Proactive healing

Zion Square as a space for reconciliation.

Sarah Weil waves the custom pride flag (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Sarah Weil waves the custom pride flag
 The revolution may not be televised, but it is happening here in Jerusalem: Every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. in Zion Square, you can see it with your own eyes – and what’s more, you can be a part of it.
The Yerushalmit Movement, a nonprofit dedicated to a pluralistic and tolerant Jerusalem, has been hosting open discussions in the city center, as follow-up to the public shiva mourning period it held following teenager Shira Banki’s murder at the city’s Gay Pride Parade in July, allegedly by a haredi extremist.
“After her murder, we felt that we couldn’t move on just like that; we had to stop, think and do a tikkun [reparative action],” says Yerushalmit’s Shira Katz-Winkler of the shiva. “We thought that we couldn’t do it by ourselves, but we could do it if we all sat and talked together.”
Each day for a week, people gathered in circles, talking and listening, and Yerushalmit provided facilitator volunteers to moderate the discussions.
“We had gay people from east Jerusalem who came to talk, the stabbing victims from 10 years ago [previous pride attack by the same suspect] and haredim. All sectors came, and we were filled with hope.”
Now, Yerushalmit has been hosting the Zion Square discussions as a way of continuing to process the trauma through conversations every Thursday night on pertinent, controversial issues.
Says Sarah Weil, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist and founder of the Women's Gathering, “That shiva period transformed me and made me realize how important it is that we have a presence in Zion Square, the most populated and diverse area in Jerusalem. In a sense, it’s like the center of the center of the city; representation there is really important.”
Every week, Yerushalmit invites different organizations and youth groups to lend their voice to issues such as civil marriage.
Recently, the topic was the antigay comments made by Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar in late September, in which he declared, “I believe this [homosexual] phenomenon will get smaller and will cancel itself out, because the majority of the public is disgusted by it and sick of it.”
Passersby are also invited to join in, and perhaps the most interesting interactions occur on the periphery of the square – stemming from sheer curiosity, and even rage. While conversations are in progress, Weil holds a rainbow pride flag emblazoned with a Star of David in the center.
She asserts, “When Amar made those statements, Leshem Brosh [head of the Jerusalem gay students’ association], myself and some other activists [decided] we should utilize this Zion Square initiative as a way to be proactive; to voice our anger and our hurt by starting a dialogue directly with his constituency.”
Katz-Winkler continues, “This is our public square and we wanted to change it... it reflects badly on Jerusalem.”
With the initiative, people who may never have otherwise had the opportunity to talk to each other face to face are doing just that. “It’s confrontational; it’s difficult; it’s raw. Sometimes violent speech is exchanged and it’s not easy, but the fact of the matter is that when people come together and they look at each other, something transforms.
Even if your opinion isn’t altered, you recognize the humanity of the other. That stays with someone long after arguments are forgotten,” says Weil.
City councilman Aaron Leibowitz avers: “This is the only way this city can function as the capital city for the Jewish people and the spiritual headquarters for the world, which I feel it should be. Spirituality and peace go hand in hand, at least in my book. This is why the comments of Amar are so unfortunate.
“It’s shocking that a religious leader doesn’t recognize the relationship between verbal incitement and physical violence.”