Shai’s got the city of Jerusalem at heart

When Shai Doron is asked about the lessons he learned from Teddy Kollek, legendary mayor of Jerusalem, when he served as chief of staff during Kollek’s final term, he replies, without missing a beat: “I learned from Teddy Kollek that there is nothing more important in the world than Jerusalem. It is the centre of the world.”

Doron, who has headed the prestigious Jerusalem Foundation since August, 2018, is today attempting to apply Kollek’s aphorism in addressing the city’s pressing needs during the coronavirus crisis and planning for the city’s long-term future once the crisis ends.

The foundation, which was created in 1966 by Kollek, promotes development within the city and raises funds for social, cultural and beautification projects.

Since its founding, it has invested more than $1.5 billion in promoting economic growth, education, dialogue, arts, culture and heritage preservation within the city.

It is a private and independent organisation that works in co-ordination with Jerusalem’s mayor and the municipality. “We promote our agenda and master plan, but everything is done in co-ordination with the mayor and the city. We cannot succeed working alone,” says Doron.

The health crisis that has enveloped the world has caused the Jerusalem Foundation to change its focus for the immediate future.

Working with the professional team at the foundation in co-ordination with the Jerusalem Municipality, the foundation is currently helping to provide basic needs for sectors of the population that the municipality has difficulty reaching.

These programmes are largely targeted at the most vulnerable sectors of the population in all parts of the city.

The foundation is providing a great deal of assistance to the elderly, assisting housebound Holocaust survivors via its Cafe Europa programme, which provides food and emotional support to survivors, and also providing funding to the Misgav Lakashish association, which helps the elderly in the ultra-Orthodox section of the city.

It has also extended support to the Battered Women’s Shelter, which will enable the shelter to provide enriched content for children that will help them cope with the added stress of the current situation.

“The children are under a great deal of pressure,” explains Doron. “They do not go out in the morning or the afternoon to their regular programmes.¨

Other projects targeted at Jerusalem youth include the Ma’ayan School in Ein Kerem for children with severe physical challenges.

The Jerusalem Foundation has purchased touch computers, enabling the school to stay in contact with the children and their families, and is helping the Hut Hameshulash organisation for Youth at Risk — a special programme for youth at risk in the city centre who have no safe home base and support.

The foundation is also assisting mentally handicapped adults and their families, through the Shekel organisation, which provides a phone hotline for support and guidance in Hebrew and Arabic.

Coronavirus has affected all sectors of the population, and the Jerusalem Foundation has extended assistance to areas of east Jerusalem as well.

The foundation is providing assistance to the Attaa Centre, which works to enable the rights of area residents.

Doron explains that many Arab residents do not know how to fill out the proper forms necessary in order to receive unemployment benefits.

With the assistance of the foundation, the centre will be able to provide services to hundreds of people who need help in filling out national health insurance and employment service claim forms as well as dealing with health issues. In addition, the foundation is helping small business owners in Abu Tor and Silwan, many of whom are on the verge of starvation because they have lost their jobs.

Doron explains that many of these businesses operate without receipts and are not eligible for welfare benefits from the city. “With the assistance of Israeli donors, we are distributing food baskets in the area.”

The scope of this crisis, explains Doron, has changed not only the focus of donations, but also the nature of the organisation’s fund-raising activities.

“In the past,” notes Doron, “the Jerusalem Foundation worked with people who gave significant amounts of money. Now, in the next period of time, we need to work with a larger group of donors who may give smaller amounts. “Every dollar, euro and shekel is important.”

Despite the precarious economic situation, Doron is grateful for the support that the Jerusalem Foundation has received both from Israel and abroad.

The project for assisting the poor of Abu Tor and Silwan was organised by Israeli businessmen, and funding for the Cafe Europa project was provided by I Am a Jerusalemite.

“It is heartwarming to see how Jerusalem — even in this difficult situation — enables us to mobilise resources for the sake of the city,” says Doron.

He takes great pains to point out that the foundation is focusing on providing for the weakest and most vulnerable sectors of the population, in all sections of the city.

The coronavirus crisis will eventually come to an end. When that day comes, says Doron, “We have to set aside time for the day after to speak about Jerusalem for the long term”.

In preparation for that time, Doron and his team at the foundation are working on a strategic ‘Jerusalem 2030 and Beyond’ plan that involves three primary components — communal strength, creative culture, and leadership. Doron explains that the individual communities and cultures that make up the city’s mosaic need to be strengthened and nurtured.

As an example of communal culture, he cites the work done by the city’s district community centres, the majority of which were established by the Jerusalem Foundation.

“There is an amazing network of mutual community support. Volunteers distribute food baskets, and they have a pulse on what is happening in the areas.”

Another concrete example that Doron points to is the foundation’s “Springboard Plan” in which district community councils provide educational and community services.

He cites the areas of Kiryat Menahem and Gilo, where work has been done in this area. To further express the idea of communal strength, the foundation plans to raise money to build two community sports centres in east Jerusalem, with one in Beit Hanina and one in Sur Bahir.

“Over the years we have built sports centres in many communities, but there are none in east Jerusalem,” says Doron.

Jerusalem has a rich and varied culture, and the foundation, says Doron, wants it to be available for all groups.

Finally, the foundation wants to develop a cadre of young civic leaders from all sectors of Jerusalem who will live in the city and be committed to Jerusalem and its development.

The foundation is initiating a project for students who have received their doctorates in Jerusalem, and will place them in positions of leadership of civic and social projects.

Before assuming the presidency of the foundation, Doron, a fourth-generation Jerusalem resident, avid swimmer, and fan of the Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club, served as director-general of Jerusalem’s Tisch Family Biblical Zoo, which hosts more than half a million visitors each year.

During his tenure, he led the construction of the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium, the first aquarium in Israel, adjacent to the zoo.

Ultimately, says Doron, “We wanted visitors from all over the world, but the most important thing on the agenda was to be involved with the local community and create local community involvement with the zoo.”

To that end, the zoo provided animal-assisted therapy for children with special needs, and a ‘Zoo Mobile’ reached out to communities within the city.

Citing the second lesson that he learned from Teddy Kollek, Doron refers to the former mayor’s insistence that the city’s diversity is its greatest asset.

“Though some said that this very diversity was a drawback, we divided the word into two — using the phrase, a ‘diverse city’.

In Doron’s view, Jerusalem can be a model of how different communities can live together in an inspiring way.

His challenge as president of the Jerusalem Foundation will be to help maintain the city’s social fabric, in these challenging corona times and in the years ahead.

“I am a Jerusalemite,” says Doron. “There may be better fund-raisers, and those who speak English better than I, but I am a Jerusalemite, and I really care, and know the city.”

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