Sometimes, in times of crisis, we discover strength and depth of meaning that during our regular routine we don’t know exist. This is indeed what happened to me as the Corona crisis unfolded in Jerusalem and across the globe.
It seemed to me that Jerusalem would be the most complicated city in Israel for crisis management: the largest city in the country, the most complex and most sensitive; a city in which every community is a world unto itself that does not interact with the outside world or with each other.
A city representing a microcosm of Israeli society including all of Israel’s diverse groups; secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, Jewish, Arab who, even in regular, routine times, must walk a thin line of sensibilities and sensitivities to maintain balance.
When coronavirus struck, a full shut down went into effect in the city with the highest rate of infections in Israel. It was hard to see the images of ancient and holy sites standing empty and deserted.
What could an ultra-Orthodox family living in a small apartment with seven children do? What about parents of a child with special needs in the absence of a supportive school framework? Holocaust survivors who were not allowed to leave their homes to buy medication or food for themselves? Families from east Jerusalem whose livelihood was cut off? And women at risk of abuse, from all sectors, whose lives were in danger?
But it was a beautiful and inspiring moment for civil society, an unprecedented coming together for the city’s residents, demonstrating mutual responsibility, camaraderie and solidarity and genuine engagement in the lives of the communities around them, even when they may never have acknowledged each other before.
The civil society organisations so active in Jerusalem changed their priorities, their programs, their activities, with only one aim: to make sure that no Jerusalemite was left alone.
At the Jerusalem Foundation we had to change our direction overnight and adapt quickly to changing realities. From a fundraising organisation making significant contributions to major capital projects and planning for the future of Jerusalem in 2030, we needed to pivot and support the city’s most vulnerable populations: children with special needs, at-risk youth, children in women’s shelters, people with disabilities, families who found themselves without money to buy food, and the elderly, the population most at risk, the population that required the strictest isolation of all.
It was amazing to see the mobilization of Jerusalem’s friends to help in this emergency. Situations that we couldn’t have anticipated of ultra-Orthodox volunteers packing food baskets for Arabs so they could break their fast for Ramadan with a proper meal, and Arabs from east Jerusalem who volunteered to purchase medication for the elderly, from all sectors, who could not leave their homes.
Teenage volunteers went door to door checking on survivors, trained volunteers took to the phones calling people with disabilities. Volunteers cooked hot meals for homeless youth so they would not roam the streets and put on special activities for children staying in women’s shelters.
I am proud that in these short weeks we have raised more than £1 million for Jerusalem’s urgent needs. Everything has been done in coordination with Mayor Moshe Lion and the Jerusalem Municipality and Jerusalem Foundation professional teams, ensuring our efforts provide the most efficient response possible for those in need from all sectors, in all parts of the city.
As restrictions begin to ease, the Jerusalem Foundation is working to support the arts and culture. They are the life of a city and we intend to help them get back on their feet to find a new normal within the restrictions.
We all hope that the scientists will find solutions which will allow us to return to routine and then to our long-term plans, strengthening its diverse communities, preserving its creative culture and ensuring future leadership.
But I have no doubt that the residents of Jerusalem, who have demonstrated remarkable resilience and solidarity throughout this crisis, will not soon forget the days when we were all here for a truly united moment.
Shai Doron is President of the Jerusalem Foundation