By Meira Hanson, with the assistance of Dr. Irit Rotem.
In municipalities across Israel election day looked like Heschel Alumni day. 13 Heschel Alumni ran in the elections on October 30: their agendas were diverse but all of them were driven by, unsurprisingly, from the will to lead change.
The local arena is no stranger to Heschel Program Alumni. 11 Heschel Alumni held positions in municipalities over the years: three have served as deputy mayors, and one alumnus, Eran Doron serves as the head of Ramat Hanegev Regional Authority, the largest regional authority in the country. In addition, many others are involved with local councils. There is no doubt that the local arena is a fertile ground for promoting sustainability. Moreover, from the evaluation research on the Fellows Program in 2017 we found that alumni active in the local arena feel that they do more to promote sustainability, have a higher motivation and even feel a stronger sense of satisfaction from their actions to create change.
So who are the alumni that ran for office on October 30?
From North to South, we begin with Dr. Irit Rotem. Irit ran in the Pardes-Hana-Karkur in the party “Tov Ba’Moshava” under the leadership of Eyal Kagan who is himself a Heschel-Hub Alumnus. “I see Kagan as a partner that understands the importance of systemic view and long-term planning. Like me, he serves as a bridge between the grassroots and the institution to create the best future for our children.
Southeast from there, in Kfar Saba, Ilai Harsegor-Henedin, a Heschel Fellow Alumnus ran for mayor. Ilai knows the municipality well as he served as deputy mayor and held the environmental portfolio on the council. Why is he running for mayor this time? “Kfar Saba is a free city, pluralistic and sustainable in its nature”, he explains, “I decided to run for mayor in order to keep it this way, operate a sustainable transportation system that will really help residents get out of traffic and continue the projects I began when I was deputy mayor — community gardens, educations towards sustainability, renewable energy, sustainable gardening, and more.
Neasrby, Ido Lauffer, Heschel Fellows alumnus, is among the founders of a new local party in Herzliya. He says: “Our goal is to create a neighborhood list that is represented in the city council. The larger vision is a city council that operates as a collaboration of neighborhoods where each one gets to shape and manage its own community.” He adds, “My idea is that we must create communities that give residents community assets that they can buy into.”
In Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Heschel alumni ran in three different lists for city council. Gabi Lasky, a veteran in this arena as a member of the Tel Aviv city council admits that she can still change reality as a member of the Council. In these recent elections she ran again on the Meretz council list. What drives her? “Since my children were born I suddenly understood the influence that local governance has on our life. As someone who wants to live in a sustainable, egalitarian, pluralistic, just and communal city I understood I have to take responsibility over what’s going on in my city.”
Three additional alumni joined hands together in a new party “Green City”. Leading the list is Mor Gilboa, an environmental activist who decided to run in the elections in order to “continue being the best fighter for the environment, this time from within the council.” What would you do as a council member? “I will fight for this city to make bold decisions and finally solve its transportation crisis, monitor the real-estate processes and the addiction for high rises and fancy condos. I’ll fight to protect the trees and plant more, and create real civil partnership with a large number of residents that want to influence and be a meaningful part of the city agenda.” Alumnus Elad Hochman who co-founded the party adds: “we recruited professionals in fields of architecture and urban planning, permaculture experts, activists and cultural leaders to focus on the issues that the city does not currently solve.”
Barak Ben Hanah joined in the second place on the party’s list. “I joined to add to the daily efforts that I already make: establishing many community gardens, promoting education from the point of view of sustainability and turning my neighborhood sustainable.” Why be active politically? “The key word that keeps coming back is “battle”, he explains, “a battle to establish a garden, and battle for a bike lane, a battle to create real partnerships with the city. I’m tired of going out to battle. I believe that our values and the operation of the city is worthwhile and that the city should and would adopt what we’re doing in my neighborhood as a city policy.”
Another Heschel Alumna that ran in the Tel Aviv elections is Shula Keshet, a long-time activist. Shula joined the party “We, the City” headed by Asaf Harel with the mission to take action for an egalitarian, diverse and free city that gives representation, funding and expression to all the communities that make the city what it is today.
Southeast from Tel Aviv, in Rishon L’Zion, Ifact Meirovich Yefet, an alumna of the Heschel leadership program in the government ministries, ran in the Social-Green Movement. In nearby Ness Ziona, Naor Yerushalmi led the “Green Ness Ziona” party list. East from there, in Modi’in-Macabim-Reut, Israel Ben Dor is among the founders of the party “Change for Macabim-Reut” that ran in the list for the city council and was elected. What drove him to action? “I would like to bring more transparency to the city budget,” he explains, “it’s the residents’ right to know what their tax money is paying for and that is why I established the party.”
Finally, down south in the desert, in Mitzpeh Ramon, Adar Stern a Heschel Alumna ran for town council. In her professional life she promotes sustainable local economy and sustainability, and she aspires to promote these concepts in the town where she resides. “Mitzpeh Ramon symbolizes perhaps the last alternative in Israel for a different type of living: a municipality that combines urban and rural life, fresh air, open spaces, a diverse and connected community, lack of advertisement in the public space, almost non-existing culture of consumerism, and very low socio-economic gaps.” Adar joined the list in order to “preserve the magic of Mitzpeh Ramon and create a unique model in Israel of a town that wants to develop but redefine what development is, quality of life, and how to invest in development that preserves the environment, the community and economy in the town”.
No matter what the results of the elections, no doubt that Heschel alumni bring a wide view and deep motivation to create change where they live. Towards this goal they make partnerships and lead others – local activists, business and social entrepreneurs, educators, and more, who take action to create cities that are great to live in.
Based on results in municipal elections the following Heschel Alumni were elected to city councils: Eyal Kagan in Pardes Hana, Ilai Harsegor-Henedin in Kfar Saba, Shula Keshet in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ifat Meirovich Yefet in RIshot L’Zion and Naor Yerushalmi in Ness Ziona.