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Special Interview the Role of the Sephardic Community

Project Renewal, designed to rehabilitate underprivileged neighborhoods throughout the country, suffers from hodge-podge administration and is hardly equipped for the task. This charge was made by Prot. Charles Tapiero, the 36-year-old chairman of the World Zionist Organization’s Department of Sephardic Communities in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

He said the project was built hastily, because of pressures by overseas communities for quick results. The organizers did not have sufficient time to seriously study the problems, and only now do they realize that the project is only one facet of an overall system of “social construction in Israel,” Tapiero said.

He also charged the project was devoted too much to the external rehabilitation of the deprived neighborhoods–neglecting the social work that needed to be done. In addition, there was too little effort in trying to recruit the population itself that resides in those neighborhoods to join in Project Renewal, he said.

Tapiero believes he knows this population. He was born in Morocco, and first arrived in Israel at the age of 12, leaving his parents behind in Paris. After completing studies at the youth village of Ben Shemen and the agriculture school of “The Green Village” near Tel Aviv, he graduated from Hebrew University where he studied physics and mathematics. He then continued studying electronic engineering in Canada where he founded the Students Union of French-Speaking Jews, which later became the Moroccan Jewish community and the Sephardic Federation in Canada.

In 1967 Tapiero did his doctoral dissertation in administration at New York University Until two years ago he served as professor at Columbia University in New York. Since then, he immigrated–for the second time–to Israel and became a professor at the School of Business Administration of the Hebrew University. Last year he took a leave of absence from the university to replace the late Andre Narvoni as the head of the department.

GETTING TO THE SEPHARDIC COMMUNITIES

At the end of his first year in the department, Tapiero believes he knows the direction which should be taken to get to the Sephardic community, both in Israel and overseas. One of his main objectives is to build a proper image for the Sephardic community. Sephardic Jews should be convinced that they are capable of helping themselves, he said. Once they are convinced, “they will be able to give what they have to give,” he stated.

Tapiero said this is a difficult task because the Sephardic community–which consists of 60 percent of Israel’s Jewish population–faces objective difficulties, such as an economic and cultural gap compared to other groups in the society. Thus, the WZO Department of Sephardic Communities has taken upon itself to improve the self-image of that community, not by creating division, but rather by a cultural-social synthesis, Tapiero said.

PROJECTS UNDERTAKEN BY THE DEPARTMENT

The first area in which the department works is the human and leadership development of the Sephardic community, Tapiero explained. The principle that guides this plan is that a person with education has the proper tool to advance in life. The department is currently subsidizing the studies of some 1700 students from development towns and deprived neighborhoods.

Each student costs the department some IL 30,000 which covers school fees as well as subsistence. In return, the students commit themselves to serve their towns or neighborhoods for a period of time which is equal to their period of studies.

The program has already shown results, Tapiero noted. The mayors of Tiberias and Yokneam, as well as members of municipal councils, local police officers and other senior public servants are graduates of the program, forming an advanced human infrastructure at the margins of Israeli society.

A second project is the increased number of activities inside the development towns and the poverty neighborhoods. The WZO department publishes a newspaper. “Hedim,” which has turned into an organ of the development towns. A third project is cultural activities in the development towns. These include special seminars for potential leaders in these communities.

BRINGING PEOPLE INTO THE MAINSTREAM

“The main purpose of all these activities is to bring this wonderful group of young Israelis into the mainstream of Israeli life so that they can contribute to the building of the society,” Tapiero said. The idea is that one cannot rehabilitate a neighborhood, but only an entire society.

He observed that such work should actually begin at the level of kindergarten, and should not be limited to promoting leadership. But, Tapiero said. “We begin where we can. We are trying to establish an infrastructure of leadership and go on from there. If we could, we would go deeper, but this is the part of the government’s role.” Realizing the potential gap between his resources and his aspirations. Tapiero said: “We are a small department, but our objectives are great.”

REACTION TO THE CHARGES

Reacting to the charges by Tapiero that Project Renewal is a “hodge-podge” administration, Yitzhak Shavit, deputy director general of project, said Tapiero’s charges were based on erroneous information.

Shavit said that in principle the project is built from the bottom to the top. That is, unless local steering committees are set — with the participation of the local residents–rehabilitation plans are not approved. In some cases plans were delayed because the local mayors did not agree to include residents on the planning committees.

However, Shavit added, because planning is in the best case a matter of several months, Project Renewal went ahead with projects which needed almost no planning — such as the construction of day centers and synagogues. “But in principle we do not approve any construction unless there is a comprehensive social plan for the rehabilitation of the deprived neighborhood,” Shavit said.

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