Interview: By the people, for the people

Yossi Saidov, the first chairman of the recently formed South Jerusalem Community Council, says his first challenge is to increase cooperation with the municipality.

Yossi Saidov 521 (photo credit: Courtesy/Yossi Saidov)
Yossi Saidov 521
(photo credit: Courtesy/Yossi Saidov)
December 13 was cold and rainy – not ideal for a high turnout to the local neighborhood council elections. Yossi Saidov, a candidate for the South Jerusalem Community Council, was not optimistic. His four partners in the new “Young Leadership Group” had already left for their day jobs, but Saidov had to stay at “the Kangaroo,” the Mifal Hapayis kiosk on Bar-Yohai Street, to see how things developed. By 2 a.m. the verdict was in – the “Young” list had won all the first five council seats (out of the nine reserved for residents’ representatives). Saidov, still unable to grasp the meaning of the results, went home, woke his wife and told her the news.
“Only then did I finally understood that we won,” he recalls, adding that it took him another 24 hours to calm down and get some sleep.
Saidov and his friends had made local history.
“Our victory sends a simple but clear message,” says Saidov, “that civil society is the best option, and the only decent and realistic answer to our needs. We have the power... we have the capacity to decide what is good for us, and the best way to do it is through the local neighborhood council.”
The group’s decision to run together was part of a deliberate strategy.
They reasoned that if they ran separately and only one of them was elected, even with enough votes to gain the chairmanship of the board, that wouldn’t be enough to implement all the changes they wished to introduce. “It was all of us or nothing,” concludes Saidov, “hence we feel it’s such a huge success.”
South Jerusalem is a relatively new local council, and includes the Katamonim neighborhoods (two parts of which had until now been under the Gonenim Council) and Pat, along with the relatively well-established Rassco neighborhood.
The five winners are: Shai Barnett, born in Jerusalem in 1976, married and father of two, an IDF officer; Amit Treister, in his late 30s, father of three, director of the Social and Cultural Department at the Israel Students Authority; Hila E. Lipnick, who was born in Jerusalem, is the mother of two daughters, lived in Boston for four years as leader at a Jewish Community center and is currently operations manager at the Milken Institute at the Gonenim Community Center (which has been absorbed into the new South Jerusalem Council); and Gadi Auerbach, an engineer for IBM, married with three children, who focuses on education as a key for a prosperous community.
Saidov, the chairman, is 34 years old, married and father of two daughters.
A haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew in his youth, Saidov, who studied Talmud and literature at the Hebrew University and works as a political consultant, says he represents in his own life the goals he wishes to reach.
His wife is religious and he is not, he says, “Yet we have common goals here in the neighborhood – religious and secular, as young families with young children, who wish to remain in this city and live a in a warm and involved community.”
About 2,000 neighborhood residents participated in the elections( 13 percent, the minimum required by the rules), but Saidov says that “although that’s a low number, let’s not forget these were the first elections and it was a rainy day.”
One of the first aims of Saidov and his peers is to change the status quo vis-a-vis the municipality.
“The days when the municipality planned and ran projects and we, the residents, could at most react, are over. Our strategy is to initiate, to promote, to plan and to bring our ideas and will to the municipality in order to implement those plans together. That’s the first step, and I must say that so far, the response at Safra Square is more than encouraging.”
Saidov says he has already been invited to attend meetings at the municipality, and was positively surprised to see that he was invited to present his case “and not only as a polite but hollow gesture,” as he admits he had feared.
On the agenda of the Young Leadership Group are education and quality of life. Asked to give more precise details, Saidov speaks, with a lot of enthusiasm, about “community life, social values, pluralism” and explains that his group’s goals take into consideration the complexity of the neighborhoods.
“We have here the religious and the secular, young, highly educated families [many of them Anglos who came in recently, following the relatively low real estate prices] veterans, underprivileged families [in Katamonim Het-Tet] and older but well-to-do in Rassco – we have to give answers to various requests and needs.”
But education is among the top priorities for Saidov and his peers.
The state schools, which Saidov’s group believes should be given priority over private initiatives, top the list. Saidov also mentions the neighborhood’s public spaces, which, he says, are not used solely, or at least primarily, for the residents’ benefit. He points out that large structures installed in the neighborhood are not available for the residents’ use (like a soccer field and the Keshet school, which is highly regarded but doesn’t count local residents’ children among its pupils).
“We want to decide what is good for us, and not to continue to live with what people who do not live here have planned and decided for us – that’s the whole story,” concludes Saidov.
Asked how he and his friends plan to promote such a large plan in a neighborhood made of separate smaller neighborhoods, Saidov answers that this apparent weakness is in fact the biggest advantage.
“We are working on creating communities. Each community will have its own plans, programs, needs, and thus we will create here a new dialogue – a dialogue between communities that share common interests. After all, good education, good quality of life and wellplanned and maintained environment are things easy to share – we just need to listen to each other. That is an urgent need mostly among the secular residents, since [they have] no synagogues that can serve as community centers – so we need to develop a new dialogue and that’s exactly what we are busy doing right now.”