Hundreds of parents and children, both Jewish and Arab, came to a Purim party on Wednesday at the Arab-Jewish Community Center (AJCC) in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood.
A look across the crowd at the community center’s gymnasium showed that the majority of parents were Muslim women dancing and singing with their young children, who were dressed as superheroes, princesses and ninja turtles, to name a few.
Marina Boykis, an American-Ukrainian immigrant who heads public relations for the center, said the Purim party was part of the center’s practice of celebrating the holidays of all three religions, including annual Christmas, Ramadan and Hanukka parties.
Boykis said such celebrations were devoted to coexistence, which, at the end of the day, was the foundation of the center’s activities.
“This center is a coexistence center,” she said. “Everything we do takes the concept of coexistence and integrates it into all of our activities.”
According to Boykis, part of the reasoning is that as Jews and Arabs become friends and learn to understand and appreciate each other’s cultures from a young age, when they get older and politics enter the picture, they’ll be able to see and understand each other as human beings.
In a press release issued Tuesday, AJCC executive director Ibrahim Abu-Shindi said, “We see the event as a way to spread fun and good cheer in Tel Aviv-Jaffa during a tense period in Arab-Jewish relations.”
He added that “every year, the carnival succeeds in drawing Jaffa’s Arab population to participate in festivities celebrating the Jewish holiday.”
The center is run in part by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality.
The mixed Ajami neighborhood has entered the news in recent months due to tension between Jewish and Arab residents, mainly over gentrification and a housing shortage that has left many young Arabs unable to buy or rent a home near their families. For many of these Jaffa residents, their only economically feasible option is to move far outside of the Center, to Arab villages or towns in the Galilee or elsewhere.
Lifelong Jaffa resident Josef Sa’ad – attending the party with his
eight-year-old daughter Noelle, who was clad in a bumblebee outfit –
said the event showed that tensions in the neighborhood weren’t over
religion or ethnicity.
“It’s the housing problem, that’s all it is,” he explained. “You look
around here, you see harmony, togetherness and love. And this is how we
live in Jaffa, all of us, Jews and Arabs, like one big family. We have
a big housing problem, and it causes tensions, but we don’t have this
tension between individuals on a personal level.”