PROJECT RENEWAL , the joint program of the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel for rehabilitation of distressed neighborhoods. Founded in 1978, by 1983 a total of 82 urban neighborhoods and towns throughout Israel, with a total population of 450,000, had been included in Project Renewal. By the early 21st century the number had risen to 100, representing a $2 billion investment, a quarter of the money coming from Diaspora communities via the Jewish Agency. A comprehensive redevelopment plan, this project differs from previous government programs in that it is aimed at whole neighborhoods rather than specific residents, groups of residents, or special target issues. In principle, residents are encouraged to remain in their homes, which are improved, rather than be evacuated to newer areas, and the process of physical renovation and repair is integrated with overall social rehabilitation.
The conditions which make neighborhood renewal necessary have their roots in the country's history and unique character. Large waves of immigration followed the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and in the first three years of its existence the Jewish population doubled. In 1955–57, an additional 140,000 Jews immigrated to Israel and in 1965–66, another 50,000 arrived. The task of absorbing these immigrants was enormous, straining the limited resources of the state.
Initially, the newcomers were housed in temporary transit camps throughout the country or in abandoned residential buildings. Where possible, temporary shacks were constructed, but often only tents were available. In response to the need for immediate housing solutions, new towns and neighborhoods were hastily built. Financial constraints dictated that a maximum number of housing units be erected at a minimum cost; the resulting buildings are substandard by today's criteria, as is the physical infrastructure installed to serve them.
Service frameworks created over the years were often inadequate and in many cases encouraged dependency. Most social service agencies were centralized and therefore geographically distant from their clients. This remoteness led to both a lack of direct contact with the population and a failure on the part of professional staff to conceptualize community needs. The absence of an overall plan exacerbated the situation.
More than half of the first wave of immigration and most of the subsequent waves were from North African and Asian countries. These immigrants brought with them Jewish cultural heritages and traditions which differed radically from those prevailing in Israel at the time. This Western-oriented culture demanded adherence to its mores and values, causing a conflict which tended to act to the disadvantage of the newcomers.
Immigration had a negative effect on traditional community and interpersonal relations. Old and understood values which had provided the basis for community consensus were weakened. Family roles were eroded and past experience provided no model for present needs. Community cooperative activity became difficult and traditional ethnic leadership which had rested on old societal frameworks was rendered ineffective in the new situations.
Few of the men from these countries had been prepared, through either education or experience, for the skilled or professional jobs then available in Israel, since the demands of their earlier homes had been very different. Education levels were often low and many – women in particular – had received no formal education at all. Lack of appropriate skills created a serious employment handicap and kept incomes low. The fact that their culture discouraged women from working outside the home further limited per-capita and family earning power.
The country's security needs were a major factor in the situating of many settlements for new immigrants. Development towns such as Ma'alot and Kiryat Shemonah in the north and Bet-Shean in the east were intended not only to provide homes for the country's new citizens but to strengthen Israel's borders as well. Since these towns are on the economic and social periphery of the country, many of the original settlers have left. Often, new immigrants were settled in already problematic neighborhoods, placing additional strain on an inadequate social and physical infrastructure. In such cases, the stronger, more ambitious, better trained population left at the first opportunity, leaving behind the elderly, the less educated, and the more dependent population groups.
Faced with what seemed like a wall of official indifference, the residents of these neighborhoods and towns took refuge in apathy and cynicism. Bitterness about the poor quality of their lives increasingly expressed itself in draft evasion and delinquency among the young. This deterioration reinforced the already unfavorable image of the neighborhoods, both for the residents and for outsiders, and encouraged further out-migration.
In 1974, a government agency designated 160 distressed neighborhoods as areas requiring rehabilitation, and work was begun in a number of them. It was not until October 1977, however, that the Ministry of Housing and Construction announced a plan to focus government resources on the rehabilitation of the 160 neighborhoods. During the early months of 1978, with the formation of the Social Policy Team for Project Renewal, an interministerial approach was developed which has been maintained throughout.
Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Menahem Begin declared his government's intention to give first priority to elimination of the conditions of neighborhood distress and issued an invitation to world Jewish leaders to participate with the government of Israel in a joint venture toward this end. With the acceptance in principle of this challenge, the Jewish Agency became a partner in discussions with the government ministries. In the course of talks, the Diaspora Jewish leadership concluded that the most promising basis for world Jewry's support would be a direct community-neighborhood relationship. Thus, the idea of twinning of individual Jewish communities with specific Israeli neighborhoods was born.
The seventh annual assembly of the Jewish Agency in 1978 ratified the decision taken by world Jewish leadership to join the government of Israel as partners in renewal. In addition to assigning the name Project Renewal to the program, the assembly established a number of principles which continue to guide activities to this day:
(1) That the project be a joint effort involving Israel government ministries, municipal authorities, local residents, the Jewish Agency and Jewish communities from abroad.
(2) That the basis for participation by Jewish communities from abroad be a direct twinning relationship between individual communities abroad and specific neighborhoods in Israel. That funds raised in a community for Project Renewal be used only for the specific Project Renewal neighborhood twinning with that community and that funds raised for a specific purpose are to be released for that purpose only.
(3) That the program deals with social as well as physical needs on the basis of a comprehensive plan covering all aspects of life in the neighborhood.
(4) That local residents take an active part in the planning and implementation of the project.
(5) That the duration of the program be limited to a period of about five years.
Initially, 11 neighborhoods were included in the project; by 1979 the number had grown to 30. Some of the neighborhoods were twinned with communities abroad and the first tentative activity began. By 1981, full activity was in progress in 69 neighborhoods, twinned with over 200 Jewish communities all over the world. In 1982, 13 neighborhoods were added, bringing the total number of renewal neighborhoods to 82.
Organizationally, a number of changes have taken place since the project's inception. In 1980, the Jewish Agency assembly upgraded its unit dealing with Project Renewal to the status of a department. The government's participation in the project was administered through the Prime Minister's Office until 1981, when it was placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing.
The Renewal Process
Despite the complexity of the organizational structure of Project Renewal that has resulted from the partnership between the government of Israel, local authorities, Diaspora communities, and neighborhood residents, the emphasis in the program is on coordinated policy-making, planning, and implementation. However, the Jewish Agency, the body representing the Diaspora communities, must act within its legal framework, which imposes upon it direct responsibility for implementation and direction of the programs that it funds.
Authority in the project is derived from the joint Government/Jewish Agency Project Renewal Committee, cochaired by the deputy prime minister and by the chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.
Day-to-day policy and coordination of activity on a national level are within the authority of an interministerial team. This team consists of representatives of the Jewish Agency and the government ministries participating in the project (Housing; Labor and Welfare; Education; Health; Interior; and Finance).
A central element in the organizational structure is the local steering committee which exists in each neighborhood. It consists of local residents (who comprise 50% of the membership), professionals, representatives of the municipal authority, representatives of government agencies at the regional level, and a representative of the Jewish Agency. The committee's tasks are to weigh program and project recommendations, to set priorities in view of available funds and financial framework, to approve the annual proposed program and budget, and to approve the comprehensive plan proposed for each industrial neighborhood. The project is administered in each neighborhood by the project manager.
The establishment of the local neighborhood corporation was originally dictated by legal considerations to enable utilization of funds from abroad in the neighborhood. Its board of directors includes local residents, representatives of the local authority, and Jewish Agency representatives. The corporation's task is to implement all projects and programs assigned to the Jewish Agency. Local neighborhood corporations have provided a new dimension for residents' involvement in the implementation of programs: the acquisition of experience both in contending with the bureaucracy and in public administration.
Role of a Twinned Community from Abroad
All projects and programs designated for Jewish Agency implementation are funded by twinned communities from abroad on a community-neighborhood basis. In most communities, committees of lay leaders responsible for Project Renewal are formed. In the United States, the *United Jewish Appeal (uja) acts as the liaison between the communities and the Agency Renewal Department in Israel and – through the department – the neighborhoods. In other parts of the world, *Keren Hayesod (the United Israel Appeal) fulfills this function. The community, acting in cooperation with the uja or Keren Hayesod, encourages mission groups and individuals to visit the neighborhood, thereby maintaining ongoing contact between the residents of the neighborhood and members of the community. Once a year, the community Project Renewal Committee is invited to the community's twinned neighborhood for a consultation visit, to review and approve neighborhood programs.
Long-range budgets which represent the program proposal for the entire funding period are prepared and presented to community representatives for approval, and regular reports on the financial and operational status of the project are sent to the community for its consideration and examination.
The Impact of Project Renewal through 1983
More than 600,000 people throughout Israel have been directly or indirectly touched by Project Renewal and before the project is completed 20% of the country's population will have been affected by it.
During the first five years of its operation, 30,653 housing units were renovated and expanded. More than 200 community and neighborhood centers were built, improved, or enlarged as part of the total of more than 500 public service facilities that the project made available to neighborhood residents. Among these facilities are early childhood development centers, family health and dental clinics, day centers for the elderly, and playgrounds.
Physical infrastructure, roads, sewage and drainage systems, street lighting, and the like have been upgraded in all neighborhoods and the general appearance of most of the neighborhoods has been greatly improved. With the betterment of the quality of life in the neighborhoods, the steady departure of stronger population groups has been virtually halted. Apartment prices, which had been much lower than market prices, have risen steadily, as the demand for housing in the neighborhoods has increased.
Sixteen thousand neighborhood residents currently take part in "Second Chance" programs designed to raise educational levels and improve or provide educational skills, with more than 5,000 adults learning basic Hebrew language skills in the Tehila program of adult education classes each year.
A number of programs are aimed at improvement of parental skill. The Etgar preschool development program, for example, is designed to encourage cognitive development in preschoolers; 6,000 parents take part each year. In addition, more than 15,000 preschoolers and schoolchildren regularly participate in enrichment programs sponsored by Project Renewal.
Courses have been established to encourage burgeoning leadership and to help interested residents obtain the tools necessary for responsible decision-making. At least 1,300 residents in over 50 neighborhoods have taken part in courses for local lay leaders. An academic leadership course toward a bachelor's degree, operated in cooperation with the Open University is offered to over 400 students in several locations throughout the country.
The twinning relationship has added a more personal and direct dimension to both fund-raising and to Israel-oriented activity. Close to 20,000 Jews from all over the world have visited their renewal neighborhoods since the inception of the project. Young people from abroad – as many as 500 in the summer of 1984 alone – have served as volunteers in their twinned neighborhoods.
The Project Renewal twinning relationship has provided a unique opportunity for Israeli citizens to meet with Diaspora Jews in Israel-in their homes, at community gatherings, and at committee meetings, and 600 Israeli children are in contact with their counterparts in the Diaspora through pen pal programs.
According to preliminary assessment of the International Committee for the Evaluation of Project Renewal, the impact of the project's activities has been positive both for the neighborhoods in Israel and for the Jewish communities abroad. The reports indicate significant improvements in housing; in social and community services; in the level of resident participation in neighborhood affairs; in relations with the Diaspora, and in residents' attitudes toward their neighborhoods.
In many of the neighborhoods included during the first years of the project, a phase-out of community funding has begun, and responsibility for essential programming has been transferred to other funding agencies. Neighborhood residents and representatives of the twinned community abroad are full partners in this process.
Beginning in the mid-1980s the Project moved into a second phase of selective intervention focusing on populations in distress (the aged, single parents, etc.). In the early 1990s a differential approach was taken, focusing on the special needs of individual neighborhoods. At the same time, an attempt was made to draw previously neglected populations into the Project, such as the Arabs, Druze, Ethiopians, and ultra-Orthodox.
The work of Project Renewal is not yet complete. Changing economic conditions and continuing economic distress in the neighborhoods and the country as a whole require a new look at how the Project and its beneficiaries may best be served in the future.