This article is part of a series honoring the legacy of Elie Wiesel, zt”l. The series will feature emerging leaders whose work is impacting the Holocaust, Israel, Human Rights, and the way we view them.

The Legacy of Elie Wiesel

In his Nobel Acceptance Speech, Wiesel said that “Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.”

The International Coordination Forum for the Restitution of Holocaust (Shoah) Era Assets Forum Declaration assesses that “Seventy years after the end of the Holocaust (Shoah)…. many Holocaust survivors live in poverty and without adequate social care.”

Affordable housing is a major challenge for Israel as a whole, and especially for Holocaust survivors.  As policymakers and analysts discuss options to reduce the high price of housing, the extent of the crisis continues to grow.

Tiny House Israel is a social initiative to help lower the cost of living in Israel.  Launched by Akiva Ben-Ezra and Mark McManus in Jerusalem this past February, the initiative offers a practical solution to the housing shortage.

Ben-Ezra explains that “Elie Wiesel was an activist working on many causes to make the world a better place. I think he would have supported this project to help make a change in this country.  Many Holocaust survivors are living in terrible housing conditions, far below the poverty line today.  This could help them out.”  Ben-Ezra cites a  report by  the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel showing that 45,000 survivors live below the poverty line.

The Housing Solution

Ben-Ezra explains that “Many people including students, young couples, and olim can’t afford to ever buy a house in the country. We are going to change that by promoting awareness of the issue and getting government and other people involved.”

Ben-Ezra describes his motivation for the campaign “As a young entrepreneur, I want to be able to eventually buy a house. But these days a small apartment is half a million NIS and with  most people making less than 40 NS an hour, it is not possible.  So I started thinking how can I help people be able to afford a house. That is when I came up with Tiny House Israel. The tiny house movement is happening all around the world. Less is more. I am helping bring it to Israel.  I have recruited a team of experts, including a world famous green architect, a contractor, and some other volunteers.”

Design of Tiny House, model 24, Little River 4, Image Courtney of Michael Janzen, Tiny House Design, 2016.
Design of Tiny House, model 24, Little River 4, an example of expert architecture that will be adapted to the Israeli model.   Image Courtney of Michael Janzen, Tiny House Design, 2016 from Janzen’s book Tiny House Floor Plans.

Building on Success

Tiny House Israel is part of a larger organization, STMUS, St. Mark’s Universal Schools.  STMUS is an international educational institution incorporated in Guam, USA in 1995 with IRS 501(c)(3) status.  Ben-Ezra describes STUMS’ educational philosophy as focusing on the fact that people are lifelong learners from birth to death.  The school incorporate the classic view of education with practical hands-on solutions for everyday life.  STUMS’ motto is “One G-d, one man, one world, one moral obligation to all.”

In 2014, the school began to reach out to at-risk-youth to teach construction trades and give real world opportunities for these youth to see how they can enjoy and be a part of building community rather than painfully destroying community.   Ben-Ezra notes that following the STUMS’ approach, his  campaign is open to “All kinds of people that want to make a change.  I have people from all walks of life involved.”

From Idea to Launch

Ben-Ezra describes how he overcame procrastination to launch the campaign “I was listening to Brian Tracys book “Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life”. He talks about setting 90 day goals. I decided I want to get this done in 90 days.  A friend of mine, Jodi, who lives in the states, just finished building a tiny house. This gave me the inspiration to finally get going.”

 

A Tiny House in Portland, Oregon similar to the one Akiva Ben-Ezra is building in Israel. Photo courtesy of Tammy Strobel
A Tiny House in Portland, Oregon similar to the one Akiva Ben-Ezra is building in Israel. Photo courtesy of Tammy Strobel.

For Ben-Ezra, this was the turning point. “I decided to take action. I recruited some volunteers to help get this going. I wanted to launch this for a while but never found the time. I finally decided that it’s now or never and I took the plunge and decided to launch.”

Tiny House Israel’s biggest business challenges has been convincing people that this will help lower the cost of living in Israel.  People do not see the connection in donating to the campaign, and the ultimate goal.  “People have a hard time believing in change. They are so used to the broken system we have here and they don’t believe we can make change”.