Posts Tagged ‘Guardian Angels’

A Tough Job:Who’s Going To Do It?

In Crime in Israel on December 4, 2009 at 04:17

Site of police officer shooting

Are Municipal Police in Israel's Future? And where are WE in this picture?

On Tuesday morning, I attended the day-long First International Safe Cities Conference, at Tel-Aviv’s David International Hotel.  I was officially there on behalf of the Guardian Angels: all decked out in my red beret and jacket and black multi-pocketed pants filled with information pamphlets. One of the burning questions of the day was whether Israel should reform the current system of policing to allow municipalities to have their own police departments.

Hagai Peled from Israel’s Internal Security Ministry represented the point of view of the National Police. In short, no one is as qualified as they to do the jobs of both crime prevention and dealing with anti-social behavior, that public concerns about crime are not consistent with the rate of crime reflected in police statistics and that municipalities have to deal with too many “local groups” whose pressure could influence the conduct and use of the police. He recommended improved cooperation between police and municipalities, laws that would allow increase police effectiveness, changes in the courts to make them tougher on crime, increased use of anti-crime technologies and increased use of local patrols but without police powers.

Shlomo Buchbut, Mayor of Maalot Tarshiha and chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, pointed out that when more that 62% of the population ranks fear of violence and crime as their number one concern, it’s time for the police to take a second look at their statistics. I would have loved to have offered him the example I saw on The Day of Struggle Against Violence Against Women last week, when, despite the fact that the police report that there have been only seven domestic violence-related murders in Israel this year, we read a Memorial List consisting of 15 names. That is apparently because the police only consider it a “domestic violence-related murder” if the relationship between the two is that of a couple. If a son kills his mother or sister or a grandparent kills a grandchild, for example, that isn’t part of the count.

Avi Naim, Chairman of the Security Committee and mayor of Beit Aryeh, pooh-poohed such examples of the effectiveness of the National Police as the reduction in car thefts (which he attributed to the building of the separation wall) and said that the National Police have failed in their mission when it comes to all kinds of crimes that hurt citizens’ quality of life.

He criticized current law enforcement, i.e. the “culture of laziness” among police officers and the light sentences given to criminals and, even more so, the lack of effective prevention.

In response to Mr. Peled’s concerns about “local influences”, he said that, unlike the national parliamentary system in which representative are selected indirectly, mayors have to pass a test of public confidence every five year called an election, which decreases the chance of politicization of the police. He said local governments must be the nerve center for both day-to-day life (personal security) and large-scale emergencies (public safety) but that they must also understand the level of responsibility involved and provide the training and integration with the National Police to make the system effective and efficient.

There were several other fine presenters. I especially enjoyed hearing Joyce Kaufman of WFTL in South Florida and her refreshingly Right Wing, outspoken First Amendment, pro-Israel and anti-crime rhetoric.

For me, the contrast between Joyce’s emphasis on personal responsibility and the Israelis’ relative paternalism was really striking. Do we, as citizens, play no part in the fight for personal security? What about our  spirit of activism, of volunteerism, of making a difference in their own communities? In order to effect change, efforts like the Hebrew University Students “Take Back The Night” March (see article below) rely on getting people up, out and angry enough to DO something . The police, whether national or local, may be essential in the fight against crime and violence, but they cannot be everywhere and do everything— and they should not be expected to. It’s time we “armed ourselves”, not with guns, but with knowledge, skills and a “can do” spirit, to refuse to allow our communities or ourselves to fall victim to intimidation, crime and violence.

The police can assist us, but they cannot empower us. That is something we must do for ourselves.

Students want to stop fear in Jerusalem

Students at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus protested against the growing phenomenon of sexual harassment and attacks in the area. To increase awareness of the problem of “paralysis”, they organized a march along the path associated with incidents of harassment.

Eli Mandelbaum and Shlomit Sharvit
YNet  02.12.09, 17:05

“Leaving the dormitories on Mt. Scopus and French Hill in the evening is a very difficult decision for any woman”, explains Hamutal Cohen from the organization ALEH (College Without Harassment). ” When walking back to the dorms from the university, women generally have to prepare themselves to absorb degrading and humiliating catcalls. Many students prefer to take the bus just to avoid the expected encounters with the men that show up in the area every night.”

The procession, that took place under the slogan “Women Want The Night Back “, was held out of a desire to restore the security of thousands of individual students living in dorms in the area adjacent to the university and to place the issue of sexual harassment on the agenda in order to find a solution to the situation.

Women Want The Night Back
“The current preventive actions by the municipality and the civil guard are important, but not sufficient to prevent incidents. The feeling is that the university is not doing enough to tackle the problem. There is a wall of silence around the issue,” says Cohen. “We hope that raising awareness will encourage women to join the Civil Guard and to defend themselves as a way of empowerment and coping with the fears that accompany us as women.

She said that violence against women is a broad social problem that is not restricted to a particular sector and does not remain only within the house, as most people mistakenly think.

“It accompanies women on their way to university and on their way home, in their workplaces and in their classrooms, “she explained.” Its manifestations are not only physical but also verbal, mental and emotional. Violence will not go away unless we fight it, men and women together, and women’s safety and security cannot be assured unless we stop all elements and aspect of these hate crimes. “

Hebrew University sent the following response: “The university administration is aware of the problem and has taken steps to drastically reduce the number of complaints. The University’s Security Department has added security patrol vehicles that move along the axis of movement of students at night. In addition, the Security Department has asked the Israel Police to increase the number of patrols in areas under their supervision in the area in question. The Jerusalem Municipality has also increased the lighting in the area. The University requests that any female student that is harassed issue an official complaint with the Security Department to help them eradicate these incidents.

Choices Of The Heart

In Violence in Israeli Society on October 18, 2009 at 01:47

All too familiar a scene

All too familiar a scene

This past Wednesday night, I went to Beit Shemesh to talk to a group of residents, to hear their concerns about rising crime in their neighborhoods and to talk with them about the possibility of  creating a Beit Shemesh Safety Patrol for Israel’s Guardian Angels.

My hosts were originally expecting it to be a parlor meeting about 10-12 people. Then, last Friday night a neighborhood 14 year-old was attacked by four local 11-12 year-olds. He eventually managed to get away from them, but not before sustaining a cut under his eye that looks like it may have been made by a “sharp instrument”. Suddenly, requests to join the meeting started pouring in. My hostess had to turn people away.

Apparently, that young man from BeitShemesh has the entire community behind him now! If the young thugs who attacked him plan on continuing their violent ways, they sure picked the wrong victim and the wrong time.

Timing: Is It Everything?

Nothing like an attack close to home to bring out the neighbors. But what about all these recent crime stories, this summer’s spate of killings or yesterday’s shocking family murder (see below)? Is this the direction all our neighborhoods are headed or it is just media spin?

Well, according to a recent study that analyzed violent crime in Israel on the basis of Israel Police data for every violent offense between 1980-2007,  there has been an average increase of 37 percent in the number of cases opened for crimes of violence per 100,000 inhabitants.

However,  despite today’s shocking headlines, most of this increase occurred during the 1990s; since 2000, the level has been roughly stable or slightly declined.

Murders Down, Assaults Up

The number of murder cases per 100,000 inhabitants fell from 2.29 in 1980 to 1.82 in 1990 and then to 1.75 in 2007. According to researchers Prof. Aryeh Rattner, head of the Haifa University Center for the Study of Crime, Law and Society, and Prof. Gideon Fishman, an expert on criminology and president of Western Galilee College, the incidence of murder and attempted murder in Israel remains relatively low. By comparison, the incidence of murder in the United States in recent years has been about 7 to 8 per 100,000. In England, it is 1.62, and in Canada, 1.74. In Russia, the rate has been 18 murders per 100,000.

At the same time,  incidents of assault jumped. In 1980, there were 281 cases of assault per 100,000 inhabitants; by 2007, this number rose to 444.

About one-third of all 1990s assault cases were domestic violence cases. Cases of assault and grievous bodily harm in the context of domestic violence between 1990 and 2007 increased  157 percent. Ladies, maybe it’s not such a good idea to stay home after all…

Choices of The Heart

I don’t know about you, but, in my experience, very few people are moved to action by statistics.  They may use statistics to justify themselves, but real decisions of this nature are usually made in the heart, not the head. In the end, whether its Guardian Angels Safety Patrols or El HaLev Self-Defense Classes, it boils down to how close to your heart the threat of violence has come and what you choose to do with the fear that that threat engenders. Some people go into denial. Others lock their doors and bar their windows. And some  stand up, by themselves or with their neighbors, and take their safety into their own hands.

Family of 6 Slain in Central Israel

Emergency services called to scene of fire in Rishon Lezion shocked to find four adults, toddler, three-month old baby stabbed to death. Firefighter: It was a gruesome scene;  incident believed homicide

Eli Senyor- Ynet

The bodies of six people, including two children, were found in a torched apartment in central Israel’s Rishon Lezion’s Nordau Street Saturday.

Mass emergency, Fire and Rescue and police forces were called to the scene of the fire in the early hours of the morning. The flames were soon extinguished, but paramedics had no choice but to pronounce six individuals found at the apartment dead at the scene.

The victims were identified as Eduard Ushrenko and his wife Ludmila (56), their son Demetri (32), his wife Tatiana (28) and their two children, Revital (3) and Netanel (four months).

Initial investigation revealed multiple points of origin for the fire, as well as evidence of blood and stab wounds on the bodies. The Police believe the deaths were not related to the fire and are treating the case as a homicide…

Firefighter Moshe Cohen told Ynet …

“It was a gruesome scene. We quickly realized their deaths were not related to the fire, but that it was in all probability a criminal act…

Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen, Central Police District Commander Nisim Mor and HaShephelah Subdistrict Commander Shimon Ben Harush arrived at the scene to personally supervise the investigation.

Mor: “This is a very difficult scene. Five members of the family were found stabbed and one body was found charred. We are currently exploring all leads, but we believed the murders were committed from within the apartment, since it was found with the door locked.”…

A background check on the family involved revealed the police had no record of them…

Violence A Stone’s Throw Away

In Violence in Israeli Society on October 4, 2009 at 16:10
Jewish Women in Burqas & Haredi Gangstas: Whats Next For Beit Shemesh

Jewish Women in Burqas & Haredi Gangstas: What's Next For Beit Shemesh?

One of my favorite things to do during the Succot Holiday is to visit my friends living in Beit Shemesh.  Every year, we have a luscious BBQ in their Succah and mosey over to the Beit Shemesh Jewish Rock & Soul Festival, where residents and visitors alike chill out on brotherhood, love and Jewish-oriented Rock & Roll.

This year, for me at least, it will be difficult to sprawl out on the grass and relax without flashing back to some of the disturbing headlines this Biblical city has recently produced.

One such story is that of the so-called Taliban Mother. Insisting on being “more modest-than-thou” by dressing in a full Muslim burqa, this woman, together with her husband, severely abused her 12 children. The social service system suspected.  Key people in her ultra-religious community knew. And those children continued to suffer.

And then there is the story below. It is the story of how a few dozen hoodlums in religious garb are using verbal and physical violence  to terrorize people and hold opposing members of their community hostage to fear of retaliation. They have been known to hurl insults, spit, eggs, stones and bricks at unsuspecting visitors and to kick and beat them to the ground simply because they don’t approve of the way they are dressed or whom they are with. I was told by one Beit Shemesh resident that police, seeing that a group of these thugs approaching, insisted that a woman they were apparently targeting leave immediately. What if anything was done to or about the looming assailants, no one seems to know.

Thanks to the efforts of many segments of the Beit Shemesh community, there are long stretches of relative quiet. Not surprisingly,  however, those stretches tend to lull people back to complacency. Violence remains only a stone’s throw away.

A few weeks from now, I am going to sit down with members of the Beit Shemesh community, all of whom are likely to be Modern Religious and Native English-Speakers, to hear their concerns about crime and violence in their community. I will explain to them, as best as I can, how creating a local chapter of the International Alliance of Guardian Angels could be the grassroots solution they are looking for to help them pull their community together and stop the violence. I will tell them how such a chapter is organized and offer to train them in verbal and physical self-defense and in patrol tactics.

I expect that they will find it relatively easy to talk about the problems of youth crimes and drugs among many of their less-religious and poorer neighbors.  Like many cities in Israel, Beit Shemesh has its share of disillusioned, disenfranchised teens and vagrants. However, I don’t know whether they will be ready to discuss the  issue of dealing with the problematic elements of their Ultra-Religious neighbors. The fact that religious people behave in such shockingly immoral ways casts a shadow over religious people of every stripe, even those who deplore the actions of these Fundamentalist Gangstas.

Part of the advantage I have as  both a social worker and an El HaLev self-defense instructor is that I long ago learned the importance of starting from where your “client” is. Even if the ‘elephant in the room’ wears earlocks and a streimal (fur hat) or a wig and a burqa, I can manage to overlook it for a while.  Empowerment, like life, is a journey, not a destination.

I hope that among this handful of  Beit Shemesh residents, I will find one who is ready to lead. If one has the courage to take up the challenge, others will follow. And we’ll begin the process with the enemy they least fear to face, the one who is the least like them. It will take time, commitment and a few small successes before  they will be ready to face that elephant—the one that most elicits their own doubts and fears.

In the meanwhile, let the music play.

In Beit Shemesh, residents struggle to counter violent religious coercion

By Dina Kraft · July 12, 2009

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (JTA) — The 15-year-old girl remembers a roar of male voices, a blur of bearded faces and being kicked from behind as she was pelted with raw eggs.

She was with two other girlfriends who, like her, are Modern Orthodox, and they had been walking on a Friday night through a fervently Orthodox neighborhood of Beit Shemesh known for being hostile to outsiders — including fellow observant Jews like themselves.

But things had been quiet for months and the girls shrugged off any concerns. Then a mob approached.

“They were screaming at us, ‘Shame on yourselves! Get out of here!’ ” said the girl, who did not want to give her name. “There were about 50 men screaming on the top of their lungs.”

The incident was among the more recent examples of violence by a pocket of fervently Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh who employ sporadic violence, threaten business owners and post street signs warning women not to walk on certain sidewalks to impose an uncompromising brand of religious fundamentalism on their community.

In Beit Shemesh, a city of some 70,000 approximately 30 minutes from Jerusalem, it is the neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet (Beit Shemesh Heights B) that has become a flashpoint. Though the thuggish elements are relatively small in number — as few as several dozen, some say — their use of gangster tactics has sown fear among Beit Shemesh residents, who range from haredi, or fervently Orthodox, Jews to Modern Orthodox.

The neighborhood has a mall that stands only half built after some haredim threatened a boycott if separate shopping times for men and women were not designated. Stone-throwing riots erupted when the owner of a pizza parlor, who had received threats warning against allowing boys and girls to congregate together, took down a sign calling for “modesty.”

Two years ago, a woman and a male soldier who tried to protect her were beaten when the woman refused to move to the back of a public bus. The police who arrived at the scene reportedly were attacked by the crowd.

One haredi rabbi who lives in the neighborhood and spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity said that most of his neighbors, like him, oppose the behavior of the violent haredim, but they are too intimidated to act against them.

“Most rabbis definitely do not accept what is going on,” he said. “But as for coming out in public, I believe they are afraid to because if they do so, they, too, would be attacked.”

Although it has been relatively quiet in Beit Shemesh for the past year — a calm some credit to local mediation efforts — the attack on the three schoolgirls reignited tensions.

“An abomination has happened in Israel,” read a flier that was posted throughout the neighborhood after the attack. “We will not let this pass quietly.”

Written with the help of haredim who were outraged by the attack, the fliers — known in the haredi world as pashkivilim and used to disseminate information in religious communities where members rarely watch TV, listen to the radio or read newspapers or the Internet — were the result of an outreach and mediation effort launched by a group of local Modern Orthodox Jews.

Community members said the response was welcome — and surprising.

Residents were “shocked that for the first time anyone stood up to the” fundamentalists, said Rabbi Dov Lipman, a Modern Orthodox immigrant from Maryland who has been at the forefront of both confronting and mediating with the more extreme haredi sects in Beit Shemesh. “As much as we are protecting ourselves, we are also freeing those who live in the community who are under siege.”

The haredim causing trouble are mostly transplants from Neturei Karta and Satmar haredi communities in Jerusalem who migrated to Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, like many suburbanites, in search of more affordable housing.

For years Beit Shemesh had been known as a sleepy working-class town populated mainly by Moroccan immigrants and their descendants. But in the past decade or two the demographics of the city have shifted dramatically as Orthodox Ashkenazim, ranging from haredi Jerusalemites to Modern Orthodox new immigrants from North America and England, have moved in.

Menachem Friedman, an Israeli sociologist and expert on haredim, said the haredi violence in Beit Shemesh is far more extreme than the haredi protests in places such as Jerusalem because Beit Shemesh lacks an established rabbinic authority. In larger cities, he says, rabbis generally rein in the rogues.

The extremists “think they live in an area with weak local government and a weak local population, and that lets them feel that they can maneuver and spread power and dare to act violently,” Friedman said.

A haredi who identified himself as Yisrael and hails from the more extreme haredi faction, is among those who has been meeting with Lipman. Yisrael attributes the violence to “provocations,” saying he and his cohorts will not be silent when their religious way of life is threatened.

Lipman, who teaches at a local yeshiva for American students, admits that some view as naive his efforts to broker an understanding with the extremist elements in the city. He says it’s about taking communal responsibility for his town.

“This problem is something we could not have ever imagined as we sacrificed so much to make aliyah, and we are enraged,” Lipman said. “But the problem won’t simply go away by itself. We feel that we have a responsibility to do something about it both for ourselves and on behalf of our native Israeli neighbors who understandably don’t want to take up this battle.”

Israel’s Guardian Angels

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2009 at 19:26

Blogger’s Note: Helping the community of Kiryat Moshe, Rehovot by bringing the Guardian Angels concept to Israel has been one of my greatest challenges. This article in the Jerusalem Post is a landmark in that journey.

International Alliance of Guardian Angel’s founder and WABC radio host Curtis Sliwa and his red-bereted colleagues are famous for helping clean up the mean streets of crime-ridden New York City in the 70’s.

But what do they have to do with what’s happening in the Holy Land circa right now?

Read on… and let me know what you think.

Angels On The Streets

Night Training with Char

Night training with South African GA Char Viljoen

Jun. 24, 2009

Temperatures are heating up in Rehovot’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood. A simmering feud between two rival groups of youth has landed one youngster in the hospital, the first major flare-up since 17-year-old Adama Toreku was stabbed to death a couple of years ago.

“The summer is a balagan (mess), with kids on the street day and night,” says Shaul Tzaghon, the director of Israel’s first Guardian Angels Project. “We have to cope with it.”

Since Tzaghon and his team of Angels have been patrolling the streets, they have not only succeeded in preventing violence and deterring crime, they have also encouraged the neighborhood residents to clean up and paint their buildings, and aspire to improve themselves, as well.

The year-old Angels Project is a joint project of the Guardian Angels International Organization, which focuses on neighborhood safety, and ELEM, Israel’s leading outreach organization for youth at risk.

Pre-Patrol Conference

Pre-Patrol Conference

Kiryat Moshe’s socioeconomic profile could easily make it a breeding ground for crime and violence. Fifty-six percent of the families living in Kiryat Moshe are Ethiopian; the remaining are immigrants from the former CIS and France, and old-timers from Morocco. Many families comprised of eight or nine people are squeezed into three-room apartments.

But according to the latest police reports, the Angels/ELEM project is helping reduce crime in the neighborhood.

“Actually, only a very small number of youth in Kiryat Moshe are trouble-makers,” comments Tzaghon. “The people here are very sensitive about their image and sick and tired of seeing only bad news in the papers.

“Crime festers on feelings of negativism and frustration. We’re trying to cause a switch in attitude,” says the Angels director. He and his team of 22 young volunteers from the neighborhood have a clear message: Don’t wait for someone else to fix your problems. Their motto? “You can do it.”

Char works with Shaul & Yisrael on restraining hold

Char works with Shaul & Yisrael on restraining hold

Wearing bright red jackets in cooler weather, and red-and-white T-shirts on warm days, the Kiryat Moshe Angels patrol the streets on Sunday nights, but are active all week long. “The youth know we really care about them, and are not just there to break up fights,” says Tzaghon.

“There is a theory that crime moves in when there is a broken window,” Jill Shames, a martial arts pro who was called in to teach self-defense to girls in the neighborhood in 2005, explains. “A broken window, graffiti, gangs of troublemakers hanging around, abandoned cars – cause people to think of themselves as neglected. They become apathetic.”

Shames contacted Curtis Sliwa, founder and director of the Guardian Angels, an organization that began with unarmed volunteers patrolling the subways of New York in the high-crime late ’70s. In recent years, Guardian Angels has also introduced programs against bullying in schools and founded a CyberAngels wing to protect kids against cyber abuse, which won the President’s Service Award in 1998. GA is active in 13 countries and hundreds of cities throughout the world.

“Jill is a whirling dervish of action,” Sliwa commented in a recent e-mail. Shames, who holds degrees in public relations and social work, serves as the pro bono liaison of the GA in Israel.

“Our mission – the Angels/ELEM model – is to make the youth part of the solution, instead of part of the problem,” Shames declares.

“Adolescence is a very difficult stage,” said Zion Gabay, National Director of ELEM. “It’s natural for young people to feel alienated, to feel that they don’t belong. In the Ethiopian community, it’s especially difficult because there have been role reversals.”

“Ethiopians who came to Israel in the last 15 years have had to cope with many problems,” Tzaghon points out. Cultural identity is a big issue. Lacking technical knowledge, language, and job skills, the traditionally large families (with five to seven children) often live in crowded housing. Many exist on the brink of poverty. “There is a gap between the parents and children. A 56-year-old man can’t help his fourth-grade son with homework. When a classmate says ‘my mom helped me,’ the Ethiopian boy feels despair.”

“This is not a neighborhood like Ramle, parts of Jaffa, or Beersheba, where drugs and crime are big problems,” says Tzaghon defensively. “Violence occurs either out of frustration or after too much alcohol.” Nargileh (water pipe) use is another problem, he adds.

One evening, on a tour of the neighborhood with the Angels’ director and Shames, both clad in highly visible Guardian Angels red jackets, Tzaghon demonstrates his method of building connections and inspiring trust.

“How are you? What’s happening?” he asks three girls hanging out on a bench in the park. He stops to chat with them. Two boys ride by on bicycles, but when they recognize him, stop. “Are you still going to the Youth Center?” he asks. Meeting another, older, teenager, he pats him on the back, and asks: “When are you going to go into the army?”

At a children’s playground, two young men on leave from the army complain about the poor equipment and safety. “I wouldn’t let my three-year-old niece play here,” said one. “Do you think we can do something about it?”

Curtis Sliwa and ELEM Staff

Curtis Sliwa and ELEM Staff

On a pre-launch trip to Israel, Curtis Sliwa saw Tzaghon in action. “Walking with him through the streets of Rehovot, you could feel the love and respect he generated.” Recently, he commented: “In the Who’s Who of community organizers, there will be a picture of Barack Obama and Shaul Tzaghon. Shaul is tireless and self-less.”

Tzaghon, an Ethiopian immigrant who came to Israel at the age of 9, is one of nine children. His father was a teacher and a judge in Gonda. After high school, he studied practical engineering. Before being drafted, he volunteered as a counselor for new immigrants from Yemen. In the army, Tzaghon was trained as an officer in the Ordnance Corps. After completing his service, he looked for a job where he could have an impact on the community.

Speaking to the local youth, as insiders, the neighborhood Angels – all of whom, except Jill and Shaul, hail from Kiryat Moshe – are more credible than outsiders.

Tzaghon meets with two volunteers, Israel Rado, 23, and Merav Vobo, 21, in the Angels’ simply decorated conference room in the Absorption Ministry facility in Kiryat Moshe. Both Rado and Vobo lead teams that go out to patrol and meet the young people on the street. The volunteers meet with the director for an hour before and after patrols to exchange impressions of particular problems that may surface and plan activities.

Rado – born in Israel, like more than one-third of 120,000 Israeli-Ethiopians – lives with his parents and seven siblings in Kiryat Moshe. Rado says he had to figure out his own direction before giving advice to others. He sings and plays the masenko, an Ethiopian single-stringed lute with a bow, and hopes to study music at university, “to learn to be a composer.”

“I’d like to have two careers, one in high tech, and another in music,” he says. To that end, he began a computer programming course.

“Sometimes people don’t realize that even though they made mistakes in their past, they can change. I try to encourage Ethiopian youth to go to the army,” says Rado. “I urge them to think about careers and not to waste opportunities. Many youth look for short-term pleasures over long-term.”

Neighborhood Cleanup

Neighborhood Cleanup

Vobo, who came to Israel at age three from Gondar in Ethiopia, is one of four young women Angels. “We felt a distance when we approached groups the first two months. Now, they wait for us,” she says. Vobo is studying criminology in Ashkelon and, since she worked to earn money while attending high school, likes to give advice on finding a job.

Vobo and Rado are helping seek new recruits for the Angels program. Six are already in training. “My goal is to have a total of 70 Angels within a year,” says Tzaghon. “If each one meets with three people, they would have an influence on 210 people, almost all of the 650 families.”

To reach more youngsters, he is also kicking off an Angels Youth program, for youths aged 16-18 to learn self-defense and patrol the streets two afternoons a week. “My dream is to introduce the Angels program throughout Israel,” he says, pointing to the manual he wrote.

“The high quality of the volunteers, and the fact that they come from the neighborhood, is key to the program’s success,” notes Gabai. He would like to introduce the Guardian Angels program to other cities, and mentions Beit Shemesh, Bat Yam, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat as possibilities. He also thinks it would be a success in Arab communities.

The volunteer-driven Angels Project is low-cost (Tzaghon is the only salaried employee). For it to expand, another part-time professional staffer is required. Uniforms and training are provided by the Guardian Angels. A couple of months ago, Charl Viljoen, the director of GA in Capetown, came to Israel to provide advanced training.

“Viljoen pushed us two degrees higher in our skills,” says Tzaghon. “We learned skills for dealing with a dangerous person- some techniques we knew from the army – and I learned a lot about organizing.”

After the 2007 stabbing, the Angels’ toughest job was dealing with the anger, desire for revenge, and daily physical attacks. For four months, Tzaghon and his Angels worked daily to reduce tension. Finally, the enemies agreed to a sulha, a truce. “For the most part, it has held. There may be fights every once in a while, but not the same fear,” says Tzaghon. “The Angels hear about a problem, and immediately try to defuse it.”

One of the most dramatic changes has been in the Guardian Angels themselves. When they first started, only four volunteers were students in colleges or other professional training courses; now, at least 70% are students. The Ethiopian National Project (ENP) views education as the key to advancement for the young people. Its after-school SPACE program has successfully boosted thousands of Ethiopian students in high school to excel in math and English and gain self-confidence.

As much as the neighborhood benefits from the Angels’ work, the volunteers benefit at least as much. “It’s all a matter of making a mental switch from ‘Why even try?’ to ‘I can do it,'” says Tzaghon.

According to Shames, “What really made it happen was that Shaul saw it as a way for the whole community to take charge of its own destiny.”