Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of the city under Israeli rule on Sunday, has become a tricky day to celebrate for many Israelis, and Jerusalemites, in particular.
Commemorating the date when Israel won control over the Old City from the Jordanians in the 1967 Six Day War, including Judaism’s holiest sites, it also marks the start of military rule in the West Bank and the beginning of a new stage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
For years, the holiday has been punctuated by a right-wing march through the city. Thousands parade with Israeli flags through downtown Jerusalem and into the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, where some taunt and fling insults at Arab residents who are forced indoors by the marching crowds.
For a day meant to mark the unification of the city, the march and other events can seem to highlight the capital’s divisions, and many Jerusalemites seek other, more tolerant ways to mark the date.
The Jerusalem Tolerance group says its Jerusalem Day of Diversity, a two-day event that began on Saturday, is meant to reclaim the festival as one of tolerance, rather than division.
Four years ago Michal Shilor, one of the organizers of the Jerusalem Day of Diversity, noted the utter lack of any events revolving around Jerusalem Day despite the number of tolerance organizations in the city.
“Everyone was scared to touch it,” said Shilor, 28. “There was something like 80 organizations and a thousand activists and tolerance was happening, so we decided to give a platform to anyone who wanted to turn it into a Jerusalemite’s day.”
She said they wanted to take the 36 hours around the national day and do something with it. They thought they would have ten or 15 events, and ended up with 80.
“They are all very independent of one another,” she said. “We tell them to do what they want, we have no say in what they do. There’s nothing huge, many are on the fringe, but tens of thousands end up coming to the events in total.”
There are conversations about Jerusalem taking place in people’s living rooms, tours of the city, and a drag queen celebration of Eurovision 2018.
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On Sunday, there are more tours of the Old City and Mount Zion, a postcard activity at the Tower of David, and pop-up tolerance events at the light rail stations at the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market, Davidka square and city hall.
People can hear a women’s gospel choir at the Davidka station between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., listen to dialogue on the light rail and join the now well-known flower march organized by fellow tolerance organization Tag Meir, which will hand out flowers to residents and businesspeople of the Old City.
At 3:30 p.m., the Yerushalmim Party will hold its annual alternate march on Park Hamesila.
The activities continue into the evening, with a roundtable study with rabbinical students of all stripes at the First Station from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.; a tolerance conference with community leaders, Knesset members and local activists at the Reut School; and a spoken word event at the Tmol Shilshom cafe at 7 p.m.
Posted by القدس المتسامحة ירושלים סובלנית Jerusalem Tolerance on Sunday, 13 May 2018
The First Station will also hold an evening of multi-faith prayer at 7:30 p.m. At 8 p.m., there will be several “living room” talks in which people or organizations will host speakers from other walks of life to tell about their experiences in the city. Among those will be Yeolish Krois, a major figure in the Eda Haredit ultra-Orthodox community speaking at the home of local Meretz politician Laura Wharton.
“We’re creating a new narrative for this city,” said Shilor. “It isn’t perfect, but it’s all from a huge range of people who live here and create this day together, tagging it as a city of global tolerance, and we’ll become known for that.”
Shilor, a native Jerusalemite, first began her tolerance work with her nonprofit, 0202, dealing with narratives of the city, and was then hired by the Jerusalem Intercultural Center to run similar efforts.
She never expects many Arabic speakers to show up to the alternative Jerusalem Day events, given that it’s a Jewish holiday with a “very specific narrative,” she said. Instead, the idea is to celebrate the complicated day in a way that honors and respects everyone who lives in the city.
“Jerusalem is a city that has gone through so many things in the last hundreds of years, and some have been easier and some worse,” said Shilor. “This week could go badly and violence could happen, but it hasn’t happened with other recent events. We’re hopeful that Jerusalem is growing up.”
For a full list of events, available in English, Arabic and Hebrew, go the Jerusalem Tolerance website.
All events are in partnership with the Jerusalem Foundation, UJA New York, the Coalition of Tolerance and This is Jerusalem.