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Civic solidarity

This is the moment when we need to pool all our deeply anchored faith in Israeli society

Michal Muskat Barkan, interviewed November 1, 2023 By Eli Lederhendler

Michal Muskat Barkan—a professor of education at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as well as one of the leaders of the Shomrot Veshomrim Al Habait Hameshutaf protest organization—is one of the central figures coordinating the civilian volunteer response to the war emergency. She is one of the central actors to bring together the response effort now known as the Jerusalem Civilian Command Center, known in Hebrew as the Hamal.

Before October 7, Michal had spent the previous ten months leading a broad civic coalition of groups—called Protecting Our Shared Home—to protest against the Netanyahu government’s plans to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. In that role, she developed an effective network with many people from across the spectrum of Israeli society—liberals and conservatives, doves and hawks, religious and secular, Jews and Palestinians. She herself belongs to one of Jerusalem’s egalitarian modern Orthodox congregations.

“When the war started on October 7th, without giving it a second thought, a bunch of us arrived at the Hamal. I think that our deeply felt civic responsibility, which motivated us in the previous months, brought us to this juncture. This is the moment when we need to pool all our efforts and networks and our deeply anchored faith in Israeli society in order to work together to meet the huge needs of our civil society and our soldiers. We realized it was time to practice what we preached.”

Making Israel a better place for all of us is not a top-down effort, to be provided by the state and its institutions, but a broadly social effort that involves us in hands-on, daily commitments.

What are the practical arrangements that you were able to put in place? How does it work?

Initially, the first volunteers to respond were assisted by students and faculty members from Shalem College and, over the days that followed, the ranks continued to grow. The first efforts were directed toward gathering and supplying medical equipment and personal items for IDF soldiers, but the work rapidly expanded to embrace various areas, such as arranging for food for evacuees or coordinating with people who were relocated to temporary housing in hotels and institutions. The JCCC has so far raised over five million shekels from donors in Israel and around the world, and has overseen an expanding range of services—ranging from transportation and emotional support to food, household supplies, and other equipment for evacuated households from the south and the north.

It has been widely reported in the media that government ministries and agencies have been slow in delivering assistance to those in need. This conforms with a more general sense of frustration with the way that authorities were caught completely unprepared by the crisis. Voluntary civil action is a way to underscore the scope of what is needed, to provide “first aid” until more regular services can be secured, and to lead the way in alerting the public to what can be done by one and all.

Although the program began with a relatively small nucleus of people, its successful expansion over the past thirty days has produced a large team with round-the-clock shifts and devotion to the cause.

How will this affect Israel after the war?

Barkan says that the current activity epitomizes her hopes for Israel’s future. “This movement has tried to promote civic responsibility and solidarity. This is what Israel needs. It’s not that in Israel we don’t have a Left and Right. We do have these differences, but what we need is to find ways to accept the differences, and still to work together.”

Michal Muskat Barkan and her students

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