I am a Jerusalemite

Jerusalem Foundation president Shai Doron is attempting to plan for the city’s long-term future once the crisis ends.

Jerusalem Foundation President Shai Doron (photo credit: JERUSALEM FOUNDATION)
Jerusalem Foundation President Shai Doron

When Shai Doron, president of the Jerusalem Foundation, is asked about the lessons he learned from Teddy Kollek, legendary mayor of Jerusalem, when he served as chief of staff during Kollek’s final term, he replies, without missing a beat, “I learned from Teddy Kollek that there is nothing more important in the world than Jerusalem. It is the center of the world.”

Doron, who has headed the prestigious Jerusalem Foundation since August 2018, is today attempting to apply Kollek’s aphorism in addressing the city’s pressing needs during the corona crisis and planning for the city’s long-term future once the crisis ends. 

The foundation, which was created in 1966 by Kollek, promotes development within the city and raises funds for social, cultural and beautification projects. Since its founding, it has invested more than $1.5 billion in promoting economic growth, education, dialogue, arts, culture and heritage preservation within the city. It is a private and independent organization that works in coordination with Jerusalem’s mayor and the municipality.

“We promote our agenda and master plan, but everything is done in coordination with the mayor and the city. We cannot succeed working alone,” says Doron.

The health crisis that has enveloped the world has caused the Jerusalem Foundation to change its focus for the immediate future. Working with the professional team at the foundation in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality, the foundation is currently helping to provide basic needs for sectors of the population that the municipality has difficulty reaching. These programs are largely targeted at the most vulnerable sectors of the population in all parts of the city. The foundation is providing a great deal of assistance to the elderly, assisting homebound Holocaust survivors via its Café Europa program, which provides food and emotional support to survivors, and also providing funding to the Misgav Lakashish association, which helps the elderly in the ultra-Orthodox section of the city. 

It has also extended support to the Battered Women’s Shelter, which will enable the shelter to provide enriched content for children that will help them cope with the added stress of the current situation.

“The children are under a great deal of pressure,” explains Doron. “They do not go out in the morning or the afternoon to their regular programs.”

Other projects targeted at Jerusalem youth include the Ma’ayan School in Ein Kerem for children with severe physical challenges. The Jerusalem Foundation has purchased touch computers, enabling the school to stay in contact with the children and their families, and is helping the Hut Hameshulash organization for Youth at Risk – a special program for youth at risk in the city center who have no safe home base and support. The foundation is also assisting mentally handicapped adults and their families, through the Shekel organization, which provides a phone hotline for support and guidance in Hebrew and Arabic. 

The coronavirus has affected all sectors of the population, and the Jerusalem Foundation has extended assistance to areas of east Jerusalem as well. The foundation is providing assistance to the Attaa Center, which works to enable the rights of area residents.

Doron explains that many Arab residents do not know how to fill out the proper forms necessary in order to receive unemployment benefits. With the assistance of the foundation, the center will be able to provide services to hundreds of people who need help in filling out national health insurance and employment service claim forms as well as dealing with health issues.

In addition, the foundation is helping small business owners in Abu Tor and Silwan, many of whom are on the verge of starvation because they have lost their jobs.

Doron explains that many of these businesses operate without receipts and are not eligible for welfare benefits from the city. “With the assistance of Israeli donors, we are distributing food baskets in the neighborhood.”

The scope of this crisis, explains Doron, has changed not only the focus of donations, but also the nature of the organization’s fund-raising activities.

“In the past,” notes Doron, “the Jerusalem Foundation worked with people who gave significant amounts of money. Now, in the next period of time, we need to work with a larger group of donors who may give smaller amounts. Every dollar, euro and shekel is important.”

Despite the precarious economic situation, Doron is grateful for the support that the Jerusalem Foundation has received both from Israel and abroad. The project for assisting the poor of Abu Tor and Silwan was organized by Israeli businessmen, and funding for the Café Europa project was provided by generous Christian donors from Holland.

“It is heartwarming to see how Jerusalem – even in this difficult situation – enables us to mobilize resources for the sake of the city,” says Doron.

He takes great pains to point out that the foundation is focusing on providing for the weakest and most vulnerable sectors of the population, in all sections of the city. 

THE CORONAVIRUS crisis will eventually come to an end. When that day comes, says Doron, “We have to set aside time for the day after – to speak about Jerusalem for the long term.”

In preparation for that time, Doron and his team at the foundation are working on a strategic “Jerusalem 2030 and Beyond” plan that involves three primary components – communal strength, creative culture, and leadership. 

Doron explains that the individual communities and cultures that make up the city’s mosaic need to be strengthened and nurtured. “We will do it with community work, social work and education, placing an emphasis on weaker communities, with a strong emphasis on living side by side, narrowing gaps, and giving opportunities to all.”

As an example of communal culture, he cites the work done by the city’s neighborhood community centers, the majority of which were established by the Jerusalem Foundation. “There is an amazing network of mutual community support. Volunteers distribute food baskets, and they have a pulse on what is happening in the neighborhoods.”

Another concrete example that Doron points to is the foundation’s “Springboard Plan,” in which neighborhood community councils provide educational and community services. He cites the neighborhoods of Kiryat Menahem and Gilo, where work has been done in this area.

To further express the idea of communal strength, the foundation plans on raising money to build two community sports centers in east Jerusalem, with one in Beit Hanina and one in Sur Bahir.

“Over the years we have built sports centers in many communities like Gilo, Neveh Ya’acov and East Talpiot, but there are none in east Jerusalem,” says Doron.

Jerusalem has a rich and varied culture, and the foundation, says Doron, wants it to be available for all groups. The creative culture that is part of the city, he suggests, can be used for economic development of the city as well. 

To increase the city’s landscape of cultural creativity, the foundation is planning a long-term project that will turn the area of the Sultan’s Pool into an open park that will be open to both the eastern and western sectors of the city, year-round. 

Finally, the foundation wants to develop a cadre of young civic leaders from all sectors of Jerusalem who will live in the city and be committed to Jerusalem and its development. The foundation is initiating a project for students who have received their doctorate degrees in Jerusalem, and will place them in positions of leadership of civic and social projects, thus eventually building up a group of responsible civic leaders that can provide guidance for decades to come. 

Before assuming the presidency of the roundation, Doron, a fourth-generation Jerusalem resident, avid swimmer, and a rabid fan of the Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club, served as director-general of Jerusalem’s Tisch Family Biblical Zoo, which hosts more than half a million visitors each year. During his tenure, he led the construction of the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium, the first aquarium in Israel, adjacent to the zoo.

Ultimately, says Doron, “We wanted visitors from all over the world, but the most important thing on the agenda was to be involved with the local community and create local community involvement with the zoo. To that end, the zoo provided animal-assisted therapy for children with special needs, and a “Zoo Mobile” reached out to communities within the city. 

Citing the second lesson that he learned from Teddy Kollek, Doron refers to Kollek’s insistence that the city’s diversity is its greatest asset. “Though some said that this very diversity was a drawback, we divided the word into two – using the phrase, a ‘diverse city.’

In Doron’s view, Jerusalem can be a model of how different communities can live together in an inspiring way. His challenge as president of the Jerusalem Foundation will be to help maintain the city’s social fabric, in these challenging corona times and in the years ahead. 

“I am a Jerusalemite,” says Doron. “There may be better fund-raisers, and those that speak English better than I, but I am a Jerusalemite, and I really care, and know the city.”