An Israeli Orthodox mother of five and a visionary out-of-the-box thinker and social activist, Tehila Friedman-Nachalon is one of the founders of the ‘Yerushalmit Movement’ that works to make Jerusalem an inclusive and vibrant city. She is a former Chairwoman of ‘Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah,’ a religious Zionist movement that works to strengthen openness in the Orthodox world and unity in Israeli society promoting pluralism and democratic values, is a member of the staff of a non-profit organization called “Kolot” (I.e. “voices”), and she is among the founders and board members of “Yerushalem,” a coalition of civic organizations working for an inclusive Jerusalem.
Tehila met with my synagogue leadership group earlier this month in Jerusalem and shared hers and her colleagues’ efforts to bridge the gaps that exist between the many different minorities living in Jerusalem. The greater goal of the ‘Yerushalmit Movement,’ she explained, is to help Jerusalem fulfill its deepest purpose and mission, to be a “City of Peace” in which all the religious, ethnic, and national groups can join in the pursuit of the fulfillment of common interests and thereby improve civic life.
The organization’s primary areas of focus are to strengthen the social fabric of neighborhoods, to cultivate women’s leadership, to empower residents in grassroots social action, to facilitate cross-community collaboration, to improve education, infrastructure, health and culture, to improve the quality of life for young families, to develop common language between many diverse groups, and to reclaim the public sphere as tolerant and pluralistic.
Tehila is on the staff of Kolot, a non-profit organization with the mission
“to create a moral, value-based society in the State of Israel that can be an example to all nations,…to train networks of leaders throughout Israel to use Jewish ethical principles as the basis for creating a values-driven vision for the Jewish State.”
Its seven pillars include:
“Principles of equality and justice, the role of dialogue and respectful disagreement as a basis for democracy, the importance of humility, modesty, and personal sense of mission for healing and repairing ourselves and the world.” Kolot insists that building “a homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel was never only about creating a place of safety and survival for Jews, although these were important aspects of the need for a Jewish state. The dream was … to build a model society based on Jewish ethical principles and spiritual ideals.”
Tehila spoke to us specifically about Jerusalem’s diversity of populations and how so often they either have nothing to do with one another or are uncooperative and hostile in relationship to each other. She compared Jerusalem to a pie with every slice representing a different community. Those members of their respective communities towards the crust are the most difficult people to deal with, the extremists and absolutists, who won’t work with other groups and who make life in Jerusalem so fractured, contentious, and balkanized.
Those in the pie’s middle, though a small group, are people open to finding common ground based on their shared interests. The Yerushalmit Movement has sponsored discussion circles and cultural experiences in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square that engage individuals and groups in dialogue and face to face encounters that dissipate barriers of fear that perpetuate conflict. It has sought as well to strengthen the LGBTQ community of Jerusalem, to re-brand Jerusalem not as a center of conflict, but as a center of dialogue and peace. From August to April 2016, the organization held 32 events in Zion Square serving nearly 10,000 people in collaboration with tens of local organizations, groups, and professionals.
The Yerushalmit Movement has also developed a women’s leadership program based in conflict neighborhoods that bring together women from across the spectrum including ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews to work on joint neighborhood projects that further the social good.
Tehila is a grassroots activist and organizer. I was so impressed by her vision, eloquence, dynamism, and humility that I asked her if she had considered running for a seat in the Knesset. She smiled and said she was thinking seriously about doing so – probably Yesh Atid. “Good,” I said. “The government needs more people like you.”
Tehila Friedman-Nachalon is yet another bright Israeli bright light who brings honor to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.