The politician next door

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum has joined the Yerushalmim list to strengthen the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, giving back to the communities that welcomed her as an immigrant.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Jerusalem, meet Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the No. 4 on the grassroots Yerushalmim party running for city council who made aliya from the intriguing British enclave of Gibraltar.
The party is running six candidates this election, after occupying only one seat on the last city council.
Nahoum describes the list as “amazing people with very rich backgrounds in serving the community, we hope to get as many seats as possible... to have more influence.
“If we did what we did with one... imagine what we can do with more seats,” Nahoum says.
For a group that describes itself as a “party of residents,” Nahoum – who will celebrate her 40th birthday on Rosh Hashana – comes off as the Jerusalemite next door, albeit with one heck of an impressive resumé.
Fluent in Spanish, English and Hebrew, Nahoum studied and practiced law in London before making a move into the nonprofit sector. After working in resource development for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, she developed the international relations department in Israel for the Tikva Children’s Home, a New York-based NGO that helps orphaned and impoverished Jewish children from the former Soviet Union.
Today, she helps organizations and individuals craft their messages as part of the consulting firm LS Message Experts.
When she was approached to join the party, adding politics to the list was no far stretch of the imagination; she comes from a distinguished bloodline.
Her family was exiled from Spain during the Inquisition, settling in the Balearic Islands on her father’s side and her mother’s family in Morocco. Her father, Joshua Hassan, was born in Gibraltar and in 1964 became the first chief minister, the term used to describe the prime minister of a colony. He had led the struggle for the colony’s first city council, of which he became mayor.
Hassan led the push for the citizens of Gibraltar to decide on their own self-determination. A referendum in 1967 resulted in an overwhelming majority of the population voting to remain British. Hassan played a major role in the drafting of the 1969 constitution, which protected the democratic rights of the citizens from coming under the rule of another nation without their consent.
Nahoum describes her father’s role in politics with nonchalance, a reflection of her modest upbringing that her family worked so hard to cultivate.
“He wanted to make sure we grew up like everyone else,” says Nahoum. “My father, in his core, believed in full equality of everybody, and never believed that his position made him special in any way.”
In her English lilt, Nahoum talks about what makes Jerusalem so special for her: that it’s the heart of the country, with thousands of years of history, but a modern city that is always evolving.
“It’s not a huge capital city,” she says. “You can walk down the street and you know people, the neighborhoods feel like neighborhoods.”
Nahoum moved to Jerusalem almost 13 years ago, when she made aliya. A mother of four and a proud resident of Baka, Nahoum says growing up with a very strong sense of community responsibility attracted her to the values of the Yerushalmim party.
Started by Rachel Azaria in 2008, the party has three main goals: education, strengthening neighborhoods and dealing with the issues of religious life. Nahoum says the overall philosophy is that people should expect a certain level of service from the municipality, and that everyone has the right to live in Jerusalem in a “good and decent way.”
One of the accomplishments of Azaria was the push for free preschools, which was adopted on a national level.
“The fact that my child is four years old and I don’t have to pay for a private gan [preschool], helps me every month,” Nahoum says. “I have seen the change myself and I have seen the benefits.”
In the last five years, the Yerushalmim party has built three new, “good schools,” she says, in the neighborhoods of Katamonim, Amital (Kiryat Hayovel) and East Talpiot. The areas are more affordable because of their distance from the city center, where most services are concentrated, but in the party’s push to build up neighborhoods, improving educational institutions is directly related.
“What we’re doing is taking affordable neighborhoods and making them attractive to young families,” Nahoum says. “You build a good school and people want to move to those neighborhoods.”
She is adamant about her belief in the strengthening of the neighborhoods, and that the bottom-up approach will have the greatest long-term effect on what Jerusalem will look like.
“I think a grassroots movement like this has a lot of value in Jerusalem,” she says, adding that investing in communal services, infrastructure and community events for residents will strengthen places that are affordable to live and make them more attractive for people to move to.
She explains that the fact that Yerushalmim isn’t aligned with any major political party and is a “list of residents,” gives it a unique understanding of the everyday problems facing Jerusalemites.
Much in the way the capital’s neighborhoods are “a mixed bag of people,” the party list fulfills this description. Azaria has been described as an Orthodox feminist, fighting for equality for women in the religious and public spheres. Her No. 2 on the list, Tamir Nir, is an architect and city planner and a Reform rabbinical student, and third is Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, a Nahlaot resident and social activist.
“Within the party, we all come from different beliefs and walks of life,” Nahoum says. “Our one aim is to ensure that the residents have a much better life in Jerusalem and a much better future.”
Nahoum says that everyone talks about Jerusalem becoming more haredi and that it’s a worry for residents, but the advantage of having party members from across the spectrum is a push for pluralism, to live together without pushing views on anyone else.
“There’s a place for everybody,” she says, stressing it is important for residents to realize that city council elections are an opportunity for them to really participate in the future of their city.
When she was asked to join the party, Nahoum immediately thought of her father. With all her experiences, how she was raised and her strong belief in community, she wanted to contribute her voice to the future look of Jerusalem.
“I thought to myself, you know, it’s time to stand up and be counted, and make his memory proud.”