The Tools to Make Change

Michal Sherez Shilor - Tzedek Centers


Three Things

As soon as Michal Sherez Shilor heard the news on the morning of October 7, she simultaneously understood these three things: war was imminent, she had to reach her close friend who lives on a kibbutz bordering the Gaza border, and she and her fellow shared society activists were going to have to mobilize – and quickly – to prevent Arab-Jewish violence in Israel’s mixed cities. 

It was a “traumatic personal experience, and also a very clear-cut understanding of what I have to do professionally. It was a very, it’s a very dissonant place that I was on October 7,” says Michal, the 34-year-old Director of Mixed Cities division of the Tzedek Centers. Tzedek is Hebrew for “justice” and the grassroots, national organization trains, facilitates, and organizes local activists who work to promote equality, democracy, and justice at the municipal level.

That morning Michal heard from her friend, a fellow mother of young children in her saferoom. She was with her four-month-old baby girl and a toddler she was trying to keep quiet amid the mayhem of gunfire and shouting outside her home. She would stay in contact with her the entire day.  At the same time she was also texting anyone she knew who might be able to get help for her friend and her fellow kibbutz members.

Michal also started reaching out to colleagues in the shared society space, specifically her partners at Givat Haviva and the Abraham Initiatives,  knowing they had to mobilize right away to prevent violence from breaking out in the mixed Arab-Jewish cities and neighborhoods across Israel.

Mobilizing Shared Society

“Listen, we have to, we have to do something today, we can’t wait’” she said she told them. By 4pm she and her two young children had said goodbye to her husband, who had received an emergency call up order to report for reserve duty. By 9 pm, the kids were sleeping and she was sitting at her computer for a Zoom meeting of fellow activists and colleagues she had helped organize. 215 people had logged in.

Action groups were created, from working with municipalities across the country to launching public campaigns, all with the goal of preventing escalation and violence between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. 

Everyone was thinking about May 2021, the last time Israel and Hamas were at war, and how everything had to be done to prevent the kind of violence that broke out back then. The May 2021 war had brought Israel to the brink of severe and unprecedented civil unrest between Jewish and Arab citizens. 

Michal’s job is focused on the centers her organization runs in mixed cities and in mixed areas of cities where they run courses and trainings. They offer residents tools and know-how for making the changes they want to see in their communities. 

She explains the problem of  “learned political helplessness,” which means people don’t think their vote counts, or don’t know how to make small changes in their communities. “The solution is to give people tools and space to learn how to work together as a community.”

In the aftermath of October 7 and the war that has followed, 11 coalitions were formed in mixed cities and mixed areas that bring together the police,  the municipality, and local leadership to collaborate on actions that will build trust, especially during this time. The idea she says, “is to collaborate on how to respond to the beginning of events that can spark the flame, so we see how can we help ensure that flame does not rise? How do we immediately shut it down in a proper way?”

She and her colleagues and other activists are also working with grassroots activists in other cities as they try to expand their reach and their message.

The Activists

Michal says, “Activists usually bring a lot of their hearts and souls and usually just need a little bit of push or a little bit of assistance or a little bit of money to be able to impact even more. And that’s what we’re doing all over the country right now.” 

She was struck, she says, how adamant people are to try to do something proactive. 

“I think that that’s something that defines us as activists – as people in this field. We’re doers. Right? It’s hard to see something like this happen and just sit by and not do anything,” says Michal.

The idea of these coalitions may have been founded during this war, but she says, “They’re here to stay,” noting that even in routine times, municipalities and local activists need to know how to work together, and build trust.

What’s helpful, Michal says, is thatthere is understanding that this is something that it’s not a left-wing thing. It’s not a liberal thing. It’s a safety thing. For everyone. “

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine