A Jerusalem Day that seeks to bridge the east-west divide
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A Jerusalem Day that seeks to bridge the east-west divide

A loose coalition of activists offers the capital city a week of prayer, song, parties and tours

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum of Kehillat Zion in Jerusalem (Courtesy Kehillat Zion)
Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum of Kehillat Zion in Jerusalem (Courtesy Kehillat Zion)

As Israel’s capital prepares for its 48th Jerusalem Day, the day in which the western side of the city celebrates its unification with the east following the 1967 Six Day War, a coalition of cultural, religious and political activists are organizing a series of events highlighting Jerusalem’s attempts to be a place of tolerance and coexistence.

The coalition, called This Is Jerusalem, comprises 20 organizations, and the events run the gamut from a march through the city’s neighborhoods to prizes for civic activism, a Jerusalem Syndrome party, an exhibit about teachers of the city, alternative tours, Shabbat events, and a Sunday night service of prayers and songs of peace at the First Station.

“It’s a whole list of events happening to celebrate Jerusalem as a city of many faces,” said Karen Brunwasser, deputy director of Jerusalem Season of Culture, a nonprofit organization currently in its fifth year of organizing cultural events in the capital during the summer. JSOC, through its seasonal events, has also become a pioneer of Jerusalem coexistence, and is part of the coalition. “We’re taking it up a notch artistically,” she said.

The crowning event is next Sunday night’s Maaminim, or Believers, an evening service of prayers and songs of peace at the First Station, organized by Kehillat Zion, a local congregation founded by Masorti rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum. Part of the congregation’s mission is to find a way to help unify the city’s different streams, said Elad-Appelbaum, and they’ve committed themselves to holding coexistence events annually on Hannukah and Jerusalem Day.

The congregation’s first Maaminim event drew more than 700 people last year, she said, leaving the hosts amazed and grateful.

“We all felt that this is the Jerusalem we want, this is Jerusalem Day for all of us, the Jerusalem that we dream about, ” said Elad-Appelbaum.

This year, Elad-Appelbaum will lead Maaminim with Mark Eliyahu & The Firqat Alnoor Oriental Orchestra, and there will always be two voices onstage, she said, a Jewish and non-Jewish one, “just like Jerusalem.”

Elad-Appelbaum’s fellow leaders will include Meir Buzaglo, Um-Sami, Hadassah Froman, Sheikh Ihab Mallaha, Ali Abu Awwad, Ibtisam Mhamid, Nir Amit, and other spiritual leaders, activists and thinkers.

“We want to show that this is Jerusalem — that we’re each different and unique, but that we have what to learn from one another,” she said. “We all believe in hope and discussion, and this shows that it’s not just some random idea of a leader, but of the people in this city.”

Maaminim is being held at 8:30 p.m. on Jerusalem Day, Sunday, May 17, and is the final event in the week-long celebrations organized by various organizations in the coalition. The same evening, there will be a ceremony celebrating the young citizens of the city, as the organizations New Spirit and Hitorerut give prizes to five young leaders who have influenced the city during the last year (at Spaghettim in Mamilla, 7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Sunday, May 17).

Throughout this week, there will be an exhibit of stills and videos about Jerusalem’s teachers in the First Station (and at Kuzari Square in Rehavia on Thursday), but the celebrations begin on Thursday night with Jerusalem Syndrome, a night-long series of events including storytelling, a singalong, tours, cinema and a poetry slam in and around the Rehavia neighborhood. There’s also Kabbalat Shabbat at the First Station on Friday afternoon, and tours throughout the city on Friday and Saturday, as well as a gathering for families at Park Nayot on Saturday morning.

On Sunday, Jerusalem Day itself, the Yerushalmit Movement, which is part of the Yerushalmim Party, is inviting all residents of the city to meet at the Oranim Junction and walk together to the First Station, with activities and surprises along the way.

At the first Maaminim event last year, in the city's First Station (Courtesy Kehillat Zion)
At the first Maaminim event last year, in the city’s First Station (Courtesy Kehillat Zion)

It’s a different take on the traditional Jerusalem Day march that takes thousands of participants through town, into the streets of the Old City, to the Western Wall.

But that’s the idea behind the coalition organizing This Is Jerusalem, which is looking for ways to expand upon and rethink Jerusalem Day after the series of events that took place last year, shaking Jerusalem to the core.

Rethinking Jerusalem Day

It was in June, just after last year’s Jerusalem Day, that three Israeli teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah — were abducted and killed, followed by the revenge killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir. By July, the country was embroiled in the war in Gaza, dealing with rockets targeting Tel Aviv and the cities and towns of the south. Jerusalem, meanwhile, saw incidents of terror, extremism and rioting that damaged the already fraught relations between Jews and Arabs there, as well as a few rocket scares of its won.

Besides the immediate concerns regarding safety and security, there was sorrow and disappointment over the implications for the common ground that had been carefully fostered between religious and secular, Arabs and Jews.

The city’s civil society had been flourishing, said Brunwasser. There were strides made with regard to the public face of women in Jerusalem, to the mutual respect of religious and secular Jerusalemites, and the creation of a common discourse about Jerusalem.

“There had been this sense of incredible momentum, and then last summer happened,” said Brunwasser.

Many coexistence and interfaith events take place in Jerusalem; in September, a small crowd gathered to hear the call of the muezzin through the songs and explanations of a rabbi and sheikh at the Sacred Music Festival (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Many coexistence and interfaith events take place in Jerusalem; in September, a small crowd gathered to hear the call of the muezzin through the songs and explanations of a rabbi and sheikh at the Sacred Music Festival (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

With the events of the summer, the city’s activists feared that all their work of the last few years could disappear, said Brunwasser.

This past winter, a loose coalition of organizations, including New Spirit, the Yerushalmit Movement (part of the Yerushalmim Party), Ir Amim, Ginot Hair and the Secular Yeshiva, gathered for a full-day conference called East of Here, to discuss combating intolerance and the role that Jewish civil society in the city should play regarding Arab East Jerusalem. Jerusalem Season of Culture was one of the participating organizations.

There were 170 people present, said Brunwasser, and thy chose Jerusalem Day as launching point for their cooperative effort.

The annual holiday theoretically belongs to the entire city, but is instead marked primarily by the national religious camp. There is a march through the streets of the city into the Old City and onward to the Western Wall in a potent reminder of what was gained during the Six Day War.

But there are the other, more disturbing parts of the event, commented Brunwasser, including racist chants by some during the march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

“It’s a minority of the marchers,” she said, “but it’s awful.”

Israeli border police guard Jerusalem Day marchers as they walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, June 1, 2011 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli border police guard Jerusalem Day marchers as they walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, June 1, 2011 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

This year, part of the coalition petitioned the High Court to change the route of the annual Jerusalem Day march so that it does not pass through the Muslim Quarter. The justices rejected the petition, but ordered police to arrest and prosecute any participants engaging in violence, vandalism or any other overt displays of anti-Arab racism.

Now, said Brunwasser, there’s a critical mass of people involved in considering the nature of the day, and it “reflects what people took away from last summer. It reflects that we have to push tolerance beyond the pluralistic community; we have to operate across all lines.”

Shaike El-Ami, the director of the Ginot HaIr Community Council, which is heavily involved in the Jerusalem Day planning, said, “These kinds of alternative [celebrations] have been happening for a long time already. But something happened this year that was a catalyst for a greater kind of celebration, and it’s made Jerusalem Day more relevant, bigger and meaningful for many more people.”

This Is Jerusalem! events are taking place from May 10 through May 17 and a full list of This Is Jerusalem! events is available in Hebrew and Arabic on the organization’s website and Facebook page.

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