“Community organizing is revolutionary – it is the best thing to happen to Rehovot since I’ve been living here because it brings results – people now know to build power and know who to talk to when they have a problem. Organizing creates an unexpected connection between different communities – right-wing and left-wing, Ashkenazi, Ethiopian, religious, LGBT – and together we are working to create common cause and get the equality we deserve. For so long there was discrimination against Ethiopians; the municipality would use us to get money but there was no improvement in our lives. Now we know how to get what we need, like when we were able to extend the hours of day-care for 600 parents in poor neighborhoods that were paying more than parents in richer neighborhoods. There’s nothing like this connection of communities in any other group in Rehovot and I hope that we can help more people solve their problems and build more community here.” – Aragau Tesme, 41; Ethiopian-Israeli construction worker
Shaharit’s local community work is based on a faith that when people from widely different walks of life come together to really get to know one another, listen, and understand each others’ needs, that we will find that we share far more in common. Furthermore. we believe that if we can strengthen the ties between diverse groups of neighbors on the local level, we can create a thriving democratic culture that will strengthen Israel on a national level.
In order to do this, we have developed a uniquely Israeli version of relationship-based community organizing: centered on practices honed over decades of work by leading advocates and activsits in the United States (several of whom directly advise Shaharit on this project), but translated to the needs and realities of Israeli society. Many of the communities involved in our organizing work have traditionally lacked common forms of power, such as capital, elite social networks, community infrastructure, communications capacities, and more. For these communities, joint action (what we call organizing) between friends and neighbors sharing common living conditions, concerns and values, has been one of the only ways that everyday people can make positive change.
After years of work on the ground in dozens of cities around Israel, Shaharit placed community organizers in local movements in Ashdod, Tirat Carmel, Jerusalem, and Rehovot in July 2015. In less than three years, the organizers have met with literally thousands of local residents in one-on-one conversations to learn the issues and concerns that truly affect their daily lives. They have convened tens of working groups and held dozens of house meetings, mobilizing hundreds of local community leaders from the spectrum of Israeli society to create local change. Today, Shaharit estimates that there are over 500 engaged activists and leaders from a wide range of diversities present in each community directly engaged and involved in our organizing. From fledgling organizations, Shaharit has created, with its partner organizations, full-fledged citizens movements with a shared sense of purpose, and a toolbox that they believe in that can bring change. Shaharit is convinced that the tools of community organizing are a key to the breaking down of the divides between communities of “deep difference.” Human relationships, empathy, and working together create an antidote to sectarianism, suspicion and ideological purity. In addition to on the ground work in our four key municipalities, we work with a wider network of more than forty municipalities around Israel, ranging from the Mateh Yehuda Council in the Jerusalem hills, to the Bedouin city of Rahat, to the northern port city of Nahariya.