School's out

Jerusalem may lose one of its unique institutions.

zippori pool  (photo credit: Courtesy)
zippori pool
(photo credit: Courtesy)
he Haim Zippori Center for Community Education, located in the Jerusalem Forest, may be forced to close its doors and fire its staff within the next few months due to financial difficulties stemming from cessation of earmarked funding from the Education Ministry. Zippori, which serves as a study and research center, as well as a meeting place, for professionals and lay leaders involved in community education and social management in Israel, is an independent body under the authority and management of the National Association of Community Centers (NACC). It was founded in 1993 at the joint initiative of the NACC, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Education Ministry, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Zippori Fund, and named after Haim Zippori, the founder and first director of the NACC from 1969-1984. The center offers a number of long- and short-term programs unavailable elsewhere in Israel. These include its National School for Public Directorate Leadership, which trains chairs and board members of non-profits and public companies; its Participatory Democracy Unit, which promotes citizen involvement in the policy-making process through public committees and forums; Leisure-Time Studies, which trains community center leaders and educators; professional training courses for those in local government and public agencies; research and publications; and tailor-made courses or programs for various public or non-profit groups or bodies. Moreover, it serves as the training and R&D arm of the NACC, developing both personnel and programs. The center's magnificent campus, located in the Jerusalem Forest, which includes offices, halls and classrooms, as well as a pool, a guesthouse and sports courts, belongs to the municipality. The center occupies it through an arrangement with the city. Over the past 13 years, the center has invested some NIS 40 million in its physical development. If Zippori is forced to close, the campus's future is unclear, with fears being voiced about possible commercial development or encroachment on the forest. Until 2004, the center received funding from the Education Ministry. It further received some NIS 4 million annually in earmarked funding funneled through the NACC. This amounted to more than 50% of Zippori's budget. The rest of its funding came from the NACC. In 2004, according to Vered Yerushalmi, spokesperson for the NACC, the Education Ministry cut the NACC's funding by 50%, from NIS 160 million a year to NIS 80 million. In addition, it eliminated earmarked funding for the Zippori Center. "This caused a lot of problems," Yerushalmi explains. "At the same time that the NACC's funding was cut, it also had to take on Zippori. Yes, the center does a lot of very beautiful things. But Zippori is not the NACC's main mission. We need to take care of the community centers in Israel and fund them and their programs. That is our first priority. "Suddenly, we found ourselves having to invest millions in Zippori that we did not have." Adding to the problem was the center's legal status. The center was set up as a trust (hekdesh) and not a non-profit (amuta). "For a number of years, the trust worked, but once the money was no longer earmarked funding from the ministry, we found ourselves with legal as well as financial problems," states Gavriela Bar-Zakai, chair of the center's board of trustees. Both the NACC's legal adviser and the center's legal adviser ruled that transferring non-designated funds from the ongoing budget of the NACC to Zippori was not allowed because of the center's status as a trust. Moreover, the NACC, as a government corporation, is not allowed to go into deficit. "Funding Zippori led to an NIS 12 million deficit," Yerushalmi says, quickly adding: "I want to be clear. The legal problem is important but it is not the main issue. If there were no financial problems, Zippori would not be in danger of closing. Some 95% of the reason for its threatened closure is financial and only 5% legal." The NACC has made a last-ditch appeal to the Education Ministry to renew funding. "There is no chance for the Zippori Center to continue in its current capacity without renewed earmarked funding from the ministry," Yerushalmi admits. "We have tried to get support renewed for the past two-and-a-half years and have not succeeded. Unfortunately, within the next one or two months we will have to fire workers. I hope that some of the center's unique projects that are central to the NACC's mission will be absorbed into the NACC along with their staff." "We are weighing the possibility of uniting with the NACC and becoming a body within it," states Bar-Zakai. "We may take those parts of Zippori that are unique and important to the NACC, and which are not being done anywhere else in the country - such as the School for Public Directorate Leadership, the Participatory Democracy Unit, the R&D of programs for community/social leaders and the instructional programs, and incorporate them into the NACC. The idea is to keep the Zippori ideology and legacy alive." Uniting parts of Zippori with the NACC needs the approval of the NACC and no final decision has yet been made. In any case, Bar-Zakai regretfully admits that the center will soon have to fire employees. "Some employees may be taken on by the NACC but others will definitely be out of work," she says. The Education Ministry spokesman's office notes that, "The request for financing the Zippori Center is pending before the ministry. The center is an independent body, not connected directly to the ministry, and despite tremendous regard for the center, the ministry is not obligated to fund it." As for the campus, Bar-Zakai is hopeful that the instructional programs and unique R&D will be able to remain in the forest through some arrangement with the city and the NACC. "But we need to check if this is financially feasible," she adds. The municipal spokesman's office notes, "The future of the Zippori Center will be determined according to the agreement between the two parties [the municipality and the center]. If the campus is returned to the municipality, the city will weigh the various options to benefit the residents of Jerusalem and, following that, a decision will be made regarding the facility's future."