Shalem College
April 15, 2019

Three Languages, One City: Shalem Grad Bridges Gaps Between Jerusalem Residents through Unique News Platform

Three Languages, One City: Shalem Grad Bridges Gaps Between Jerusalem Residents through Unique News Platform
Shira Laurence '17, executive director of 0202, at her office on the city's seam line.

When people hear about the nonprofit social-media news site “0202,” the first question that invariably comes to mind is – what’s with the name? But for Shira Laurence, 0202’s executive director and a graduate of Shalem’s first class, the name says it all: It’s Jerusalem’s area code, doubled, “because there are so many facets to this city,” she explains. “There’s West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, and Haredi Jerusalem, each of which is a world onto itself.”

And that, for 0202, is precisely the challenge.

“The citizens of the different neighborhoods of Israel’s capital don’t know each other, and don’t understand each other’s hopes, fears, and day-to-day concerns. They literally don’t speak each other’s language,” says Shira, who co-founded 0202 four years ago while she was a sophomore at Shalem. “But,” she offers with a smile, “we do.”

Indeed: 0202 currently manages three different Facebook pages in Hebrew and Arabic corresponding to the three communities. Each provides a window onto one of Jerusalem’s distinct populations by means of translated news items and social-media posts from their leaders, public organizations, and media outlets—all without commentary. Finally, an English-language website brings all these viewpoints together, offering a mosaic of Jerusalem life.

“Our goal is not to filter or spin information, but to provide it unadulterated,” Shira emphasizes. “We strive to grant Jerusalem’s different populations unmediated access to their neighbors’ thoughts and ideas and fears. We show Jerusalem’s residents how different their neighbors’ take on the world is, and at the same time we show just how similar, on a deeply human level, are many of their day-to-day concerns.”

The work of scanning Arabic, Hebrew, and English news and social-media sites from East, West, and Haredi Jerusalem for items to translate into the other languages is undertaken by an energetic staff of more than forty-five professionals and volunteers alike—a long way from the organization’s humble beginnings as a group of seven volunteers. “Our staff itself reflects the diversity of the city,” points out Shira, who honed her own skills in Arabic as part of her major in Shalem’s Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, which places a heavy emphasis on Arabic fluency.

“At Shalem, Arabic wasn’t limited to the classroom. It was as much a part of the curriculum to travel to Israeli-Arab cities and interact with shopkeepers and residents and to converse with native speakers in weekly one-on-one sessions with language facilitators,” says Shira. “The idea was not to learn Arabic so that we could only relate to the people and the culture as outside observers, but rather to understand them from within.”

0202’s work isn’t limited to translation, however. The nonprofit also runs a full roster of events, including tours of Jerusalem’s various neighborhoods, lectures by local activists, and cultural and educational happenings. For their efforts, the 0202 team was recently awarded the Intercultural Achievement Award, which honors inspiring projects in civil society that foster intercultural dialogue and co-existence. The organization also counts among its partners the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, the Leichtag Foundation, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Natan Fund, the Rayne Trust, and the Bronfman Alumni Fund.

“When I think of what I want for Jerusalem in the future,” Shira explains, “I don’t think in terms of a political solution. I want different populations in Jerusalem to speak with one another, communicate with one another, get to know one another. Jerusalem is a microcosm of Israel, and if its citizens can accept and even appreciate the city’s diversity, we believe there is hope for our country at large.”