Time to Re-Lod!

By Rebecca Taranto, Masa Israel Intern

Did I mean to say “re-load” instead of “Re-Lod?” No, I did not! Lod (pronounced “load”) is a city in Israel and Re-Lod is the name of a project whose mission is to revitalize the city through the power of the people. Yesterday with the conference I am currently attending I and about 30 others visited Lod as part of a guided service-learning tour. Our tour guide was Yuval Bdolach, CEO of the Re-Lod Project. The Re-Lod project facilitates student villages in Lod where university students can have a more unique student community experience, dedicating part of their time to servicing their community.

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First stop on our tour: some really old ruins in Lod! Circa 1000 years I think?

Bdolach told us that Lod is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, having been resided in, to this day, for 8,000 years. Lod is one of the only cities in the world where the same building houses Jewish religious services and Islamic religious services. It serves as a working model for coexistence. (Side note: this theme of coexistence in Lod reminds me of the same in Haifa. Remember this?)

Thirty minutes southeast of Tel-Aviv and about one hour northwest of Jerusalem, you would think that because of its central location in Israel, Lod would be full of young professionals and middle-to-upper class families. This is not the case.

In Israel Lod is known for being a more run-down area and is comprised approximately of 70% Jewish Israelis and of 30% Arab Israelis.

Anthropologists and sociologists often theorize that a city will prosper when a strong population moves in. This theory is the basis for the Re-Lod project and for an organized network of orthodox religious families who believe that just by living in Lod they are helping to strengthen the community and the city. The families think that just by demanding more out of their everyday services and schools they can make a tangible difference in the quality of life in Lod.

Click here to learn more about Masa Israel Teaching Fellows in Lod.

They claim it’s working. One woman told us that in the last three years the cost of housing in Lod has increased by 300 percent. (Wow! Right?)

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This orthodox woman has a well-paying job as a scientist. She and her husband can afford to live in a “better” area but they would rather be the change they wish to see in Lod. She told us that by calling to complain when the trash removal crew is late, and by demanding for better education for her children in public schools she can help make Lod better for everyone.

Rather than a trickle-down system that focuses first on getting more government funding to revamp the city’s infrastructure, the individuals we met practice a trickle-up system that starts with Lod’s residents and its youth.

Bdolach chose four sites in the city that he wanted to show us. He didn’t ask for our money. All he asked is that we tell people about Lod.

We visited two community centers, the site of an excavated building and the first and only Cafe Cafe (like an Israeli Panera) in Lod.

The Chicago Community Center is one site where Re-Lod houses its student volunteers. The students are comprised 70% of Jewish Israelis and 30% of Arab Israelis in order to proportionately represent the city’s demographics. The students host events for school children in the neighborhood, they watch movies and play games – it’s really up to the kids to decide what they want to do.

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About to enter the Chicago Community Center in Lod!

A few years ago (I’m not exactly sure of the exact year) when the project first opened its doors there was not an immediate success. Five students came at first, and then those five brought another five and so on, until eventually the project was well known around town.

But there have been bumps in the road. One of the participants in my group asked Bdolach: How did the Summer 2014 Operation Protective Edge affect the Re-Lod project?

Bdolach’s answer: Initially it raised tensions between the two factions. Many of the Arab residents have family living in Gaza, and many of the Jewish residents have friends and/ or family serving in the IDF. During the operation, Re-Lod did not cease its programming. Instead it kept its doors open, a symbol of hope that there is a chance for the community to stay united even in challenging times.

The last stop on our tour (and the yummiest) was the Cafe Cafe in Lod. This particular Cafe Cafe isn’t just a Cafe Cafe. It’s the red ribbon symbol of what is yet to come in Lod as a result of the blood, sweat and tears contributed by Re-Lod and the Lod community. I am excited to visit Lod in five or 10 years (probably sooner though…) and see how the city has changed. After meeting such committed and invested community members, I believe in Lod.

Originally published on Rebecca’s blog.

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