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A personal kind of caring

“It’s important to me to work for a Jerusalem that is open and hospitable to all sorts of people.”

Interviewed with Rotem, taken November 12, 2023

By Eli Lederhendler

Rotem, 30, a social media manager, came to the Jerusalem Civil Command Center (JCCC) on the first evening of the war, Saturday, October 7. Staying at home and passively watching the events were not an option. He soon joined the Home Hospitality Team.

How does it work?

The Home Hospitality Team, headed up by Gal Stern and Yael Peretz, works daily to find temporary housing for evacuees displaced from homes that were attacked, damaged, or destroyed during the initial fighting, as well as those who were instructed to evacuate during the ensuing rocket attacks. In all, several hundred thousand Israelis fled from towns near the Gaza or the Lebanese borders.

Rotem notes that while many were directed to hotels, it took some time for such large-scale solutions to be arranged, and the authorities were not quick enough in managing this domestic refugee crisis. “I felt that I wanted to help people. I wasn’t prepared to see their needs ignored or left to chance.”

Rotem worked together with the rest of the team to locate private lodgings throughout the Jerusalem area. The JCCC posted an online sign-up form, asking people to open their homes to their fellow citizens who had become homeless. About one thousand Jerusalemites from every walk of life signed up, indicating how many individuals they were able to house, whether they could accept pets, what forms of kosher kitchen norms they were able to accommodate, and how accessible their quarters were for people with disabilities.

“People with special needs are ‘transparent’ even during normal times,” Rotem points out. “All the more so during this emergency. We spent days trying to match their needs with offered lodgings.” Rotem estimates that only about 10 percent of the available housing units could be categorized as fully accessible.

“There was one case in particular,” Rotem recalls, “a woman needing evacuation from Ashkelon, who was completely dependent on her wheelchair. I dealt mainly with her sister, and spent days tracking down an apartment that was suitable.” It had to be not only accessible from the street but also fully equipped with built-in accessibility features.

“When she moved in, she called to thank me. It was an emotional moment. I’m waiting for a good opportunity soon to go and visit her in person.”

Has the team achieved its objectives?

At this stage, the pool of available accommodations has almost been exhausted, and there are early signs that some people, who have lived out of suitcases for over a month, are beginning to drift homeward, even though their homes are still in areas being targeted by rocket attacks.

“What’s more to the point,” Rotem argues, “is that our volunteer action, as members of the public, can only stretch so far. It’s high time for the government to really step up to the plate and do the work that is required, especially for those households that need long-term solutions.”

What motivates Rotem? Why did he feel this was so important?

Helping people in a direct way has been Rotem’s chief motivation. Even before the war, he made a point of becoming personally involved in civic issues. He has been very involved for years in helping to organize the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.

“It’s important to me to work for a Jerusalem that is open and hospitable to all sorts of people.”

Beyond that general sense of civic responsibility, he feels that acting concretely, doing something on behalf of the living, is crucially important for him and the other team members. “The news has been filled with people who are dead, missing, or captured.” Working as part of the Hamal, he says, “is a kind of buffer. It’s so important for us on the home front to get some measure of psychological relief.”

“The energy among us is very positive.” He describes it with a single-word Hebrew expression—ichpatiyut—which conveys a spirit of personal caring and a commitment to making things count. That says it all.

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