Israel StoryProduced in partnership with ToI

A Day at the Y

A diverse Jerusalem community tries to regroup in the wake of COVID and ongoing violent conflict

A Day at the Y (Israel Story)
A Day at the Y (Israel Story)

For our Season Six opener of Israel Story, we went to a place that is all about community – in fact, it’s even called a community center – to find out what it feels like when a diverse community tries to regroup.

On June 7, 2021 the entire Israel Story team – nine radio producers – descended upon the Jerusalem International YMCA. And why the Y? For starters, it is a local icon. It was designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon – who simultaneously designed the Empire State Building in New York City – and it was, for decades, one of the tallest buildings in Jerusalem. With its elegant sandstone arches, domes and famous bell tower, the Y is one of the most recognizable, majestic and seemingly immortal landmarks in town. It was dedicated in April 1933 with the following words: “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity be fostered and developed.” The Y was, as many pointed out at the time and in the years since, a “sermon in stone.”

But it’s also much more than that. In a segregated city full of invisible lines that separate groups and peoples, the YMCA is an oasis where Jerusalemites of all kinds come together: Muslims, Jews and Christians; West Jerusalemites and East Jerusalemites; Israelis, Palestinians and internationals; religious and secular; toddlers, teens, adults and the elderly.

In normal times its hotel rooms are full of tourists, its sports center is buzzing with activity, its Jewish-Arab kindergarten is packed with kids and its auditorium hosts world-class chamber music concerts. But back in June 2021, all that seemed like a distant memory. The Y was just starting to reopen after a year-and-a-half of COVID-19, which had forced it to close many of its programs and departments, and lay off much of its staff. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the region had just emerged from yet another, particularly unsettling, cycle of violence.

In today’s episode, all recorded during one day at one location, we go back and forth between the gym, the kindergarten, the front desk, the events team, the CEO’s office. We meet Bob the Builder, a fake Argentinian bride, a psychoanalytically inclined “bell boy,” a two-timing husband, and dozens and dozens of other colorful characters.

Listen to the episode:

About Israel Story: Israel Story is the award-winning podcast that tells extraordinary tales about ordinary Israelis. Often called “the Israeli ‘This American Life,’” we bring you quirky, unpredictable, interesting and moving stories about a place we all think we know a lot about, but really don’t. Produced in partnership with The Times of Israel.

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