Good neighbors

The Yerushalmit Movement and Rabbi Benny Lau host a special meeting-place event.

Rabbi Benny Lau speaks at the gathering in Zion Square (photo credit: YAARA KETZ FEINER)
Rabbi Benny Lau speaks at the gathering in Zion Square
(photo credit: YAARA KETZ FEINER)
The Meeting Place, the Yerushalmit Movement’s project for tolerance and intersectional dialogue, meets every Thursday night in Zion Square.
On April 27, the Meeting Place hosted a special event in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day with featured guest speaker, Rabbi Benny Lau.
The event was held in conjunction with the “Zikaron Basalon” initiative, which promotes remembrance of the Holocaust through making its messages relevant today. Lau, whose father was a teenager during World War II, talked about the concept of neighbors.
“I decided that the main issue that I wanted to present was the idea of neighbors; neighbors in the past in Poland, Germany, Italy and Holland, and then to end by talking about our neighbors today in Israel – what we decide to close our eyes to and how we can do something about what we see,” said Lau.
“This of course includes Syria. The state of Israel does do something. As citizens, we can watch the news and feel that it’s close to us, so it’s easy in a way.”
Shira Banki’s parents were in attendance at the event, representing their organization, Shira Banki’s Way, which promotes tolerance in Israeli society.
Lau connected the idea of neighbors to Banki’s murder at the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade two summers ago.
“What are we doing in different groups in this society; can we listen?” Lau adds. “Can we do something? There are neighbors in Jerusalem as well. People know that a crazy man committed that murder, but the truth is that he got support from his area and his friends. His thinking was legitimized by his community. So that relates to this idea of neighbors.
“What language do you hear at your Shabbat table, or in your synagogue? Most of us do not commit terrible acts like murder, but all of us are listening and can decide if we want to do something about the atmosphere or not.”
Lau went on to say that his father’s message was one of taking care of those around you; not standing idly by if your neighbor is in trouble. Lau’s father’s experiences and memories shaped the way he views this idea of neighbors.
“There is a responsibility for your brother,” Lau states. “We can say ‘never again’ by being the strongest army in the world. By the F15 [plane] going to Auschwitz and announcing from the air, never again. This is one way of dealing with the situation. But I think in addition to that, we need to build the values of this society and we need to speak about the responsibility for each other and how people can make a difference.”
Neighbors share public space, but how they share it depends on how they interact with each other. The Meeting Place, with that in mind, transforms public space into a place for connection. Zion Square in particular is an area where all shades of Jerusalem society pass through, but they don’t necessarily meet one another in a meaningful way.
“A public space can be somewhere that you pass by, or it can be a place where different people actually meet,” Einat Levy, executive director of the Yerushalmit Movement, says.
“It’s like going from your bedroom to your living room and meeting the whole family. We talk about issues facing Israeli society, things we are conflicted about.
We talk to one another and create personal interaction.
“Sometimes these interactions are transformative and sometimes less so, but they always create hope. People say that just the fact that we are there every Thursday night makes them proud of this city. That’s equally as important as the conversations we have.”
The question that seemed to pervade Zion Square during last Thursday’s event was, “Where are we in terms of our neighbors outside Jerusalem?” Lau’s theme of neighbors was then taken inside the dialogue circles, so that participants could discuss it further.
“One of the things Rabbi Lau said that struck me was that he asked what his father felt about his neighbors who betrayed him, and then asked himself what did he feel when he was sitting in the coffee shop and heard about the murder of Shira Banki,” Levy adds.
“What is the connection between the two? The bottom line is that the meaning of a good neighbor is someone who expands the circle of my security. This is a very important and sensitive way to think about it. People are always most concerned with themselves and their own security. When we perceived our neighbors as our enemies, or just as people who we don’t need to have good relations with, then that is not going to expand the circle of security.
But if we trust each other and have good relations, then we can expand each other’s security.”
The issue of neighbors is one that arises inside Zion Square as well. Lehava, the extremist, assimilation-prevention group, also gathers on Thursday nights on the other side of the square.
The Meeting Place team interacts with them occasionally if possible, but most importantly, chooses to not stand in front of them, but rather to offer something else entirely.
“The main idea that the Bankis promote is that it’s better to educate the good than to condemn the bad,” Levy explains. “This event made that really clear for me. Dialogue circles can educate for more tolerance and for non-violent communication. I asked myself, how are we treating our neighbors in Zion Square?” During his talk, Lau emphasized that a memory can be a plaque on a wall, or it can be something that lives and breathes and continues to teach. It all depends on how you translate it into positive, constructive, human activity. This relates powerfully to Lau’s own father’s memories of the Holocaust, as well as to the Bankis’ memories of their daughter.
“This idea is really important, as is this project,” Levy concludes.
“It’s part of a wider mission that we chose to bring to Jerusalem to work with different communities inside the neighborhoods, trying to create intersectional dialogue; we are all part of the larger Jerusalemite community.”
For more information: