Jerusalem: A cooperation hub

There is enough otherness around to keep you going all your life.

Belz yeshiva students study Torah in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Belz yeshiva students study Torah in Jerusalem.
I love Jerusalem. Here is why: Jerusalem teaches me about cooperation, about opening to others and accepting them for who they are. Jerusalem forces me to live side by side with otherness, whether coming from the Jewish, Christian or Muslim community.
And as years go by I cherish and enjoy the opening of the heart Jerusalem has brought me, the opening to the other whether this other comes from within my own Jewish community or the surrounding communities.
It is a process, expanding one’s heart to include more and more. And there is plenty in Jerusalem to open up to, to meet and explore and get to know.
There is enough otherness around to keep you going all your life.
In our building, located on the border between Jerusalem’s German and Greek Colonies, a young haredi (ultra-Orthodox) couple rented one of the two groundfloor apartments three years ago. At first my husband and I looked at each other in dismay, feeling that our building was sort of experiencing an “occupation” by the haredi community. This originally brought up in us a sense of antagonism, a sense of conflict, a feeling that we would have to fight to preserve our secular-traditional identity that combines reciting the Kiddush, having a Shabbat dinner and playing the guitar with dessert. Driving and putting the washing machine on Shabbat, having the radio on, while cherishing the calm and quiet that a Jerusalem Shabbat offers.
We were afraid that they would step on our feet, mess up with our ways, try to impose theirs. But this did not happen, and yes, slowly but surely the man of the family began saying hello, not averting his gaze when seeing me or my daughters coming down the stairs as he did when they first set foot in the building. We have learned to honor each other, and live side by side in harmony and with respect for each other’s lifestyles.
Both sides had to outgrow their preconceived ideas and stereotypes.
WELL, THIS is a Jerusalem lesson that could hardly be learned in the classroom of Tel Aviv, and especially not in all the suburban communities where one lives in a private home and has no real neighbors to negotiate with, exchange with, give and take with, as each is secluded in their own turf. None of that seclusion for me – thanks, but no thanks! Life as I see it is about mixing, mingling, coming into contact with the other.
It is also about trying to find a balance, and win-win solutions so that we can all be happy. And these are indeed the lessons Jerusalem teaches me, and I cherish it for that.
On Monday evenings at Jerusalem’s First Station and along the old train tracks, I walk with a group of Arab women friends, Christians and Muslims, as well as fellow Jewish women. We meet at the train tacks and walk toward Beit Safafa, eventually retracing our steps.
On the way we chat about our families’ latest news and update each other on our respective communities’ challenges. A few walk in hijabs, others in tights, closely together, affirming our interconnectedness, our similarity, and our resistance to a political system coming from above that promotes exclusion and separation.
We will continue to be friends, and keep on building bridges despite the system’s efforts to bring them down. That is also a Jerusalem lesson.
And here is my classic Jerusalem Shabbat morning outing; a highlight of inclusion, cross-cultural community fun and cooperation all under one roof. A two-minute walk from our home that promotes to our daughters the worldview we bring them up in, namely, cooperation. The roof is the delightful Jerusalem sky, on Yehoshua Bin Nun Street in the heart of the Greek Colony, at no other than the Greek Community Center, in Greek our leshi, or club. And indeed this is a club only Jerusalem can boast of. It belongs to the Greek Orthodox Community of Jerusalem, now headed by Greek Orthodox Anastas Damianos and Vassilis Tzaferis, but open to all.
On Saturday mornings, we sit and sip our Greek coffee along with the United Nations, or at least that is how it feels. You have Greek Christians and Jews, Palestinian Christian and Muslims, Jerusalem-born Israelis and a spectrum of internationals coming all the way from Cyprus, New York and Hong Kong.
The beautiful and relaxed atmosphere of the garden resonates in us all, and so does the lively company, where the discussion moves from Greek to Hebrew to Arabic to English and French as we try to figure out the language spoken by all around the table. There are many tables with different languages, and one can pop from one to the other with ease. This is my Shabbat treat, what Jerusalem has really to offer, and it is not other-worldly at all. It happens in the here and now every Shabbat morning.
You are all most welcome to join us.
The writer is the author of They All Sound Like Love Songs, Women Healing Israeli-Palestinian Relations.
Athens-born, she lives in Jerusalem.