Shai Doron: Diversity is what makes Jerusalem unique

Shai Doron

Shai Doron, a fourth generation Jerusalemite, recently became president of the Jerusalem Foundation (JF). From 1988 to 1993, Doron, 58, served as chief of staff to Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek.

In 1993, Doron became the first CEO of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. During his tenure, Doron rebuilt and expanded the zoo. He also built the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium which opened in 2017.

You were at the zoo for 26 years, what was your greatest accomplishment there?

The zoo became a major attraction for all Israelis. The Palestinians came in huge numbers, more than 200,000 people annually. The ultra-Orthodox haredim came. I was very proud that in a complicated place like Jerusalem everyone felt welcome at the zoo. This is what has made the zoo so unique.

The JF approached me and asked me to do the same for the JF as I did for the zoo. I am still connected to the zoo, because  it was founded by the JF. Today I am working with the Tisch family to build a butterfly house at the zoo.

You described taking on the role of president of the JF as closing the circle. Why?

Teddy Kollek, the legendary mayor of Jerusalem, started the JF 52 years ago. By heading the JF I am carrying out Teddy’s vision. I am closing the circle because I was Teddy’s chief of staff at the beginning of my career.

What was it like to work for Mayor Kollek?

It was the best school ever. I went to Hebrew University and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Nothing compares to the experience I gained working for Teddy Kollek. He was in office for 28 years and he was very well respected worldwide. He had a long-term vision for the city and he knew how to get support.

Why did Kollek establish the Jerusalem Foundation?

Teddy started the foundation because he recognized that the government could not fund all the projects needed by the city. Jerusalem is a unique story. The needs of the city are huge and because it’s Jerusalem we must take care that the city is a model for shared living.

What do you mean by shared living?

Shared living is the coexistence of diverse groups. Jerusalem is home to haredim, Palestinians, Sabras, newcomers. The diversity of the city is one of its biggest assets. I’d like to introduce you to a new phrase: diverse city.

Why is diversity Jerusalem’s strength?

Diversity-or diverse city-is what makes Jerusalem so unique, so interesting and so inspiring a city. That gives you unlimited options to be creative. If you are looking for a meaningful life this is the place. It’s not easy. It’s our responsibility at the JF and as Jerusalemites that Jerusalem should be a model of coexistence. We should supply the tools to offer opportunities to all. Jerusalem should be the civil society capital city of the entire Jewish people.

That’s a big goal.

I’m not afraid of a big vision. Without vision it is impossible to live with the fighting between Jews and Palestinians and between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. If we do not address issues related to pluralism we’re going to lose the city.


How will JF solve these problems?

Part of the responsibility is governmental. We’re not going to replace the government, but we can make Jerusalem a better place to live in. Our long-term vision for the next decade, our strategic “2030  plan” will address four pillars: shared living, opportunities for all, creativity in culture and arts, and leadership development for a civil society.

What are some of the projects the JF is working on?

For a shared living model we must close the social gaps by instituting a more equitable sharing of resources. A big priority for me is building the first ever public community sports centre in east Jerusalem. There are 16 public centres in the Jewish areas of Jerusalem, but none in east Jerusalem. I am taking the initiative to fix the situation. This is our moral obligation as Jews and as Jerusalemites.

Why haven’t these centres been funded before?

Finding partners in the Palestinian community to run these centres has been a challenge. Many Palestinian communities refused to be in partnership with the Israeli establishment. I have found local Palestinians willing to take responsibility for the day-to-day life of their community.

For instance, we’re building a science library in an east Jerusalem high school for girls. The chair of the parents council understands that this library is not about politics, it’s about education for our kids.

Is JF reaching out to haredi communities?

We started teaching math and technical skills at some haredi schools. These are pilot projects. We want to provide the kids with technical and mathematical skills at a young age. Some of the haredi rabbis are resisting. They don’t want to lose control over their communities.

How much of JF funding  goes to capital projects?

Over the its 52-year history the JF has raised more than $1.5 billion. When Teddy Kollek ran the foundation, he built the history museum, the soccer stadium, all the sports and community centres. The need for new capital projects  has lessened. Today it’s about 50 per cent of our funding.

What is the financial contribution of local Israelis to these projects?

We have a paradox in Israel. People think of Israel as a poor country with rich people, but our overseas partners feel that Israelis should be giving back. They should take responsibility. Most of our overseas supporters are asking how much the Israelis are giving. They are looking for partnership with the local communities.


This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity