Shatil at work
By Tamar Friedman
A woman stood up, interrupting the government official who was speaking, and turned to address the members of Knesset present at the committee meeting. She had cancer, she explained in Hebrew. She was a single mother who was struggling and wasn’t eligible for public housing because she only has two kids. Her voice rose as she spoke and she was on the verge of tears as she asked what the government expected her to do – to have a third child just to qualify for public housing?
I was sitting in the room of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs in the Knesset as I listened to this woman’s story. Earlier that morning I walked from my apartment to the Knesset and wandered around the bustling building looking for the committee room. Shatil had helped to organize a day-long conference in the Knesset on the topic of public and affordable housing and, never having witnessed a committee of the Israeli government in action, I had little idea what to expect.
The room had a long, oval table around which many people were already sitting when I arrived. I took a seat along the wall, behind a section of the table with paper signs designating the seats for members of Knesset. Only a few minutes after, a Shatil community organizer opened the door and ushered in at least a dozen elderly Ethiopian-Israelis who had come to attend the day’s events and to directly address members of the government.
After the session I sat down with the community organizer who works closely with Shatil and with the Forum for Public Housing that Shatil coordinates and helped form. He explained to me that the Forum has been working to create grassroots participation in reforming the government’s current policies on public housing. While we spoke, his phone buzzed multiple times as members of affected communities arrived in the Knesset and texted or called for help with getting in and finding the appropriate committee rooms.
All day the sessions were packed with members of different nonprofit organizations, community members, and members of Knesset, with Danny Gigi, a Shatil advocacy consultant for issues relating to housing and poverty, running around to speak with everyone and periodically checking in to see how my experience was going.
Only two weeks before, I had been in the midst of my own apartment search in Jerusalem—a lonely and frustrating project. The foreign terms and cultural gaps of negotiating with landlords and trying to decipher leases had seemed insurmountable. I had so wanted advice – an explanation, perhaps, by someone who understood where I was coming from about how the process is different here than in the U.S. and how I could better navigate it on my own. Sitting in the Knesset sessions, my own trivial difficulties in finding housing made the struggle of those who need public housing all the more poignant.
Throughout the day I listened to ordinary Israeli citizens stand up and tell members of Knesset the heartbreaking stories of their efforts to receive public housing. I watched representatives from various organizations berate government officials for ignoring the needs of those they represent. I observed how Shatil uses advocacy not just as a means towards an end, but as a tool to unite organizations and individuals working towards the same goal and to increase their capacity to successfully reach that goal.
As I conclude my internship at Shatil this week, I am struck, both in my personal experiences and as an observer, at the staff’s focus on providing tools to those they work with – not Band-Aid solutions or swooping outsider expertise that leaves recipients stagnant – but real, useful, reusable tools and strategies.
I observed this as I worked with staff in the Development Department to write letters of interest and grant proposals. The proposals are full of plans for training sessions, the sharing of practical guides and resources, consulting for advocacy and media campaigns, etc. The focus is on increasing the ability of Shatil’s partners to do both what they are already doing and what they should or want to be doing in a more effective way.
I feel confident in this model because it is the same model I have been the beneficiary of within Shatil. From the first day I arrived, I was given real responsibility, excellent feedback, and tools to improve the quality of my work. I am thankful to all those who have guided me throughout this process!
Tamar interned at Shatil in Fall 2015