A sense of community

The ICCC on Rehov Emek Refaim offers a range of activities for all ages and interests.

While many Jerusalemites know the grounds of the ICCC (formerly the ICCY) as the colorful venue at Rehov Emek Refaim 12 where the farmers' market and craft fair takes place every Friday, they may be less familiar with the wide range of other activities and services offered by the International Cultural and Community Center. For one thing, the ICCC is the newly renovated community center for the Ginot Ha'ir area. Serving 50,000 residents, Ginot Ha'ir is comprised of the German Colony, the Greek Colony, Katamon, Talbieh, Rehavia, Nayot, Yemin Moshe and Mahaneh Yisrael, the area the area between Keren Hayesod, Agron and King David streets. "Since his election, Mayor Nir Barkat has been very keen to give more representation to the community centers so that residents can feel that they are an integral part of what is going on in their community and have a stake hold in where they live," says Fiona Kanter, the ICCC's new director of community and resource development, PR and Anglo community liaison. To that end, residents are encouraged to attend the community council meetings, which take place every three months. At the ICCC meetings, after a general presentation, participants split up into groups to discuss such topics as urban and community issues, Jewish pluralism, culture and leisure activities. "We want to mobilize the residents to have them care about the city, to create a network of people who feel connected and want to be active in what goes on," says Kanter. That could include anything from community gardening, rain harvesting and garbage recycling to becoming involved in creating more bicycle paths and preserving landmark buildings. "We want to have an oasis of communication in the hub of Emek Refaim and expand the environment of dialogue with the residents. We want to inspire a community of passionate individuals," says Kanter. And there is a wide choice of things to be passionate about. From children to seniors, there are programs to suit all ages and interests. For example, there is a National Service program for seniors, as well as inter-generational community gardening, theater programs, computer classes for those over 60 and beit midrash programs, with many new ideas planned for the coming year. And Café Europa in Rehavia provides survivors of the Shoah an opportunity to meet once a week for coffee and cake in a relaxed atmosphere of good company and good music. For the 25-40 set, the ICCC will focus on creating events where new and not-so-new immigrants can meet and mingle with their more established peer group. The Time Bank is a program that uses the barter system to render services to ostensibly anyone who needs anything. Established in 2002, the Time Bank matches up service donors with those who require services, creating a well-balanced system of give and take. In a more professional vein, the Business Forum brings restaurateurs and small business owners together. Established in 2006, the forum enables entrepreneurs to share ideas and find solutions that are relevant to their needs. For a real hands-on experience, the Community Gardens program is designed for people of all ages who want to use their skills to dig in and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Creating pockets of plants and produce within an urban setting, the project is a boon to sustainability, the environment and the economy. Thus far there are six such gardens in the Ginot Ha'ir community: there is one on Rehov Bruria; one on Rehov Brodie; one at the Museum of Natural History; one in the forest area beyond the Jerusalem Theater; one opposite the Hartman Institute; and one behind the US Consulate. As for a religious experience, the ICCC houses the increasingly popular Shira Hadasha Synagogue. Founded by Tova Hartman, it offers an Orthodox Egalitarian minyan. The ICCC Shades program for Jewish Renewal regularly organizes Kabbalot Shabbat and, on Shabbat afternoon, Shabbat Shira family events, together with a seuda shlishit (third meal). On a musical note, the ICCC is also the address for the Singing Communities program. A national organization, there are 12 such groups in the country. Every Tuesday night, participants meet to sing piyutim - i.e., songs based on Jewish sources. In addition, local musicians have the opportunity to add their own compositions to the repertoire. Open to all, "there is a wonderful mix of men and women, young and old, religious and secular, who sit together and sing," says Kanter. There is also a choir that meets once every three weeks and performs at public events and conferences. It was established in 2002 "to reach out to the community and add to the voice of Israeli culture," says Kanter. The ICCC would also like to establish a school to train teachers in the art of the piyut. "It is so relevant to the Jewish cultural experience," she adds. For those who would like to join in the singing, there's time to get into voice, as the meetings are suspended for the summer and will resume in the fall after the High Holy Days. When it comes to the younger set, the ICCC is eager to get them involved in local activities at as early an age as possible. There are after-kindergarten programs for tots, as well as volunteer programs and workshops for elementary and high-school students on such themes as the environment, urban sustainability and social involvement. The Maratani program offers matriculation tutoring to teenagers in Jerusalem and beyond, provided by a group of teachers who give their services free of charge. In return, the students volunteer once a week at a place of their own choosing. According to Kanter, there are 10,000 children from age 13 to 18 in the Ginot Ha'ir community, as well as kids from peripheral areas. "At present, hundreds of children participate in our programs and workshops. Ideally, we would like to get many more kids involved, especially in the Chain of Giving volunteer programs," she says. There are also a great number of workshops, cultural events and sporting activities that take place at Liberty Bell Park, such as concerts and roller hockey. In fact, says Kanter, 90 percent of the events at Liberty Bell Park are organized by the ICCC. Not working in a vacuum to get all this accomplished, the energetic and innovative ICCC team, headed by Shaike El-Ami, is supported by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry, as well as such organizations as the Jerusalem Foundation, the Organizing Council for Volunteering in Jerusalem and AMEN (Youth Volunteering City).