanking the ones who “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem……” Psalm 122:6a