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Focus on Issues ‘project Renewal’ Has Reached Stage of Fitting Program Goals to Funds

Two and a half years after project renewal was born, it now undergoes a plastic surgery, which — the surgeons claim — will give it a beautiful new face. One indication that things are happening: The project has already left behind the days in which there was money in the bank, and one did not know what to do with it. It now faces the more familiar situation in which there is a detailed working plan, but there may not be enough money to implement it.

“We started two and half years ago as a partnership between the Government and the Diaspora” recalls David Hersch, national director of Project Renewal in the U.S. “The purpose was to rehabilitate neighborhoods in Israel which have been unable to join the mainstream of the Israeli society, a rehabilitation process which should have been taking place both socially and physically.”

The project was ambitious. The original plans called for the rehabilitation of 160 deprived neighborhoods in Israel, involving 300,000. The original sum which was to be raised for this purpose was $1.2 billion dollars, out of which 400 million dollars should have been raised in the U.S. — and the rest by the rest of world Jewry and the Israel Government. The money was to be raised above and beyond the regular pledges to the United Jewish Appeal and Keren Hayesod. It was hoped that within five years, the social gap in Israel would suffer a major blow.

Reality was less rosy. Until now American Jewry has pledged some $95 million. Plans for the foreseeable future relate only to 70 neighborhoods. The financial needs to rehabilitate these neighborhoods are estimated at $350 million. Thus, there is still a wide gap between the needs and the pledges, not to speak of cash. Yehiel Admoni, the new director general of the Project Renewal department of the Jewish Agency, says that this fiscal year is in effect only the second year of the project, which means that the project will not be completed before 1985, three years beyond the original intentions.

NEED SEEN CLEARLY; MEANS HAZY

“The program was originally presented to the American Jewish Community at a time when Israel did not have any mechanism for its implementation,” says David Hersch. “There was an understanding of the need, but it wasn’t clear how it should have been implemented. A problem of credibility was created. Money was pledged, forwarded, but was then frozen in the bank. Naturally, it affected the enthusiasm of orld Jewry to give a hand.

Admoni set up several principles, which he says are conditions for the success of the project. Top on his list is the economic advancement of the inhabitants in the deprived neighborhoods. Not only should they have more adequate housing, not only should they be encouraged for greater involvement in the community — in the first place they should make a decent living. “Unemployment and low income can kill the project,” Admoni warns.

High on his list is communal participation. No more exclusive reliance on the political representatives of the inhabitant people in the municipalities. Admoni wants to achieve greater involvement by direct participation of the representatives of the neighborhoods themselves in the development plans. “The main problem is not the physical deprivation. These are not slums as known elsewhere in the world. These are neighborhoods which have been neglected, inhabited by people who felt that they were deserted by the society,” said Admoni.

The third key to success, according to Admoni, is greater involvement by Jewish communities abroad which adopt specific neighborhoods in Israel. “Canadian Jewry contributes millions of dollars to the UJA, and nobody asks what one does with the money. With Project Renewal, the contributors check with us every minor detail,” say Admoni. “Only this week we had a meeting in which I was asked why $124.90 were not spent according to plans.” The contributors no longer were spending money for a general cause. They know exactly where the money goes — and they watch closely how it is being spent, how “their” specific community develops.

PROPER ADMINISTRATION CALLED KEY ELEMENT

Admoni argues that the way to implement the three principles is proper administration. “At the beginning there was no comprehensive planning, just like there is no comprehensive planning throughout the urban sector in Israel,” says Admoni. The city, for example, has very little say on the development plans of the Ministry of Construction and Housing. Admoni, who for years served as director general of the Jewish Agency settlement department, says he adopted the principle of rural planning to Project Renewal. The neighborhoods are now divided among several regions. Each region has an informal coordinator whose responsibility is to coordinate among the various government and Jewish Agency bodies involved in the project. “The new approach works,” says Admoni. “More than 20 neighborhoods have already been rehabilitated, but of course there are about 50 more neighborhoods to go.”

“World Jewry now believes that the project can be implemented,” says Admoni, “although due to the credibility problem of the past, we still have difficulties in opening faucets.” “The atmosphere in the neighborhoods themselves changed completely,” adds David Hersch. “In a few months, people started to believe in the project. We have reached a point where the pledges can meet the needs. The next six months to a year will determine the fate of the project.” The national UJA has reorganized the department responsible for raising the funds, and Project Renewal is now at the top of its priority list.

“There is no doubt that the project will prove successful,” says Admoni, “provided that the people will have sufficient aid to pull through.”

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