Community computers for kids

With long-distance learning becoming the norm, it is important that every child has a computer.

COMPUTERS: NO Jerusalem child left behind. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
COMPUTERS: NO Jerusalem child left behind.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR/FLASH90)
Many of us have had the frustrating experience of purchasing an electronic device, and despite assurances to the contrary by the salesperson, discovering when we get home, that the instructions are in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian – but not in English. Even people fluent in Hebrew generally count in their native language and prefer to read instruction manuals in the language most familiar to them.

Thus, a recent episode recounted by Jerusalem Foundation president Shai Doron will resonate with such readers. With long-distance learning becoming the norm, it is important that every child has a computer. This is one of many projects of the Jerusalem Foundation. Among the places where computers were being distributed was the Kiryat Menachem Community Center, which Doron decided to visit to watch the distribution close up. The beneficiaries were children of the Ethiopian community living in the neighborhood.

Doron counted 40 families who had come in response to the call, which to a large extent had been prompted by the knowledge that faulty computer infrastructure in some areas, coupled with large families in which there are many school-age children, makes learning via Zoom or other platforms very difficult when there is only one computer in the house. Even when there is only one child, these days, when there is no computer, there is no learning.

The 40 computers distributed that day had previously been used by commercial companies, repurposed and repaired by volunteers from Machshava Tova (Good Thought), which operates through the Community Innovation and Computing Workshop. Local youth who are computer savvy were also engaged in the project, which was good training for future community involvement.

Each family that came to the community center received a box with a refurbished computer, network card, learning software and interface with the schools through Zoom. In addition, the box had a mobile modem that allows network browsing even if there is no fixed network infrastructure in the home.

Inside the box there was another surprise, a user manual, basic and simple, written in Amharic – for the benefit of the excited parents who came with their children to get the computer, thus enabling them to familiarize themselves and assist their children where possible. The Amharic-language guide explains to each family and guides the children and their parents how to use the new computer, adding that “Zoom” is the same in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Amharic.

Notes Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who has been closely involved with the project and its funders, “Unfortunately in Jerusalem we still have many families for whom Wi-Fi is a luxury. I'm grateful for the generosity of the Mard Philanthropic Foundation and Genevieve Williams, Israel director of their project Every Child Online, who are ensuring that city children can do remote learning during these trying times and thereby have an equal opportunity to succeed.” ■ FOR READERS who may be unaware, Amutat HaMoshava is a nonprofit organization working to prevent a light rail route from running through Emek Refaim and changing the character of the neighborhood. A month ago, Amutat Refaim won a legal judgment in which the previous decision of the Regional Council to have the light rail run through Emek Refaim was annulled. The judge recommended a fresh and thorough examination by the local council, which is a subsidiary of the city council and the regional council.

The triumph of the Amuta was short-lived. In an email letter sent out just before Rosh Hashanah, amuta chairman Ariel Hirschfeld wrote that members of the amuta were surprised to learn that a city council meeting had been called to debate the matter. The meeting had been called with little notice and the amuta had not been invited, meaning that its opposition plan could not be presented.

The amuta subsequently filed two injunctions before the regional council. One demanded an invitation to the city council debate and the other, on behalf of Emek Refaim shopkeepers, demanding that Mayor Moshe Lion stick to his pledge to appoint an independent committee to study the entire issue prior to any discussion or decision affecting the future of Emek Refaim. Both requests were denied.

The meeting of the city council went ahead last week on September 16, without the participation of the amuta, and, in fewer than two hours, a decision was made to reinstate the light rail project.

The amuta is currently reviewing its legal, community and political options.

What appears to be terribly unfair in this drawn-out process is that most of the residents in Emek Refaim and the surrounding area bought their homes there, precisely because of the character of the German Colony. The planned light rail route is relatively short and not of any great benefit.

The installation of the light rail infrastructure will take considerable time and will ruin several of the Emek Refaim businesses because access to them will be difficult if not impossible. When tourism is restored, many tourists will give the Orient Hotel a miss, because they don’t want to wake up to construction noise, nor do they want to have difficulty in traversing the street.

Hardly anyone who sits on the Jerusalem City Council will be personally affected because with very few exceptions, they do not live in the area. Moreover, we have yet to see another Teddy Kollek serving as mayor for more than quarter of a century. None of his successors served for more than 10 years. The light rail controversy started with Nir Barkat – who is out of office, but who left much anxiety among German Colony residents.

Why should this be allowed in a democracy? Why not have a referendum among all the people that live on or near the route? Not everyone would be happy with the outcome, but at least it would be a lot fairer than what has happened to date.