An Ethical Education – the Visions of Haim Perry and Shay Yasu

Deputy Superintendent in Israel’s police force Shay Yasu shares his experience in the Social Cohesion Leadership Program, which included an inspiring meeting with the educator Haim Perry, who was a formative figure for him in his childhood.

Deputy Superintendent Shay Yasu’s journey to leadership positions in Israel’s police force was long and winding, and included three danger-filled years – including malaria and hunger – in refugee camps in Sudan on his way from Ethiopia to Israel as a child, and then challenging years integrating into Israeli society.  Throughout the long difficult journey, one figure stands out – the legendary educator Haim Perry. Yasu and Perry met again as part of a workshop in the Social Cohesion Leadership Program, creating a moving moment for all the participants in the program.

“When Haim entered the library where we met at the workshop, I instantly stood, in his honor,” Yasu relives the moment. “I was a student for one year at Yamin Orde, the boarding school which Haim Perry ran for 27 years. But even one year with him is priceless. Haim Perry sees the person in front of him – not color, nationality or religion – he believed in every one of the kids in the school. The fact that he always saw the good in us enabled us to see ourselves that way, and that made all the difference.”

Yasu’s life after that year in the school began an upward trajectory, and included a BA in criminology, a law degree, a Masters degree in public management and positions in intelligence and investigation in Israel’s police force. Yasu also wrote and published books about his journey to Israel from Ethiopia and about the integration of the members of the Ethiopian community in Israeli society.

The emotional meeting between Shay Yasu and Haim Perry

2015 was a turbulent year in the relationship between Israel’s police and government and the members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community. Yasu, together with leaders in the police force and community members, founded a program to build trust around the burning issues. This activity led to significant reforms, including hiring and promoting police officers from the Ethiopian-Israeli community, implementing body cameras and more. For this activity, which led to increased trust between the Ethiopian-Israeli community and the police, Yasu was awarded the Israeli President’s prize for excellence in security. Today Yasu serves as the head of the awareness and development department in the Israeli police force, and works with different communities, including Ethiopian-Israelis, ultra-orthodox and Arabs.

Today Yasu is participating in the fifth round of the Social Cohesion Leadership Program. The program was launched in 2019 by The Ted Arison Family Foundation, in partnership with Merchavim and Ruach Tova. Each round of the program includes 20 participants from the private, public and NGO sectors, selected according to their ability to bring real change to their organizations, and to promote social cohesion in Israeli society as a whole. The program includes a series of lectures, meetings and evets in the field.

“The great potential to create change that this program offers is not only in the realm of personal enrichment, but in the cooperation that is formed between participants, which have enormous potential to create positive change far beyond the program,” explains Yasu. “For example, I connected with another participant, Natanel Zelikovit, from the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, and we are already discussing a cooperation between the police and the ultra-orthodox community and will include field visits by the police to improve communication with this community.”

Even after years of activity in the areas of social cohesion and diversity, Yasu feels that he is learning a lot of new things in the program: “There are a number of lessons that I’m taking with me from the program: the need to always ask yourself if you’re doing enough, the importance of cooperation between different organizations, and the principle that we should not wait for others to do what we can do now.”

Shay Yasu

But perhaps the most important thing that Yasu takes away from the program is the importance of listening.  “Really listening is already 50% of the solution,” says Yasu, and tells about a trip that the program took the participants on in Jaser-A-Zarka.  “There’s a large sand border separating Jaser from Caesaria.  Only when we heard a resident of Jaser talk about how this makes him feel, did I truly feel his difficulty, and it’s hard to argue with feelings. Only truly listening to opinions of people in different groups in Israeli society will pave the way for social cohesion.”

Ilana Sarig Hughes, the program’s director, concludes: “The program is full of significant, inspiring moments, like the meeting between Shay Yasu and Haim Perry, along with significant learning and deep understanding of the concept of social cohesion. Even though the program’s participants bring with them rich experience in the arena of social cohesion, here they gain a new perspective which enables more effective action. It’s moving to see the reactions to the experiences people undergo in the program, and the partnerships that form there and bring the program’s vision to life long after each cycle is complete.”

For more information on the Social Cohesion Leadership program visit the program page on the Merchavim website.

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