Pushing for a better tomorrow in 8,000-year-old Lod

Lod is constantly on the verge of economic collapse, and needs the cooperation of all the stakeholders to succeed.

Lod311 (photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
(photo credit: RON FRIEDMAN)
Lod nowadays is known more for its rampant drug trade than its ancient history, but with the aid of organizations like the Lod Community Foundation and its partners, there is hope that the city can pull itself out of its current rut and realize its immense potential.
On Thursday, the Lod Foundation held an event to help showcase the city’s promise and raise support for the various initiatives taking place there.
“For us it is obvious that only a full partnership with the municipality, the local community leaders, the Israeli government, foundations from Israel and abroad, business people and professionals, we will manage to bring about a real change to the city,” said Ruth Wasserman Lande, who, together with her husband Aviv, founded the foundation in 2008.
Attending the event were members of the foreign diplomatic corps, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, the appointed Lod Mayor Ilan Harari, heads of foundations and local community leaders.
The aim of the event, which started with a guided tour of the city and concluded with a fair featuring the various groups active in improving the city, was to present the guests with the challenges the city faces, namely: poverty, crime, illegal building and insufficient public institutions and involvement – and the ways in which different people were confronting these challenges.
“The city can rise. Everyone who presented here today is actively working to change the reality,” said Wasserman Lande. “The problem is that they are constantly on the verge of economic collapse, they are not self-sustainable. Without the cooperation of all the stakeholders, I’m afraid things will not end well.”
In his keynote address, Braverman pledged his commitment and future assistance, but urged the participants not to wait for the government to act. “If you wait for the government you will wait a long time. If you take the initiative you will carry the government on your shoulders,” he said.
Braverman also spoke about the importance of conserving the ancient cities of Israel, calling them “the most beautiful places in the country.” Braverman expressed regret that Lod had not sufficiently guarded its 8,000-year-old heritage and urged the residents to embrace their past.
Dr. Edward Retig, director of the American Jewish Committee, the organization that funded the event, said that Lod highlights all that is beautiful and challenging about the country and urged the participants to look closely at what was being done there.
The fair that followed the tour showcased roughly 20 organizations, mostly local, that are working to better the city. Among the presenters were bicultural youth movements, volunteer aid organizations, immigrant entrepreneurs, educational start-ups, sports initiatives and preservation societies.
Yes We Can is an English teaching project, aimed at reaching every child and adult in the city who wants to improve his or her English. With 23 volunteer English teachers, the organization reaches dozens of people across the spectrum of the population out of a desire to help them open doors to better education and employment.
“Our teachers don’t only teach English, they also provide a warm environment and a personal touch to children who often lack one-on-one attention. Our volunteers tell of a great feeling of personal fulfillment that they get out of their work and there is certainly an element of mentorship that goes along with the teaching,” said Yes We Can coordinator Ofra Savaldi.
Empowerment is also a main goal of Machshava Tova, an organization that opened a computer learning center in the city in January 2009. Since then, Machshava Tova has taught various computer courses to more than 800 people, both children and adults, to help them acquire the computer skills necessary for life in the 21st century. The organization also provides job placement assistance for graduates.
One of the major initiatives presented at the fair was a plan to renovate the ancient Lod city center. The plan, proposed by Dr. Alon Shavit from the Israeli Institute of Archeology, seeks to turn the currently abandoned and decaying ruins, which hundreds of years ago housed pre-industrial workshops and public houses, into an active tourism and educational center.
We want to see the old structures treated as they should be and givethe residents of Lod something to be proud of,” said Shavit’sassistant, Boaz Gross.
“When I first started working here, ancient buildings were used as drugdens and were full of needles and syringes. We want the community toreclaim the historic sites and turn it into a cultural and historicallandmark,” Gross said.
“Lod is the longest continually inhabited city in the Middle East,”said Wasserman Lande. “It was once a major center on the route fromDamascus to Cairo.
“Today it is a five-minute drive from Ben-Gurion International Airport,15 minutes from Tel Aviv and 30 minutes from Jerusalem. There is noreason why it shouldn’t flourish again,” she said.