Shatil Stories 2014

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Dr. Rachel Shapiro – a widening influence

Rachel Shapiro for websiteDespite arriving from the Former Soviet Union with a doctorate in education, Rachel struggled to find her niche in Israel. Twenty-four years later, she chairs a prize-winning nonprofit and was recently elected to the Lod city council.

Seeing the unmet needs of many immigrant families, Rachel, together with a group of friends, established Educational Bridge, a nonprofit to help immigrant parents navigate the education system. Having participated in a Shatil training for volunteers, Rachel knew where to turn for help. “Shatil taught me how to run an organization; what the laws were; how to work with staff and volunteers – in short, everything I needed to know,” says Rachel.

Years later, as part of Shatil’s Back from the Edge project to strengthen immigrant youth-at-risk, Educational Bridge helped pupils from the FSU to succeed in school and developed a diversity seminar that it took to many towns, including the Arab city of Um El Fahm.

In 2013, Rachel learned to promote democracy and social justice issues in a Shatil training for activists in the municipal arena. Today, she is also part of Shatil’s new Russian-Speaking Experts Bank, which brings new professional Russian voices and expertise to both the Russian and Hebrew media.

“Whenever I speak in any forum,” she says, “I always thank Shatil. Shatil has been with me every step of the way.”

Yasmine Alatawna – at the cusp of change

Yasmin for websiteOne of nine children born to parents who did not complete elementary school, Yasmine is part of a new wave of Bedouin women proudly obtaining graduate degrees and working to upgrade the status of women in Negev Bedouin society.

With her diploma in mediation and her upcoming M.A. in conflict resolution, Yamine looks forward to becoming the first certified Bedouin woman mediator. She intends to use her skills to help resolve critical issues such as so-called honor killings, which she says are based on tribal tradition rather than religious teachings.

In addition to many other volunteer and professional activities, Yasmine participated in Shatil’s Alternative Bedouin Leadership Group and in its pioneering Bedouin Women’s Spokespersons’ course. As a member of its steering committee, she helped Shatil establish the local Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) Alumni Network, which encourages civic activism. She is currently interning in Shatil’s Local Sustainable Economic Development project, working to encourage local procurement in her hometown of Hura. And she just gave birth to her first child.

“Shatil opened my eyes and my mind,” says Yasmine. “It gave me the opportunity as well as the confidence to be involved with other people in important struggles. Shatil aims to create change and it supports the Bedouin community on important issues. I want to say a special thank you to all who are working hard to achieve these goals.”

Chalachew Tamerat Yosef Goshu – making history

Chalachew for website1Chalachew made history when he became the first Ethiopian-Israeli elected to the Netanya City Council. Chalachew means patience, and the 49-year-old father of four says his name has guided him during difficult times — of which he’s had plenty. He almost died of thirst at the age of 18 on the trek from Ethiopia to Sudan during Operation Moses and spent seven lonely years in Israel before his family joined him.

“The integration into Israeli society is not what we’d hoped for,” says Chalachew, pointing to the Ethiopian community’s high unemployment and poverty rates, the loss of authority of immigrant parents and a younger generation that is often alienated. As a mediator in a Netanya high school, Chalachew helped improve communication and understanding among parents, teachers and pupils. He decided to run for city council so he could expand his influence to the city as a whole. He aims to bridge the immigrant and veteran communities, to encourage independence in the Ethiopian community and to instill in its youth a sense of rootedness and love of country.

At a Shatil seminar for Ethiopian-Israelis, Chalachew learned about the process of local government decision-making, the operation of an effective campaign and the use of new media.  “Shatil’s work, “says Chalachew, “is important and welcome.”

Shimi Sharon – transforming a city

Shimi for websiteShimi Sharon says Shatil changed not only his life, but his city as well. Rishon LeZion is Israel’s fourth largest city with a population of 240,000. Shimi wanted Rishon to become more pluralistic, to influence policy and to raise residents’ awareness about the rights and needs of the city’s LGBT community. Shatil’s pre-election leadership course for social change in the local authorities was “one of the most powerful experiences of my life,” says Shimi. After completing the course, Shimi decided to run for city council.

Although he did not win, Shimi made history by becoming the first openly gay candidate in the city’s history and by bringing LGBT issues to the fore. “The public discourse is now full of talk of tolerance and pluralism – just what I wanted,” he says. “People are waking up to the existence and needs and rights of the LGBT community. All the other candidates wanted to be seen as LGBT-friendly — which has become the measure of an enlightened person or policy.”

Shimi says he will continue to work with elected officials to promote the platform on which he ran – and which other candidates adopted. “If not for Shatil, none of this change in my city would be happening,” says Shimi. “How lucky that I found Shatil!”

Oscar Olivier – building bridges

Oscar for websiteThe words “refugees” and “South Tel Aviv” bring to mind poverty, racism and violence. But Congolese asylum-seeker Oscar Olivier, together with African and veteran Israeli neighborhood residents, is changing that reality. With the help of Achoti, the African Refugee Development Center, NIF and Shatil, they formed Power to the Community, a mixed group that aims to tackle neighborhood problems together.

“We did a wonderful training with Shatil, in which we identified our common interests,” says Oscar, 46, who speaks fluent Hebrew and is the father of a 10-year-old sabra. “We started with security. People are afraid to going out.” The group organizes joint neighborhood patrols and advocates for greater police presence, better lighting and an end to what they see as the municipality’s neglect of the neighborhood. With the proceeds of a community market, the group helps residents in dire need, such as an Israeli woman who was evicted from her home.

“When we started, Israelis called Africans infiltrators. Today you have Israelis who call Africans by their names,” says Oscar.

Oscar reached activists from around the country with his message of dialogue and cooperation at Shatil’s Strategies for Combating Racism Conference, and became a spokesperson for the tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets in early 2014 to ask the government to respect its international commitments to refugees.

Bosmat Nakash – a simple but profound change

Bosmat for websiteDespite a thalidomide-induced physical disability, Bosmat Nakash earned a BA in Middle East and African Studies from Tel Aviv University and climbed the ladder at the Bezeq telephone company from clerk to unit head before retiring. As part of “chapter two” in her life, Bosmat signed up for the Shatil-David Yellin College of Education course, Social Change in the Area of Disabilities. The course brings together people with disabilities and special education students to learn and to work together for the rights and welfare of people with special needs. “The course was something out of the ordinary. It touched me personally in many ways,” she says.

As a result of the course, Bosmat was hired to co-facilitate a similar course at Sapir College in Sderot and is proud that five course graduates are working on a documentary project aimed at getting employers to see an individual job applicant beyond his or her disability.

“Changing society’s perception of the disabled person is so important,” says Bosmat. “Accessibility is not just about ramps. It’s accessibility to life.”

Perhaps most important, Bosmat’s relationship to her own disability changed. A disabled speaker at the David Yellin course helped her realize that she had been in denial about her disability. “The course taught me to accept myself as I am,” she says. “It’s a simple but profound change.”