Spurring on Urban Revival in Lod

BIU alumnus Michael Manchik first came to the city of Lod as a student volunteer in a community outreach project. Today, he is working in the local youth center,encouraging Lod’s youngsters to pursue higher education and breathe new life into their hometown.

Michael Manchik’s leadership skills and charisma first came to fore when he was a combat soldier and commander in the Israeli Navy. He later developed an interest in social activism while preparing teens for army service in the framework of the Aharai! (Follow Me) organization.

Later, as a political studies and communication major at BIU, he served as the Student Union coordinator for social involvement responsible for community volunteer projects. That’s when the Rishon LeZion native became acquainted with the Ayalim Association – which promotes student settlements in the periphery – and decided to re-locate to Lod to advance social projects under the  Municipality’s auspices.

For years, the city of Lod suffered from high crime rates, budgetary deficits, poor management, weak municipal infrastructures, neglected educational facilities, a paucity of employment opportunities, and a shrinking population. But recently, it has received a vital boost from Israel’s student unions, which are working to improve the city’s condition and image. Student villages have been constructed in the heart of Lod’s old run-down neighborhoods, and dozens of students from Bar-Ilan and other universities have moved in. Thestudents benefit from subsidized rental fees, in return for volunteering in the community and initiating social projects. After graduating, most students move out, but not Michael. He is one of the few who remained actively committed to improving quality of life in Lod.

During his undergraduate degree studies at BIU, Michael served as deputy manager of Ayalim housing villages, organizing a Sukkot fair, the Purim parade which has now become a local tradition, and initiating a film festival. “Students living in the community come up with most of these ideas, and they also take charge of organizing and implementing the first stages of the plan. The city gradually takes these initiatives under its wings,” says Michael.

One of his most prized initiatives is the Lod Marathon. “We re-invented an old tradition. In the first reinstated Lod race in 2013 we had 1,500 runners. A year later, that number grew to more than 3,500. The third race, which was already under the city’s auspices, included thousands of runners. This project contributes to the sense of community in the city, and local pride.The large events we organize are a majorpart of improving the city’s image.They bring hope to local residents and attract newcomers to the city.” There are still many challenges, Michael notes. “The students’ activities constitute just one piece of a puzzle. We are facing a lengthy process, whose broad implications will only be evident years from now.”

In his current position, Michael oversees higher education and cultural activities in Lod’s youth center. One of his great professional challenges is to incorporate the local Arab community in his projects. “Many people were skeptical at first but the community and local institutions are embracing us and adopting these projects,” says the BIU grad who is working to spur on urban revival in Lod. “More and more young residents are joining in, and I hope 
                                                                   students keep coming to Lod to advance our ventures.”