Culture as a tool for tolerance

"Hatred is something peculiar. You will always find it strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture" - Goethe
Jerusalem is a beautiful, but deeply divided, city—the secular Jewish, Arab and Ultra-Orthodox communities strenuously avoid interaction. The Mishkenot Sha''Ananim Conference Center, led by Director General Uri Dromi (former Spokesperson for Yitzhak Rabin), uses culture to help bridge these differences. Although the Center and Guest House regularly host global luminaries like Paul Auster, Haruki Murakami and the Dalai Lama, the goal is more parochial- to create a place where Jerusalemites find common ground through culture.  
Uri Dromi, Director General, Mishkenot Sha''Ananim
Last year marked Mishkenot''s 150th anniversary, with hundreds of cultural events, attended by roughly 14,000 people. Diverse themes addressed include photography, philosophy, writing, film, ethics, archaeology, religion, journalism, music, pedagogy, finance, government, law, etc. The goal is to stimulate dialogue and understanding.
Uri recalls one conference about "the role of religious leaders in times of conflict. The stage - and the hall - was divided on the issue of whom you obey, your religious leader or your Commander/ government. I deliberately sat in the audience to gauge reactions. It was fascinating to watch the people - many young - sensing the great divide, yet impressed by the civility; and touched by one of the speakers'' call for unity."  
Typical of Mishkenot''s activities was the "What''s on Your Mind" Philosophy Festival last week. Part of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, a variety of internationally famous philosophers participated in discussions with the local community. This was accompanied by musical performances, film screenings, and philosophical tours of the city.   "Creating events like this, we do our part toward the larger vision of the Mayor," Nir Barkat. The former entrepreneur and venture investor, most notably in CheckPoint Softwware, announced a plan in March to transform Jerusalem into a world cultural capital attracting 10 million tourists each year. The city will invest heavily in cultural infrastructure to host world-class concerts, sporting events and Israel''s top cinema, acting and art schools. One of these is the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, which will relocate from Mount Scopus to the city center.   
One half of Mishkenot''s budget comes from renting rooms in the Guest House, where writers such as Saul Bellow wrote "To Jerusalem and Back" and Nicole Krauss wrote "The Great House" (accompanied by her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer. According to Uri, "there are better suites in the King David Hotel. People want to be part of this special place". One third of their budget comes from the Jerusalem Foundation and the rest from private donors.    
Some of Mishkenot''s cultural activities include the following: 
Jerusalem Cultural Fellowship
: This program invites scholars, artists, and opinion-leaders who live together at the Guest House and collaborate with the cultural community of Jerusalem. The five 2010 Mishkenot Fellows were the following:
-Shelley Jordan: visual artist specializing in animation and professor at Oregon State University
-Reggie Wilson: Contemporary dance choregrapher, New York
-Josh Sirefman: Urban planner who led several major projects for Mayor Michael Bloomberg''s administration in New York City
-Husband and wife Authors Nicole Krauss and Jonathan Safran Foer, named by The New Yorker as two of the world''s 20 most influential authors under 40
INFO (Israel Newsmaker Forum): This is a non-partisan, bi-monthly forum for the foreign press to meet thought-leaders from academia and government, like Dr. Stanley Fischer (Governor of the Bank of Israel) and Professor Efraim Inbar, Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies ( Uri was the Chief Spokesperson for the Yitzhak Rabin government during the Oslo Peace Accords with Jordan. "I know how important it is to have a dialog with the press before there is a crisis.   International Writers Festival: Now in its third year, the festival last year hosted 19 acclaimed writers from around the world and 25 Israeli authors.
Mediterranean Culture Festival: Last year''s over-subscribed event was "Spain in Jerusalem," featuring keynotes from prominent Spanish figures from the arts, culture and government.   Summer Concert Series: Four concerts, across genres, held in the Old City that attracted 1300 spectators.  
Hamshushalayim: "Hamshush" is Hebrew vernacular for the long weekend between Thursday and Saturday. During this three-week, city-wide event, most museums are free and there are numerous cultural events across all sections of the city. Last year, Mishkenot ran a music event called "You Can''t Stop Love"  
The Jerusalem Center for Ethics: Headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Itzhak Zamir, there are eleven tracks. For example, ethics in medicine, ethics in the media, etc. Each is headed by a leading academic in their field. According to Uri, "we have become the Mecca of ethics in Israel for the Army, Police, Attorney General''s Office, Prison System, etc. It is about initiating and writing Ethical Codes and then implementing them."  
In addition to these activities, Uri has his own stories to tell. He writes the weekly "Focus on Israel" column for the Miami Herald, which is syndicated across the McClatchy Group of newspapers.   Uri has no plans to slow down. "I retired three times already. Each time I retire, I end up working harder. But I know this is something people need". Mishkenot is doing its part to make Jerusalem the place ''where the minds of the world meet.''