Helping a factious Jerusalem live up to its name

Helping a factious Jerusalem live up to its name

Activist with NJ ties wants Israel’s capital to embrace its diversity

A coalition in Israel is looking to put Jerusalem’s civil society back on the agenda of Diaspora Jews.

With the help of an activist with close ties to New Jersey, the year-old Yeru-Shalem Coalition for an Inclusive Jerusalem hopes to advance Jerusalem as an “inclusive and open city,” making it a “multicultural center open to dialogue and based on tolerance,” according to the organization’s press release.

The coalition held a conference June 22, bringing together about 150 attendees in the Emek Refaim Beit Yehudit Community Center. Initiatives from Yeru-Shalem include building a global network of like-minded activists and creating new tours of the city that show cultural and social initiatives beyond the typical tourist attractions.

Its cofounders include Tehila Nachalon, who directed the Israel office of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey before its merger with United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.

Nachalon will leave the federation at the end of the month and become a Mandel Jerusalem Fellow. The fellowship is a program at the Mandel Leadership Institute for professionals in the field of Jewish education and communal leadership.

Nachalon said she helped start the coalition because she believed Diaspora Jews could help promote Jerusalem as a pluralistic society.

“It became clear to me that something that we are missing is much more Diaspora Jewry involvement,” said Nachalon in a phone interview. “It doesn’t make sense that the issue of Jerusalem is not big on the agenda [of Diaspora Jews] and part of it I think is because it’s so complicated and people are afraid to touch it. We thought that if we had more involvement it has the potential to have impact.”

Nachalon said the Yeru-Shalem coalition (its name means “city of peace”) has received support from the Leichtag Family Foundation of San Diego. Members of the coalition’s steering committee — including Conservative Rabbi Uri Ayalon, community activist Elan Ezrachi, and Elisheva Mazia, leader of the student organization New Spirit — were energized by growing tensions between Jerusalem’s fervently Orthodox, or haredi, residents and its secular and non-haredi majority.

Nachalon, who wears the smart beret of a Modern Orthodox woman, has objected to the ways the municipal government and private companies have condoned the separation of women in public and other haredi practices.

“What we really want to make is a platform — something that will enable Diaspora Jewry to be involved in Jerusalem through civil society and enable civil society of the Jerusalemites to be exposed outside,” she said. “What we had in mind was to create a coalition of local organizations together with Jewish organizations worldwide and to start putting Jerusalem back on the agenda.”

Nachalon said that while the NJ federation does not directly support Yeru-Shalem, it does fund programs whose leaders were involved in the conference, including Ruach Chadasha (new spirit), which is a nonprofit student organization, and Jerusalem Village, formerly Jerusalem Challenge, which attempts to help young Jews form personal connections to Jerusalem.

“New initiatives are essential to break today’s logjam and move Jerusalem forward in a dynamic, vibrant way,” stated Nachalon in a press release. “The Jerusalem Municipality is doing many good things but is tightly confined by bureaucratic and political constraints as to what it is able to do.”

Born in Kiryat Ono near Tel Aviv and educated in law and modern Hebrew literature at Hebrew University, Nachalon served as an aide and speechwriter to Natan Sharansky when he was Diaspora Affairs minister in the Sharon government. She and her husband also lived for a time in Boston, where she worked for the local office of the Anti-Defamation League. In 2006 she was hired to head the Central federation’s office in Jerusalem, where she lives.

Nachalon said she felt grateful to work for passionate Zionists in the United States for the past six years.

“I felt very privileged not only because I had the ability to work for Israel and to make impacts here in the Negev,” she said, “but also it was amazing for me…to find in the States people who shared this passion” for Israel.

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