Local authorities – how to create bridges between communities

How to create bridges between the ultra-orthodox community and the secular one?
Interview with Benny Fritz, who is working at the municipal department of DI
In recent years, Israeli society is torn apart by social and cultural disputes that gradually increase. Different mentalities create social gaps and wide diversity. These differences, that otherwise may have yield in multi-cultural flourishing and a deep acknowledgement between cultures, create hatred and rival between various values and a feeling of non-community, instead.
Head of municipalities must deal many times with a phenomenon where one community gets hostile towards the other and disputes are created within these local authorities. Some of them feel helpless while trying to find the appropriate solution.
“Nonetheless, together with this unoptimistic picture, there are people that work to create a change. Benny Pritz, an ultra-orthodox Jew, working in DI, talked with us about public participation as a bridge for multi-culturalism – how does one create public participation when basic principles are not agreed upon?…
רשויות מקומיות מעודכן
Hi Benny! How are you? Please tell us about yourself!
“Nice to meet you, my name is Benny and I work in DI already for 3 years. At the beginning, I worked in the framework of the municipal department as a consultant for a new ultra-orthodox school in Harish. After which, I joined the Educational Pioneer program in two local schools, where I mainly help integrating educational leadership based on democratic principles. I tutor both teachers and school principals and lead them to the creation of an educational greenhouse where leaders can grow”.

Wow, two large projects, lots of work!
“Yes, but I’m calm, since I have a mission and a vision…”.
O.K. we will also talk about it, but now
could you please tell us how did you get into DI in the first place?

“Oh, it’s easy, I met Yotam (joint CEO of DI) at a meeting! No, actually, the Ultra-Orthodox school at Harish asked for a tutor of its own community.. I grew up in a Yeshiva and worked in the Haredi education as a “tester” (“Boychen”). In this role, you get into school classes, test the pupils and the teachers, supervise the teaching style and influence policy and learning within schools. It is basically tutoring teachers while being in interaction with pupils. By the way, I still claim that this could be a beneficial role also for the general education system”.  
But wasn’t it hard for you? The cultural gaps?
Most of DI’s employees are secular, how do you deal with that?

“Listen, I don’t think it’s a problem. In the job interview I was asked the same question and I replied that I was willing to work with whoever was willing to work with me..”.

And yet, are there any difficulties sometimes?

“It is very interesting, first – although I am a part of the Haredi community, my children are taught in Haredic schools and these are my principles, it is not the whole picture. For example, I am against Haredic legislation. I think that one should live and let live and believe that a lifestyle should be individual.
Furthermore, I am involved in the general community, I don’t mind that people live in a secular manner or have different habits. In DI I try not to get in anyone’s way, and I feel that the management makes every effort to provide me with what I need”.

It is a real modelling for Israeli society
“The two worlds, the Haredi one as well as the secular one, must understand that each has values that are not to be wiped off and that it takes a large mutual compromising, with a shared good will, so that even when I say “no”, there is still room for compromise and taking a part.. The majority should try and provide the minority with as much as it can, and the minority should sometimes compromise while fulfilling its own needs, everyone should come half a way towards the other, this is what I call a culture of handling things in consent”.  This is the ideal…”.
Is it realized also in your work?

“Sure. My goal is to fulfill everyone needs, while handling things in consent and searching together for solution. There are many mixed towns in Israel, where religious, Haredi and secular populations live together. Many times, there are tensions between them in the municipal arena, for instance: should businesses be opened on Shabbat or not. The best way for a dialogue and bridging over disputes in town, is public participation”.
Interesting, and what are the required stages?

“First, we plan, together with the decision makers or with communal bridging centers, a bridging process between the different populations. The idea is to announce the process so that the public will take part in consent. Since each politician is afraid that such a step will result in voters’ ran-away, it is especially important that the public will express its consent to the process. 

We try to get the residents to decide – in the first step – about simple things, such as municipal local rules or about opening businesses in Shabbat. This is our pilot.

In the second stage – it will be much more complicated. The public will already be willing to take part in additional decision making, but we will also demand that it will be willing to take part in a dialogue. Someone that comes only to be heard and is not willing to hear others, can’t be a part of this process. Many people are more opened to a change of mind, but it takes a while to be committed to a deeper process.  Shabbat is a starting point, the next stage is a genuine public participation”. 
רשויות מקומיות
Amazing! It sounds really like a process that gets communities more close and bonding with one another.. And now for the question you were waiting for: what is your vision?

“Oh! It is so nice of you to ask.. For many years, I deal with one large goal – to create a better and more tolerant society. I try to do it in many ways: dialogue circles in Rehovot, working and cooperating with bridging center in several locations, talking with decision makers – all with a fundamental belief in negotiating and conflict resolution in the spirit of compromise.

In this era, when consent is rare and Israel society is polar and alienated, our role as bridge and dialogue advancing functionaries, is to create communal and social dialogue. It is both important and essential”.    

Benny, it sounds really inspiring, thank you! At the end, can you tell us about a success you recently experienced?

“Yes. As I mentioned before, part of my role in DI is to serve as a tutor in the Educational Pioneer project. I tutored three teachers of the “Bney-Akiva” Yeshiva, that set their goal to create a more coherent team environment. Every beginning of the month, they gave the pupils, assistants, secretaries, cleaners and maintenance manager – a small present and a thank-you letter. They were distributed by all the teachers and not by the Pioneers. One of the cleaning ladies said: “no one ever thank me for my work”. So, in my eyes, contributing to a good, team-based environment, founded on giving patterns and having the entire team working together, means a success”.

Thank you very much!

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