Culture shock

The German Colony's newly renovated International Cultural and Community Center hopes to shake up the city.

guitar 88 (photo credit: )
guitar 88
(photo credit: )
If Shaike El Ami has anything to do with it, Jerusalemites will soon be taking over the show in the capital. The executive director of the German Colony's newly renovated International Cultural and Community Center has high hopes that the center will serve as headquarters for residents to bring about what they want from the city, and eagerly anticipates Monday's grand reopening. "We're all looking forward to getting out of our cramped temporary premises [on Patterson Street] and back to the center," El Ami says. "We have spent around $2.4 million on the renovations and I think the new design of the center will be much more welcoming and will be able to accommodate far more activities than we had before." According to El Ami, the new center is far more than just a cultural and leisure center. "The word 'community' in the center's title is very important," he explains. "This is a place for the community, and we want members of the community to be involved in it. We have all sorts of teams and sub-teams working for the betterment of the area. We say to people: 'If you want to contribute, go for it, but remember that it is not enough just to come up with an idea, you have to be committed and maintain good work.'" The center's physical purview incorporates the German Colony, the Greek Colony, Rehavia, Talbiyeh, Old Katamon, Yemin Moshe, Kiryat Shmuel and Nayot. It makes for a disparate mix of people with a wide range of cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and interests. That doesn't faze El Ami one bit. "One of the most wonderful things about Jerusalem is the pluralism of its residents. You've got all types of people in this city, and I want the center to accommodate all of them in this area." That includes bridging the religious-secular divide. "We've got all sorts of activities designed for people of different religious persuasions," El Ami explains. "We had a panel event for Tisha Be'Av that included Orthodox people, Reform, secular, you name it. People came together to discuss what Tisha Be'Av means to them, in contemporary times, without preconceptions and in an atmosphere of mutual acceptance. That's what we need." El Ami mentions the concept of "city gardens" repeatedly and says that the ecology is also an important part of the center's manifesto. "Of course it's important for city dwellers to bond with the earth. There are communal gardens all over the area. And it also helps to bring people together, and to strengthen the community spirit. "In these days of cable television and other types of entertainment, people don't get together as much as they used to. The ecological activities, and the other things we offer at the center, help to address that," he adds. Monday's opening festivities will kick off at 4 p.m. with an assortment of entertainment and educational slots, including a recycling workshop, street theater and a brief presentation of what the public might expect to get from some of the items on the center's program. There will also be some rousing musical entertainment from Jerusalem-based world music ensemble Marche Dondorme, as well as appearances by a number of local dignitaries including writer Haim Guri who lives in Talbiyeh, Rabbi Benny Lau of the Ramban Congregation and Hebrew University literature Prof. Ariel Hirshfeld. The renovated and, as El Ami puts it, "rejuvenated" center will offer assorted programming throughout the day. "There will be morning activities for older people, then we'll have stuff for kids and for families, and we'll have entertainment too. In time we will start offering activities in different languages. We realize there are lots of English and French speakers living around here and we want to cater to them too. It's a rich and varied program." The director also sees the center playing a major role in reenergizing the city as a whole. "Jerusalem and Jerusalemites have been through some hard times, and I am aware of the movement of young people away from here to Tel Aviv and elsewhere. What I want to say to students and other young people is that we have something to offer here, and I want you to help us build something together. There's no place in the world like Jerusalem and I believe the variety of groups we have here is our strength, and not a disadvantage." El Ami even has in mind absentee owners in the area."I want to talk to these people, who are buying property here but not actually living here other than a week or two here or there over the year. They obviously have an interest in Jerusalem, otherwise they wouldn't have bought an apartment here. I want to ask them to contribute to the neighborhood. We're not talking about begging for money. For instance, they could allow a student to live in one of the rooms in their apartment. The student wouldn't pay rent but he or she would, say, do a community service of some sort. The student would get accommodation, the house owner would have someone to look after their property and the community would also be served. It's a win-win-win situation." El Ami evidently believes in a proactive approach to effecting change. "We need to be tough with the municipality to ensure we get what we need, and can push through projects we believe to be worthy, but that doesn't mean we are enemies. We want to work together to make this neighborhood a better place to live in." For more information, visit: