Former US President John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
However, two hopeful olim running for Jerusalem city council are proving that it is perhaps possible to do both. By understanding the opportunities for Jerusalem olim to engage on the city-level, they maintain, we are better positioned through existing and proposed platforms of engagement to make a difference.
In light of the upcoming elections and Yom HaAliyah, these hopeful oleh city council members on Hitorerut’s list are speaking out about the importance of Yerushalmi immigrants and the party’s most important achievements to date for olim.
Dan Illouz is a city council member, author and former legislative advisor for Likud. He was born and raised in Montreal, Canada and made aliyah at age 23. Active in the public sphere ever since, he has worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with Mayor Nir Barkat, focusing on international treaties, negotiations and campaigning.
Illouz made aliyah to “take part in the great story of the State of Israel.” Like most North American Olim, he said, “I did not run away from anything, but rather ran to something.”
He has written widely about how proper integration of olim can be Jerusalem’s greatest opportunity, bringing more economic growth, adding to the city’s diversity and influencing Jerusalem’s quality of life.
Now, he is running on Hitorerut’s list and looks forward to continuing to focus solely on Jerusalem, maintaining, “the next elections and the years following will be critical to Jerusalem, the city I love, and they will define Jerusalem’s future.”
“Why Hitorerut?” Illouz posed – “the ideology of Hitorerut is the right one for Jerusalem and we believe Ofer Berkovitch is the best candidate for the mayor of Jerusalem to create a home for all the populations that live in the city, including olim.”
He cited that over the past 10 years, Hitorerut has been at the forefront of the great successes of Jerusalem in the cultural, high tech, small business and youth sectors.
Hitorerut has also worked towards helping advance the interests of olim in the city, procuring aliyah organizations money from the municipality as well as starting a program that encourages youth groups to invest in integrating olim through special budgets, thus helping teen olim to become a part of Israeli society.
“The motivation behind all of our projects is ensuring that Jerusalem will stay the capital of all Israelis, whether through economic projects to ensure Jerusalem becomes more attractive financially or by fighting for solutions to the real estate prices for housing to be affordable to young couples,” he maintained.
In the coming months, Illouz plans on requesting that new technological programs that would be used to supervise the work done by civil service employees to get direct feedback on their work after service is given. “Those who get good feedback will be rewarded. Others, the opposite,” he said.
“Cleanliness, transportation, tourism, activities for young families and lowering the burden on small businesses are some other areas I plan on working on,” he said.
Yoni Mann, also running for city council with Hitorerut, was born to Jewish Israeli parents of Lebanese, Syrian and Yemenite descent. After making aliyah from San Francisco, Mann served in the IDF as a Foreign Relations NCO, working with high-ranking foreign army delegations visiting Israel. Since then, he has worked in Jewish advocacy for the past 10 years, currently serving as Chair of the Board for the World Union of Jewish Students, serving as a delegate in the 37th World Zionist Congress and working with various MKs.
Mann believes that olim often bring a unique perspective and valuable skill sets that are healthy for building a productive and tolerant society. “The municipality needs to be able to address the needs of olim and what better way than for olim to take responsibility for their community and be the ones leading that change.”
After learning that Nir Barkat would not seek a third term, Mann was “immediately drawn” to the Zionist and pluralist aspects of Hitorerut and Ofer Berkovitch and decided to join the party.
“I saw a diverse group of passionate residents, voluntarily taking responsibility for making their home a better place, both religious and secular, right and left, men and women, young and elderly — putting aside their differences and uniting for the betterment of Jerusalem.”
According to Illouz and Mann, Hitorerut’s team structure, which preexisted elections, has proven success in getting olim involved in making policy recommendations that are pushed forward by Hitorerut’s elected officials.
Teams include aliyah and integration as well as culture, economic development, tourism, young families, environment and more – and Hitorerut is seeking olim to become involved. “No other municipal party provides such a powerful platform that empowers you,” noted Illouz.
Mann adds, “many olim aren’t aware of the support their city council members can provide but care deeply about issues that also affect native Jerusalemites, such as cleanliness, affordable housing, landing a job and finding a community.”
To inform olim of the many ways they can become involved, Mann plans on promoting workshops within the integration framework to educate new olim on the inner-workings of the municipality, having an open door policy where olim can voice their struggles or ideas for partnership and hosting a monthly open forum for all olim.
Such platforms would give olim the opportunity to help find solutions to their challenges navigating bureaucracy, learning a new language and adjusting to the norms of customer service (or lack thereof), “which can cause major emotional distress for olim, many of whom sacrifice everything in order to fulfill the dream of living in the Jewish state and the capital.”
Mann, if elected to city council, would also like to focus on creating a service-based culture in Israel to ensure quality business practices in the city as well as striving for native speakers of English, French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Amharic in each bureaucratic office.
Likewise, Illouz hopes to make Jerusalem more olim-friendly by providing easy access information in a variety of languages and job-search platforms in cooperation with third sector NGOs to help find jobs in Jerusalem.
In addition, he hopes to build programs for easier integration into Israeli schools and culture.
“As an iriyah, we already have done work in that direction by offering the Gvahim career development program to all olim that go to Ulpan Etzion while they are in the ulpan, but more needs to be done for those who have yet to be reached,” he posed.
As two of the most important days of the year for Yerushalmi olim are soon approaching, (the first, an election that will determine the future direction of the most important city in the Jewish world and the second, Yom HaAliyah, a day celebrating Israel’s immigrant residents who make positive contributions to the Jewish state, day in and day out) it is the perfect time to ask ourselves which party and mayor will do the most for us as olim, all while empowering us to do more for our own city.