Not rich or famous

Rachel Azaria has proved that you don't have to be a politician to gain the residents' confidence.

rachel azaria (photo credit: Courtesy)
rachel azaria
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rachel Azaria says she has always been engaged in the public sector. "I grew up in NGOs, I worked at the Knesset, I founded associations to serve society. But at one point, I thought it was time to become part of the decision-makers; and since Jerusalem was so important and so central for me, the way to its council seemed natural." Azaria has a BA in psychology and an MA in conflict study. She worked as a researcher at the center for information and research at the Knesset, then became a lobbyist for the environment NGO Green Course. At the end of the 1990s she created Mavoi Satum ("Dead End"), the first organization to represent women shackled to husbands who would not grant them a divorce. Two years ago, Azaria, 31, who is married with two young children, decided to get more involved in community issues and began to work as a coordinator for the local neighborhood administration of Ginot Ha'ir. "I worked there for just a few months, and then we were already into an election year. It was a very serious matter to discuss at home; but finally, together with my family's total support, I reached the conclusion that it was the right thing to do, and I launched the campaign with friends and other residents - and here I am," After she launched the party Jerusalemites, she joined forces with Wake Up Jerusalem (Hitorerut Yerushalayim), another group of residents that shared similar views and positions. Azaria and Ofer Berkovitch, leader of the Wake Up Jerusalem Party, obtained two seats on the city council with their combined list. In the process, they proved that you don't have to be a politician or a wealthy tycoon to convey a message to the residents and gain their confidence. Azaria and Berkovitch were quickly included in Barkat's coalition, and she was offered the portfolio of the community centers and local neighborhood administrations and toddlers' needs. In that capacity, Azaria is responsible for Tipot Halav (Well-Baby Clinics) and kindergartens, an issue that she says suits her beliefs and views very well. "Local neighborhood administrations represent exactly what we have always wished for - the direct democratic way, personal engagement in a civil society that focuses on citizen and resident involvement in their life and environment. It is very typical, and I know that the Anglos among Jerusalem's residents are the first to acknowledge what is concerned here," says Azaria, who was born in Israel to a father who came from Tunisia as a child and a mother who is from the US. "We are now about to launch elections in six neighborhood administrations (in two different periods, three each time), and I really wish the Anglos would set an example for all of us." Apart from that, Azaria says that she wants to find the best solutions and improvement for toddlers and kindergartens in the city, "since the needs of young families are at the center of what the mayor and I believe is the core of the strength of this city: young people, families that grow up here and attract more young families." Thus she feels that she is lucky to be dealing with precisely the issues that represent what she sees as the most urgent needs of the city she wants to serve. After a little more than three months on the job, Azaria says it's too early to get a comprehensive understanding of her mission and the environment in which she serves, but she adds that "One thing is sure: I have managed to grasp its complexity, and I know what the word 'politics' means here: First and foremost, you have to be present. Always, all the time, everywhere. And on top of that, I had to learn that here I am not a manager, I am someone who shows a way, who sets a policy, and I need to obtain full cooperation. I have learned that the system requires full collaboration on all levels, otherwise it just doesn't work." Azaria says she has obtained full support from Mayor Barkat. "I have found that if you come with a clear and matter-of-fact idea and program, you can count on his support." She adds that for the moment, she is mainly busy learning the system and getting to know the people at the municipality. "I am aware that there are a lot of nuances of interaction, of sensibility to each other, but I am determined to learn." Azaria adds that her being a religious woman - though very modern in her civic views - has raised some eyebrows, but she says she has the feeling that people around her are beginning to accept her as she wishes to be: a civil representative of a civil society.