Local Jews and Arabs from all walks of life, as well as people from around the world, gathered last week to "hug" Jerusalem's Old City. Carefully coordinated groups, situated at the Damascus Gate, the Yad Avshalom site in the Kidron Valley, the Dung Gate and the Hutzot Hayotzer lawn across from Jaffa Gate, began to encircle the Old City at 4 p.m. Lacking in number and finding themselves unable to surround the entire Old City, participants ended up gathering at the Damascus Gate. An Israeli Arab and a Jewish organizer, sharing a microphone, directed the crowd to form a line. Holding hands and singing songs about peace in Arabic, Hebrew and English, the participants soon stretched a quarter kilometer along the Old City walls. "This is generating positive energy," said Muhammad, a resident of east Jerusalem. "There are many Muslims here." Avshalom, a resident of Tel Aviv, was second to last in line. Holding hands, he invited bystanders to join in the group hug. Avshalom, whose name coincidentally means father of peace, shared what hugging Jerusalem meant to him: "Because Jerusalem is the center of the world, violence here spreads around the world. We gather here to make a difference. A change here will, like a ripple effect, create change in places affected by the violence here. Ideology can separate us and fear comes from the mind. When we hug today we feel with the heart, not the mind, and feeling with the heart gives peace a chance. When we love and hug Jerusalem, we create a possibility for something beautiful." Surrounded by an entourage of reporters and cameramen, the line grew in size as bystanders joined in holding hands. Facing the Damascus Gate directly, participants occupied the adjacent steps, forming a half circle. Elderly Arab women and community activists, joined by a Jewish coordinator, addressed the crowd in Arabic and Hebrew. Speaking about Muslims, Jews and Christians living side by side in harmony, they generated applause from the diverse audience, which included on-looking Arab youth. The procession was accompanied by a group of musicians who brought the event to a close with song and dance. "We expected a few thousand people; we reached out by email, flyers, and by word-of-mouth," said Ma'oz, one of the organizers. "The Big Hug" was orchestrated by The Lovers of Jerusalem, an NGO whose volunteer members define their mission as "unified by a commitment to make the world a more loving and respectful place, starting here in Jerusalem."

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