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A better Israel

“Hope is the product—not the byproduct”

Adir Schwartz, interviewed 02 November

By Adiel Guggenheim

Adir Schwartz, 29, is a native Jerusalemite and a member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, representing the liberal-centrist party Hitorerut Beyerushalayim (WakeUp Jerusalem). Founded in 2008, Hitorerut’s platform emphasizes the importance of preserving and restoring a liberal urban landscape, mobilizing young people’s activism and civic pride, fostering bridges between the city’s diverse groups, and innovation for social change.

A self-described social and political activist since the age of 16, Adir believes that young people can be the prime movers in promoting a better life for the city’s residents. Creating a vibrant city with more options for social life, employment, and housing for people completing their higher education would be counteract city’s youth-drain problem, helping it turn around its lagging economic growth for the benefit of all, and fixing parts of Jerusalem’s identity as poor city without opportunities.

Apart from being a city councilman, which is a volunteer position, Adir is a professional consultant in a firm that provides support to crowd-funding campaigns. On the morning of Saturday, October 7, he dropped everything and became one of the founding pillars of the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center, or the Hamal.

How was the JCCC organized?

Adir recalls that at first, when the air-raid alert sirens went off on Saturday morning, it was hard to comprehend. “But we quickly realized that it was real and that it was going to be a major critical event. Our people in Hitorerut were already primed for action because we were in the midst of the mayoral and city council election campaign, which has now been postponed. It was easy to mobilize people in the movement at almost a moment’s notice.”

That day, he says, he arrived at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio at noon, after their office announced that they could provide shelter to house evacuees from the Gaza border area. “I asked them for some tables to set up headquarters for a civil mobilization campaign. There were three of us there—and by 7pm we were over 100 people.”

They forged a jointly sponsored civilian agency, partnering with Lev Echad (One Heart), a social welfare association with 25 branch offices all over Israel, and several other groups including another Jerusalem political party, United Jerusalem–Ichud Yerushalmi, Shalem College, the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio, the Bezalel Art Academy, and two organizations that have played a leading role in the political protest movement this year, the Students’ Protest Committee and Shomrot v'shomrim al habayit hameshutaf (Protecting Our Shared Home). With these varied elements in place, it was relatively easy to kickstart an emergency help desk “before government officials had even found their telephones.”

How does it work?

“The first call for help that we got came from someone near the Gaza fence who was wounded during the Hamas attack and was hiding near a disabled tank. He wanted someone to come and get him out to safety, but no one else was answering his calls. Then more calls kept pouring in, at first from people needing rides to the southern or northern army bases. It was a Saturday—Shabbat—so there was no public transportation.” Clearly, there was a pressing need to round up drivers.

The number of JCCC volunteers recruited since that day has swelled to over five thousand people distributed among twenty or so work teams and answering calls for anything from diapers to gear for soldiers and emotional support services. Many evacuees from the Gaza Envelope and from towns and cities on the northern border are staying in hotels in the city, which, Adir says, are like “refugee camps with lobbies.”

“There are lots of young people involved in our work and they have amazing spirit, amazing energy. It’s very similar to what we did a couple of years ago, when we set up a crisis center together with Lev Echad during the Covid lockdowns. It’s the same model, and we knew from that experience just what we needed to do.”

What motivates you and all these people?

“First of all, it’s part of the war effort. We can’t finish this war with our society intact unless there’s a big civilian volunteer effort. That’s not something the government can furnish. Only the civil sector can project a strong sense of solidarity and hope. Hope is the product—not the byproduct—of what we’re doing here.”

A large cohort of civilian volunteers, he points out, “keeps us from feeling helpless after what happened on October 7. It restores people’s sense of empowerment. No government agency can accomplish that, even when everything is working well. And right now, nothing is working well. That is the task of the civil sector—to fill this special role.”

These efforts, he argues, are the most meaningful actions people in the civil sector can possibly take when it comes to winning the war. It will provide the energy and the means to help the country repair the economy, rehabilitate everyone who has been harmed, and restore normalcy.

How do you feel about this work and what do you think it might accomplish?

“I feel a lot of satisfaction. I’m happy to play my part and do something.” Adir notes that he is on site at the command center every day from 8AM to 10PM. “It helps me sleep at night,” Adir adds, only half-jokingly.

“You feel that what we’re accomplishing here is very direct. In normal times, whatever you may do might have some indirect, incremental impact on someone down the line. But this is different—you can see that you’re helping people right now, in a very concrete, direct, and simple sense.”

In the short term, Adir feels confident that the work being done at the JCCC will help Israel win the war and keep the home front from falling apart. When the bombs fall silent, a lot will depend on the state in which the country finds itself. It will determine how well Israel will recover. Resilience, he observes, is a resource that has to be deliberately cultivated and nurtured.

As for longer prospects, Adir says, “I hope we can use the solidarity we’ve built here—the bonds, the partnerships, the hope—and utilize this to create a better Israel, and a better city of Jerusalem.”

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