This is my first newsletter as the President of the Jerusalem Foundation, a position I started about two months ago. As the Director-General of the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens for 25 years, the zoo was my second home, yet I continue to work for Jerusalem. My role at the Jerusalem Foundation closes a circle as I now lead the Foundation established by Teddy Kollek, my teacher and “rabbi,” who appointed me to run his office during his last term as Jerusalem Mayor (when I was a much younger man with a full head of hair!!)
Through my ‘Stories from JLM’, I hope you gain insight into our work, a firsthand glimpse into my experiences in this colorful city. Those of you who are familiar with my stories from my time at the zoo, I hope that you will enjoy my stories of two-legged creatures just as much the four-legged ones, and those which live in the deep blue sea.
Our recent municipal election season can be characterized as different from those we experienced in the past. Last week, Jerusalem elected a new Mayor and while there will be continued analysis over the next few weeks, preliminary information gives us a fascinating look at the city and its residents. There is much to learn from this election season, for the city and for civil society, but for the Jerusalem Foundation, the election results brings both challenges and great opportunities. Precisely now, we can demonstrate our leadership in the city and we can serve as a resource for the incoming Mayor and his administration, while advancing the Foundation’s values of strengthening Jerusalem as a tolerant, pluralistic, enlightened and modern city.
“A Circle Closes and Opens”
Kasse Shami is a 17-year-old resident of Beit Safafa, and a 12th grader at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School for Bilingual Education and I have known him for several years. Kasse joined a group of Jewish and Arab youth volunteering at the zoo. But Kasse made the zoo his home and last summer, we became more closely acquainted. Kasse was chosen along with six other Jewish and Arab youth to represent the zoo’s volunteers in a youth exchange program in San Diego. For 15 years, Jerusalem youth, activists and volunteers at the zoo join Jews and non-Jews in San Diego for two weeks of activities mainly around the famous San Diego Zoo.
At a festive lunch at the San Diego Zoo in early August, dozens of supporters stopped by for an official farewell as I parted ways from the Jerusalem Zoo. But Kasse stole the show. His captivating personality, the simplicity of his words and his winning smile captured everyone.
Many of the program’s graduates have become leading professionals at the zoo, fully committed to nature conservation but more importantly, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, have enduring friendships.
Everything comes full circle. I recently attended the cornerstone laying for a new high school building at the Hand in Hand school. The Jerusalem Foundation enlisted support for the school from our friends in Germany and the UK for many years. I was surprised to see Kasse there. “You see,” he said to me, “we will never say good-bye. After my work at the zoo, we have come full circle with the cornerstone laying for a high school, even though I don’t understand why such a routine event is cause for such celebration.”
As one circle closed, another one opened. In a peaceful city, building a Jewish-Arab high school should not be an extraordinary festivity, but rather a routine one. Kasse on the one hand, and the school on the other, should stand as an example of what we can do in this fascinating and complicated city.
“A Human Treasure”
Two weeks ago, we held an international conference here in Jerusalem. Dozens of donors from around the world came to see our projects and to discuss our agenda. This was the perfect opportunity to hold a short ceremony, one that could have been a dry and boring event – distribution of interest free loans to Jerusalem entrepreneurs, thanks to the support of the Dan David Foundation. Yet it turned out to be one of the most fun, inspiring and hopeful experiences of the conference.
The “hot topic” today is economic development, the opportunity for philanthropic partnership, and collaboration with the business, public and private sectors. The Jerusalem Foundation, together with the Jerusalem Business Development Corp (MATI), knew how to implement an idea that could indeed bring about a practical change in the city. Economic development should offer a comprehensive response to municipal needs, including job opportunities for those who want to live and work in the city. Six entrepreneurs were chosen by a joint committee of judges with representatives of the Foundation, MATI and the Dan David Foundation. Each one are new initiatives led by young people with a vision. Each one received a loan of NIS 300,000 to advance their initiative and spread their wings. Another initiative was also lucky enough to receive an additional Jerusalem Foundation prize of NIS 25,000.
My interest was drawn to Omri Rotem and Adi Catarivas who are establishing a hostel for tourists and young visitors on a budget. They are building their hostel on the site of the old Bank of Israel building in the city center. They are “cool” entrepreneurs, youngsters with a wonderful imagination, self deprecating humor and their two feet firmly on the ground. One of them, Adi, is a graduate of the School of Visual Theater, supported by the Foundation. Adi and Omri want to transform the building’s basement – where the Bank of Israel vaults and state treasures once lay- into a place for young Jerusalem artists, graduates of art schools, a place to listen to music, watch movies and more – often projects supported by the Jerusalem Foundation. These will be the new “treasures” of the city – not the Bank of Israel’s vaults, but the young and contemporary treasures of Jerusalem’s youth.
“Almost Like Scoring a Goal”
Many of you have known me for years and you also know that I support Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Team. In recent years, a unique Jerusalem initiative known as Hapoel Katamon, has become a model of social responsibility though soccer. I won’t bore you with stories about soccer, because it wasn’t the sport that attracted the Jerusalem Foundation’s support. Instead, it was the “Neighborhood League,” the girls’ group, the “combined team” of mentally challenged athletes together with club members.
We know how to identify and support such wonderful projects.
But our uniqueness is not only in direct support, but also creating connections, like our Jerusalem2 co-venture with Made in JLM, which will operate right here, from the Foundation’s offices. The space will be a hub for community leaders looking to get an idea off the ground. One of those ideas is Made in JLM’s very own Society Labs project – a commitment by Made in JLM to offer technological training and solutions to non-profits who can hardly afford it. Made in JLM held a meetup in our offices, attended by a large range of nonprofits that were looking to learn about digital marketing through Google ads. But it was also an opportunity for us to meet with one another, learn about each others’ initiatives and look for new partnerships.
Around the table, Hapoel Katamon’s “red shirts” gathered alongside many social organizations from the city. That evening, as I looked at the young faces around the table from all walks of life, and committed to Jerusalem’s future, I was filled with excitement as if my team had scored a goal!