Education, General, Justice in Israel

RHR’s work in public housing in Beit She’an once again wins “Outstanding Project Award”

0 Comments 03 May 2014

We are pleased and proud to announce that once again this year the practicum work of our project in public housing at Beit She’an has been recognized as outstanding by the academic staff of the Yezreel Valley College! 

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Photo: From left: Natalie levy and Tair Nasi

This marks three years since the beginning of cooperation between the Human Services Department at the Yezreel Valley College and the organization’s project with public housing. The Human Services Department is unique and places a focus on interpersonal skills and work with special populations as an integral part of human resource management.

The cooperation began during the 2011 summer social protest movement, and through the organization’s guidance of the Beit She’an protest encampment. Then department head, Dr. Dalit Yasur-Borochovitz and Dr. Zion Barnetz, visited to support the encampment and established a relationship with Rabbi Kobi Weiss. The following autumn, Rivka Yones had began her practicum assisting in the establishment of a system for locating public housing company Amidar residents and claiming their rights. That year Rivka and Kobi won the Outstanding Project award in recognition of their work.

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Photo: Rabbi Kobi Weiss and Daphni Leef, Israeli social protest leader, at a demonstration in Beit Shean

A year later two students, Shikma Yaakov and Shani Cohen, joined and alongside other volunteers helped to expand the activity. That year we reached over 100 families.

One of the additional volunteers, Itamar Brill (link in Hebrew) from Kibbutz Hamadia, friendly personality helped to dispel the hostility and anger that accompany personal encounters and the handling of difficult problems. The participation of the college for the duration of the year, requiring assessment and evaluation through scientific tools, significantly strengthened the neutrality of our work. In the small peripheral city with tribal foundations mixed-up in local politics it is doubly significant – both for the residents and for Amidar management in the city.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, who is responsible for the project, began to push in the direction of creating an active resident leadership group based on the model initiated in Jerusalem. During the 2011 social protest movement, there was a group of residents who made impressive achievements but after the protests the group disbanded. The idea now was to create a group of residents who would advocate for themselves and would be able to independently safeguard the rights of residents in Beit She’an.

The labor pains were tough, the motivation of those who rejected housing differs from those who are already Amidar residents as however bad the conditions may be, naturally they have something to lose. It was decided this year to follow through to the end with the issue of resident empowerment as an independent project and to focus on the first stage in one neighborhood.

Working in Neighborhood D

Neighborhood D was chosen because it has a large concentration of Amidar residents as well as challenging maintenance and infrastructure problems. After the creation of appropriate infrastructure, the plan is to replicate the formula in other neighborhoods. Neighborhood D is considered the most difficult in the city and so success there will be a clear indication of potential success in other areas of the city.

This year two students worked with RHR on the project: Natalie Levy and Tair Nasi. Both of them are residents of the city and know the area (or so it seemed to them until they entered the homes of the first families…). As opposed to previous years, both students are in their third year and expectations have thus been set accordingly. The job description was to focus on the new project of resident empowerment.

kobi-jezreel2Following the award for best project two years ago,  the project has gained considerable interest. From the beginning the reaction from the professors in the department was that “our” girls are very enthusiastic about the work and were subject to jealousy from their friends due to the level of interest and challenge of the project. After winning in its first year, it was very clear that we could not expect to win the prize every year. However, this year the opportunity once again arose along with wonderings as to whether or not Rabbis for Human Rights would win for a third time.

There is no need to elaborate on the significance of the Outstanding Project award on a third year student’s resume as they prepare to enter the competitive job market.

Up to the task?

It was clear that a similar practicum to the previous year’s would not be enough to compete. There are dozens of projects, some of which also engage in social action and work with disadvantaged groups, and most of which are in large institutions several times  larger than our organization such as the Haifa and Afula municipalities, local councils, job placement organizations and high tech.

To students who showed interest in this opportunity it was explicitly stated that the possibility of winning a prize is not a relevant consideration compared to the mental challenge and devotion that the activity demands, but that if they were to take it on and focus on the new project of resident empowerment, and succeed at it, that the possibility to win the prize definitely exists.

Natalie and Tair took the project upon themselves, while at least one other student gave up the opportunity once she understood the level of responsibility and effort required for this project and decided to opt for an easier path.

Naturally the task of establishing and maintaining a group for an extended period of time demands patience and tolerance, as well as a lot of effort towards creating a support network throughout the week and not just during the meeting itself.

Expanding and looking forward

The group began having regular meetings in November and is still going today. As of today the focus in the neighborhood has narrowed in on specific blocks. Two blocks have already established building committees and have organized gardening and building improvement groups; we are also preparing for the opening of the local bomb shelters for use by the blocks’ youth, all with a mighty push from Mr. Pinchas Sabah, a resident of the city who took it upon himself to help the neighborhood’s residents. Pinchas, a senior citizen resident of the city, is highly skilled at interpersonal relations and helps to solve conflicts between neighbors– one of the key challenges to overcome in creating a unified local leadership. Pinchas’ name was raised in one of the group’s meetings and since then he has been part of the team of volunteers. Pinchas ran the Good Deeds Day which involved renovating beyond recognition two of the most dilapidated apartments in the neighborhood.

We see this year’s win as recognition of the academic staff and its unique professional challenge, of the many difficulties, late hours, professional and sensitive complexities, and of course the fact that the students excelled (link in Hebrew) and put into practice the theoretical content of their studies in the best possible way.

Now is the time to join in with the college staff and congratulate the students on their hard work in difficult conditions. The sages teach us that the reward for performing a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself, and in this case, both the mitzvah and the reward for the students is the great experience gained from the work itself. We hope, as Natalie put it in an interview for the college newspaper, that indeed the project will influence the students’ choice of career path and that Natalie and Tair will continue in the field of social action and human rights for many years to come.

At the end of the coming month there will be an exhibition of the all the projects of the Human Services Department (one of the college’s largest). Each project designs a poster and two showrooms exhibit their work. A special row of posters is reserved for projects that were in the running for first place for Outstanding Project and among them the winners.

We will of course appear there as the flagship project of the third year.

Additionally we will be given the stage to show a video about the organization’s work in Beit She’an and Rabbi Kobi Weiss will say a few words. The students will receive scholarships and Kobi will receive a certificate of honor on behalf of the organization. We will of course publish a suitable article afterwards.

In conclusion we will note that this does not end the cooperation between the organization and the college. The Beit Midrash for Human Rights has been operating at the college for two years. Two students from the Beit Midrash do practical volunteer work in the project at Beit She’an.

One of them is himself an Amidar tenant whose family was identified and guided by us just last year. He experienced the activity from the other side of the project and met Kobi through a visit at his home. This year he is himself a volunteer, arranging home visits and even contributing to the empowerment group both as an Amidar tenant in neighborhood D and as part of the project team.

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