Posts Tagged 'intercultural'

Reaching out gets results

by Sara Wajid

Municipal services in the UK are designed for the whole community and the responsibility lies with individuals to make use of those services.

But what happens when one size does not fit all users and vulnerable groups don’t take up badly-needed services thereby increasing their isolation?

In South Tottenham, London there is a well-established Orthodox Jewish community which typically has big families and small incomes. Local property prices have escalated steeply in the last decade, facing the new generation with a serious challenge. Their religion means they must live within walking distance of their special synagogues, but they can ill afford to buy in what has become a prohibitively expensive area. Haringey Council has taken steps towards engaging with the local Orthodox Jewish community. The secret to their success was simple – start by employing someone to whom the community can talk.

As far as she knows, Sara Leviten is the only community worker in the country focussing on the needs of Orthodox Jews. She feels her traditional Jewish background was key to gaining the trust of the community and conceiving successful culturally-appropriate community projects. Initiatives like the pre-Passover creche and extra disposal services during Passover, when Jewish households have a clear out.

Leviten learned her skills as a youth worker within the Jewish community in Liverpool. “Doing the practicalities yourself – from leafleting, to walking and talking – and spending as little time as possible on the policy and strategy, and boxes to tick, makes all the difference,” she says.

Although not from an Ultra-Orthodox background herself, she knows that the Charedi and Chassidim grow up in very enclosed isolated environments. English is a second language for many, they don’t own televisions, read general newspapers or tend to use statutory institutions or engage with the council. So an intimate knowledge of Jewish culture is vital to making urgently-needed services accessible to them.

The average family size of Orthodox Jews in Tottenham is 5.9 and only 22 percent of adult members of the community are in full time work. The demand for youth provision is growing but the community cannot rely does not have the resources to continue relying on the old system of self-help community benevolence.

In 2005, a one-year €90,000 South Tottenham Community Development Project was established with Neighbourhood Regeneration Funds from central government. It followed an arson attack on a local synagogue in 2004. Some 3000 people participated in 12 community activities, including homework clubs, holiday schemes, and a toy library, and attendance of Orthodox Jews at public meetings increased.

The strong Jewish tradition of ‘looking after your own’ and officialdom’s conventional thinking ‘They’re not asking for anything so we don’t need to go knocking on their doors’ has created serious barriers between the community and the council. These have been broken down thanks to the project, says Leviten.

Copyright Sara Wajid

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