Making a Difference in Jerusalem

There's a group in Jerusalem using resources and people from around the globe to make good things happen. I was lucky to get a tour with Ariella Bernstein, the Chief of Staff and Director of Marketing for The Jerusalem Foundation when I spent a few days there last month. She's an American who now lives in Israel, so I wondered what would be so important to her that she would move half way across the world. She showed us over a matter of hours, along with Haneen Mgadlh, a PhD candidate in the School of Social Work at Hebrew University and the Jerusalem Foundations's Project Coordinator in East Jerusalem.  The passion these women showed in their projects and their city was unforgettable.
Ariella speaking to our group
Jerusalem is a complicated, unique city, and there is an infographic that shows it best, with regard to population and the breakdown on religion. The Old City has distinct quarters for Muslims, Christians, and Jews with holy places intermingled with modern services.  As we walked through the Old City, Haneen and Ariella  talked about access to services and the difficulty that language barriers often present.   Many who live in East Jerusalem  are Palestinians who speak and write Arabic, and while there has been improvement in health-related fields, there remain some government offices that don't publish guidelines or paperwork in Arabic. Ariella and Haneen explained that this disconnect can lead to problems and this is where the Jerusalem foundation tries to help, supporting programs that ensure cultural competency across many fields. Sometimes it's a building that needs to be remodeled. On other occasions, it might be services.

There are elderly in the Old City who have a hard time getting around in a city that is full of uneven rock laid paths and an incredible number of steps.  When it snows, there is no snow removal, so the city stops for a few days until the snow melts. There are also the youth problems experienced in many cities- drug use, boredom, school delinquency, unemployment. the Foundations's East Jerusalem programs  tackle these problems with social outlets and services.

We arrived at the Abna al-Quds Community Center, a community center in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, just in time to see a group of men warming up for their exercise and soccer time. Then we saw women meeting for a diabetes prevention session, before enjoying tea with Azaadin from The Jerusalem Intercultural Center. All of these programs make life better for people living in the city.
Elderly men gather for an exercise session

Exercise equipment
We visited Paley Arts Center, the only municipal arts center in East Jerusalem, where children were working on art projects. The entire building is full of life sized art, themed after biblical stories, so it was a joy to walk through and see how they made it a welcome place for everyone. There was also an artist gallery where women from East Jerusalem are encouraged to come and paint when they have time. 

An ark!!

One of the lifesize animals- a camel

Students making art with their teachers

The art room where people can come and paint
I visited only a fraction of what Haneen and Ariella do every day on behalf of Jerusalem. The Foundation has supported more than 4000 projects in the city, in both east and west Jerusalem. They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for CafĂ© Europa for Jerusalem’s 20,000 Holocaust survivors, in honor of Holocaust Day.  You can donate here.

Maybe you have an urge to volunteer in Jerusalem with one of these programs or would like to donate to help them accomplish their goals? Reach out to Ariella at or follow the Facebook page.

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