This past November, in the heat of a day’s work in the community garden adjacent to the new WAC (Ma’an) office in Haifa, a curious neighbor asked us what the connection is between a worker’s organization and a community garden. At the time, there were working in the garden volunteers accompanied by a professional gardener. They sawed electric poles, carried earth and compost with zest, and planted vegetables and herbs. In addition, on the roof of the adjoining bomb shelter, a group of young women gathered around women basket weavers from the basket weaving project of Sindyanna of the Galilee in Kfar Manda, who donated that day’s activity to the garden project. Next to them gathered the children of neighbors and volunteers, Jews and Arabs, who were busy preparing dough and pitah bread on a Sa’g, under the guidance of a volunteer from the Youth organization of WAC. Others decorated a portion of the roof of the bomb shelter with a ring of printed artwork. Also some truck drivers were on site—some to see what was going on and show their support, and some to receive legal aid. All of this was the reason that even before this neighbor received an answer to his question, he was drawn into the project with enthusiasm and joined in to work. The event offered WAC and the many volunteers who came ample opportunity to make new connections.
The success of the garden was not a given. In general, creating a garden is not a simple matter. Doing so requires a number of conditions, among them the help of a professional gardening staff and a supportive community. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, who joined in the venture from the very beginning, donated its rich experience as well as the budget for the gardener. Nevertheless, many suspected the garden would fail. The municipality as well as the neighborhood residents predicted that there would be acts of vandalism. The residents suspected that the municipality would not honor its pledge to provide water for the garden. But it seems that all of these dark predictions were proven wrong. The first children to come to work were exactly those who were expected to vandalize the garden. WAC made sure to provide for them plenty of work and enjoyable activity. During the first two days of work, the neighborhood residents watched from afar, but they still ensured that no vandals would interfere. Volunteers came and stayed. After a month and a half the municipality provided water and an irrigation system, the neighbors joined in, and the garden became a reality.
There is no doubt that this encounter between people who would otherwise not have met provides at least part of the answer to the question of why this project was such a success. The Hadar neighborhood of Haifa is a beautiful neighborhood that has gone downhill in the last decades. In the past, it was a well-cared-for neighborhood in which lived people from the middle to upper classes. Today it is a typical poor neighborhood, with the neglect and filth that characterize poor neighborhoods, along with the well-known Haifa mix of of veteran Arab families, Russians who speak no Hebrew, and Jews of no means. But Hadar has one unique feature—a young student and artist population who receive financial encouragement to live in this neighborhood and work for social change and co-existence between Arabs and Jews.