Blog Category: ‘Ultra-Orthodox Jews’

2016 – What a Year!

January 25th, 2017

As we jump head-first into 2017, we wanted to take a minute to reflect on 2016, and what a year it’s been! Overall, a year of unprecedented growth and development, and we can’t wait to get started in 2017. Here are some highlights:

Cultural Competence

  • The Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference in May 2016, organized jointly by the JICC and the Jerusalem Foundation as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, was a turning point for the JICC. Attended by hundreds of professionals, from Jerusalem and throughout Israel, the conference presented strides that have been made over the past 10 years, and set the stage for the next step of meeting diverse residents’ diverse needs, in all areas of life.
  • Continued work in the health care system, in Jerusalem and as a model throughout Israel, training in-house coordinators and facilitators to increase sustainability and adaptability within individual institutions. For the first time, work included a national network of hospitals and clinics.
  • Expansive work in the Israel Police Force, reaching most police stations and present and future commanding officials, and continuing to expand training in 2017.
  • Groundbreaking work with the National Insurance Institute (NII), East Jerusalem branch, the first NII branch in the country to undergo a process of cultural competence.
  • In the Jerusalem Municipality, the entire Community Services Administration, which includes welfare, public health, immigrant absorption, and more, is undergoing training, as well as the Auditor’s Office which will be able to look at the entire Municipality’s operations through the prism of cultural competency and sensitivity.
  • Santé Israël, the first web site to make Israel’s health care system accessible to French speakers, celebrated its first birthday. 
Ms. Uzma Shakir, Keynote Speaker

Ms. Uzma Shakir, Keynote Speaker, Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference

Paramedical Professionals

Making healthcare practitioner exams accessible to Arab residents of east Jerusalem

2016 was an important year for us to take stock of the past four years of this program. Our conclusions show that:

  • The number of certified Arab paramedical professionals in East Jerusalem has grown significantly.
  • The program has enabled the JICC to more clearly map the situation of different paramedical professions in east Jerusalem, contributing to the knowledge of training in the Jerusalem area.
  • The awareness both among Palestinian institutes of higher education and health care institutions in east Jerusalem as well as Israeli Ministry of Health has been raised significantly.
  • A large window of opportunity for Arab women paramedical professionals to improve economic opportunities has been opened.

Nurses studying to pass their Israeli certification examinations

Talking Coexistence – Arabic Language Instruction

Both 2015 – 2016 and 2016 – 2017 broke enrollment records. In 2015-16 there were 180 students in 12 classes, over 5 levels. In 2016-2017, there are 240 students in 16 classes, also over 5 levels. We also held several cultural evenings to enrich students’ understanding of Arabic culture. Here’s a short video about the program:

Atta’a Assistance Center for the Rights of East Jerusalem Residents

The Atta’a Center has been in existence since 2004, and in 2015 it came under the aegis of the JICC. In 2016 we have seen:

  • 70% growth in number of requests
  • Ballooning of its Facebook page to over 7,100 ‘likes,’ and launching of its web site.
  • Publication of a widely-referenced booklet on the Ministry of Interior
  • Expansion of network of partners in action, both from NGO’s and advocacy groups as well as municipal and government agencies.

Atta’a Presenting workshops

MiniActive for Arab Residents of East Jerusalem

  • For the first time ever, MiniActive activities led to a change in policy. After months of campaigning, MiniActive led the way toward the addition of 3 million NIS to the annual municipal sanitation budget for east Jerusalem, and 16 million NIS for the purchase of additional equipment for sanitation. As a result of this work, the entire Municipality is focusing their attention on garbage collection throughout
  • In January 2016, MiniActive organized the first ever Arabic language Horticulture Therapy course in Jerusalem for special education teachers, in cooperation with the David Yellin Academic College of Education.
  • Bus stops in entire neighborhoods were repaired and replaced, thanks to MiniActive.
  • 210 women – including 50 youth – are studying Hebrew through a volunteer NGO to improve the effectivity of their activism. This is a record-breaking number, which broke last year’s record of 150 women.
  • In MiniActive Youth for the Environment, teenage girls learn leadership skills while participating in major environment-improving public art and other projects in neighborhoods throughout east Jerusalem.
  • MiniActive became a model for international work, hosting a delegation that works with the Roma population in the Czech Republic in November 2016.

Take a look at MiniActive’s own year in review. It’s pretty easy to understand, even if you don’t know Arabic:

Emergency Readiness Networks

In 2016 we expanded the network to include 14 communities throughout Jerusalem. In addition to training new volunteers, the program included training of existing networks to maintain ability to respond and increase sustainability.

Planning on map

Planning strategy on map

Multicultural Participatory Democracy

In 2016 we mentored community center staffs in Gilo, Kiryat Menachem, Givat Messuah, Baka’a and south Talpiot. For the first time, residents – especially the Ethiopian community in Kiryat Menachem and the highly diverse community of south Talpiot –felt that they were able to influence issues that affected their everyday lives. Training included using Facebook as a community-building tool key to increasing residents’ engagement in community processes.

Writing and submitting objections

Writing and submitting objections in Gilo

Promoting Tolerance in the Public Sphere

Since the summer of 2014 the JICC have been at the forefront of promoting tolerance in Jerusalem. 2016 accomplishments include:

  • A Different Day in Jerusalem celebrated Jerusalem’s diversity through 50 coordinated events, affecting tens of thousands of people on Jerusalem Day. It was the first time such a broad effort has been made to celebrate Jerusalem’s diversity.
  • JICC-mentored Speaking in the Square and other tolerance initiatives that came in their wake led to the redesigning of Zion Square, to be called Tolerance Square. The initiative’s Effective Dialogue methodology spread, and is now being presented in national frameworks.
  • 0202-Points of View from Jerusalem are now liked by nearly 80,000 people and reach some 150,000 people weekly on Facebook and the Internet. The network now includes pages that translate from Arabic to Hebrew, from Arabic to English and one which brings news from the Ultra-Orthodox world to the awareness of the general population.
  • The JICC was asked to be one of the leading organizations in the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations to Promote Tolerance, formed by the Center for Young Adults and the Municipality’s Young Authority.
  • The JICC is continuing to develop Tolerance Network Teams (TNT’s), a series of neighborhood-based and theme-based grassroots initiatives that seek to advance tolerance in Jerusalem.
Elhanan Miller Haaretz article

Haaretz article about A Different Day in Jerusalem

Window to Mount Zion

Since October 2015, Window to Mount Zion has bridged inter-religious and inter-community gaps that have festered between Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups for centuries. As a result of its activity over the past year:

  • In unheard-of cooperation, religious Jewish and Christian groups have issued joint statements condemning hate crimes on Mount Zion.
  • Christian ceremonies, which in the past have caused inter-religious tension, proceeded without incident.
  • The celebration of Christian and Jewish holidays that coincided simultaneously, which in the past had been the source of conflict and tension, also proceeded smoothly.
Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Window to Mount Zion volunteers

Asylum Seekers

The JICC, together with the Jerusalem Municipality, sponsor the only paid public servant in Israel to help asylum seekers, outside of Tel Aviv. We are also part of a consortium of organizations and agencies that seek to meet the needs of asylum seekers living in the city.

Tour of Nahlaot neighborhood

Families of asylum seekers on tour of Nahlaot neighborhood

Thank You!

Many many thanks go out to our partners in action and our donors. You can read about our activities in more detail either by clicking on the hyperlinks above, or by clicking here.

Looking forward to making 2017 even better!

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Attention, Read All About It! 0202 on Front Page of “In Jerusalem” Supplement of the Jerusalem Post!

January 22nd, 2017

We’ve introduced 0202 – Points of View from Jerusalem, which we’ve been mentoring since their inception in March 2015, several times, but there’s nothing like seeing it in print. This past Friday, they were featured on the front page of the Jerusalem Post‘s In Jerusalem section. Click here to read a .pdf version of the article.

0202 - Even on the front cover!

0202 – On the front cover!

Here’s the text:

A view from east to west
The 0202 website provides translations of east Jerusalem and haredi media, for greater understanding of our fellow city dwellers.
Michal Shilor started 0202 for the same reason so many innovative projects have begun; she was looking for something that didn’t exist.

Shilor is a Jerusalem activist who became involved in dialogue circles in Zion Square during the summer of 2014.

“We were engaged in discussions with people from all over Jerusalem and I found myself answering questions about east Jerusalem with knowledge that wasn’t firsthand,” she recalls.

“I started asking questions about where I could find news coverage on east Jerusalem that wasn’t filtered through some Jewish source; not left- or right-wing. I wanted to know what an east Jerusalemite sees and how that affects what he does.”

Shilor connected with a team of seven like-minded people who believed in her vision. With the support of Search for Common Ground and the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, 0202 was born.

Shilor and her team worked on a pilot project for three weeks. They gathered approximately 150 Facebook pages from east Jerusalem, including mainstream news media, such as the Gaza-based Shahab news agency, as well as alternative news sources, community leaders, community centers, schools and parent organizations. In March 2015, the 0202 Facebook page was published.

“We are trying to show what is going on in east Jerusalem,” Shilor says. “The first day we put the page online, we got 1,000 likes. It was amazing to see that it filled a need. That gave us a lot of hope.”

With time, 0202 became more professional. They brought in editors. Shilor and her team found that they relied less on the experts they thought they would need because they became experts themselves.

The 0202 staff is a mix of Arabs and Jews, and currently includes 18 dedicated volunteers. Shilor believes the team is a model of how Jerusalemites can live and work together.

“It’s activist-based,” Shilor states. “It’s about showing that we have to see what the other side sees.”

A hurdle early on was in translating the language from the pages coming out of east Jerusalem; not Arabic into Hebrew, but the way things were written.

Every time there was a mention of the police, army or municipality, the word “occupation” would come up. Shilor and her team found themselves questioning whether their readers would stay with them if they continued to translate word-for-word.

“It’s really difficult to read that kind of language for people in west Jerusalem,” Shilor explains. “But we have always maintained that we translate word-forword.

It’s important to see the way things are written.”

In the fall of 2015, Shilor and her team opened an English version of the page with funding from the Leichtag Foundation. She points out that there is no difference between the English and Hebrew pages in terms of content. They wanted to reach the Anglos in Jerusalem. Last March, 0202 celebrated its first birthday.

It had an event where both Palestinians and Israelis came to speak about Jerusalem.

“On the page, we don’t want to tell you what to think, but in the event, we were able to bring guest speakers to supply more nuanced points of view,” Shilor says. “A hundred people came, Arabs and Jews.

It showed us the impact we’re having.”

Another way 0202 measures its impact is in the ability to create change on the ground. Last June, the head of the Association for Driving Instructors in east Jerusalem began posting about an issue in Arnona and East Talpiot. Signs prohibiting student driving on Saturdays were popping up.

“It was clearly racist,” Shilor says. “On Saturdays, only Palestinians have driving lessons. The signs were put up unofficially, but somebody allowed it to happen without having any sort of discussion with the people it would affect.”

0202 translated the posts and the issue reached the municipality. The signs were eventually taken down.

The fact that the 0202 page had journalist and activist followers brought about tangible change. This was gratifying for Shilor and her team.

“To see that something happened because we’re amplifying voices that people don’t hear in west Jerusalem showed us that what we’re doing has an effect,” she says.

There was a similar occurrence with uncollected garbage. Mini Active, a group of female Palestinian activists, posted photos of garbage every day for a year with the tag line, “We don’t want to live in filth.” 0202 translated their campaign every day, and within a few months, NIS 3 million had been transferred to the sanitation department of east Jerusalem. The garbage issue today is one of the biggest and most talked about, thanks to Mini Active’s posts and 0202’s translations.

In the fall of 2015, the stabbing intifada tested the 0202 team’s abilities in a new way.

“That was our first big chance to prove ourselves, and we really managed to be an important source for people who wanted to know what was going on in Jerusalem and what people in east Jerusalem were saying about it.”

0202 hosted an event called “Why Is Jerusalem Burning?” that drew 150 people “We had posts from September that showed the coming violence,” Shilor recalls. “We took the opportunity to bring two speakers, one left- and one right-wing, to talk about why it was happening and why having access to what was coming out of east Jerusalem was so important. That was a major point for us to understand that we really have influence. One of the speakers was in charge of security at the Temple Mount, so he knows east Jerusalem very well and showed both sides of the spectrum.”

Shilor emphasizes that the common theme found in every post coming out of east Jerusalem is the mention of the “occupation,” even if the subject matter doesn’t directly relate.

“The mind-set in the media is, no matter the subject, we’re living in an occupied area,” she says, “but I have to say what’s most interesting is that Facebook doesn’t really show what’s happening in real life. Facebook in east Jerusalem is not a mirror image of street talk because of social pressure to say the right thing at the right time. When you look at the comments on posts, you’ll see much more diverse opinions than you’d see in a major post. You might see positive and negative comments, but posts will be negative across the board.”

0202 is currently focusing on trying to lessen the gap between how east Jerusalemites talk in the street, as represented in Facebook comments, and what is actually posted on a page. They’ve begun translating comments on posts, in order to showcase the disparity.

“It’s important to show how different the reactions are because there’s a lot of identity confusion in east Jerusalem,” Shilor explains.

0202 shows posts ranging from anger about settlers defacing al-Aksa Mosque, to what the children did in school that day. The message is that life is complex and east Jerusalemites are talking about all of it.

0202 is not attempting to provide a solution to the conflict. It is not in favor of or against one state or two.

Shilor believes that no matter what happens, Jerusalemites are living here together and need to understand each other.

“We need to understand what the other side thinks and how that affects their actions,” she says.

“One of the things we learned during the stabbing attacks was that it doesn’t really matter what the news says is happening. There were many instances where in west Jerusalem, we were sure that it was an attempted stabbing. But in east Jerusalem, they were sure that it was an innocent woman walking by, pulling her phone out of her pocket, and being killed in cold blood.
third of the people are sure that they’re being murdered in the streets while the other two-thirds are sure that they’re being stabbed to death in the same streets. It doesn’t matter what the objective truth is; what matters is that this is how we’re living. If both of us are that afraid, there should be discussion about the fear.”

In the spirit of communication, Shilor is now learning Arabic. She ardently believes that the simple act of talking to each other can bring about understanding.

Through her work with 0202, she has come to see that east and west Jerusalemites live in two separate worlds, both mentally and socioeconomically. 0202’s translations provide a meeting point somewhere between these two realities.

She plans to create a page for every sector of Jerusalem.

In September, they launched the haredi page, with the same process of culling news sources from a cross-section of ultra-Orthodox online and print media and providing accurate translations.

“If we’re going to talk about Jerusalem, it has to include all of its citizens: haredi, modern Orthodox and secular,” Shilor says.

“We want to pick something, work with the page until it steadies, and then open another. We want to create a complex look at Jerusalem so that people in and outside of Jerusalem can see. We decided that the first step would be the ultra-Orthodox world. That world is new for me. I wanted to learn about it and it looks like everyone else is interested as well.”

The haredi page has a smaller team: three people on staff and three advisers, all of whom are ultra-Orthodox themselves or were in the past.

“This page draws from Hebrew to Hebrew,” Shilor states. “It’s amazing that it’s still a whole other language.

You’ve got acronyms everywhere. They use the same letters and words, but I’ll have to read a post three times in order to understand it.”

Shilor has learned about ultra-Orthodoxy: haredim, hassidim and the hundreds of subsects within each. The first posts the page displayed, revolving around construction work on the light rail on Shabbat, showed that from the haredi point of view, mainstream Israeli society was blaming them for the halted construction. There have also been issues concerning education. In the Kiryat Hayovel schools, there is ongoing debate about religious and non-religious studies. There was also an issue regarding the mandatory quota that at least 30% of each seminary’s student body must be Sephardi girls. The posts showed concern that this was a maximum and not a minimum.

“There is an uproar about that and we really don’t hear about it outside the haredi world,” Shilor says. “We’re usually limited to what’s going on in the Knesset, but it is much bigger.”

0202 draws its haredi news from 80 different source pages, and it joined journalist WhatsApp groups that yield significant information.

What 0202 has done, in essence, is to strip away the bias that plagues today’s journalism. It reports the news from a plethora of sources, unfiltered. Of course when the team searches over 200 pages, some opinion is bound to seep into the selection process, but even that is addressed by choosing from only popular posts.

“If we use something minor that nobody is talking about, then we would be bringing our own opinions into it,” Shilor says. “It’s difficult because we have to include editor’s notes when we need to show a larger context to the picture. We do it with care and stay as neutral as possible.”

Shilor plans to translate the haredi page into English in the near future. In addition, 0202 is in the process of becoming a registered non-profit. The board is comprised of Palestinians and Jews, religious and secular. It’s important for the team to reflect Jerusalem in a real way, so that they can continue the work of holding a mirror up and providing a channel for understanding between disparate groups. Perhaps more importantly, 0202 provides an opportunity for identifying commonalities.

“From everything I’ve seen, each of these groups feels like they’re under occupation,” Shilor summarizes.

“They feel that everyone is against them – especially the municipality – and that their voices aren’t being heard. When you think that everyone is against you, it stands to reason that you would think everyone is doing better than you. There are a lot of similarities in terms of the feelings, even if the actions are different.

Understanding this will bring peace to Jerusalem.

“It’s about living in a way that we’re not afraid anymore, and not increasing the hate or the racism. It’s about making those small, human steps to promote tolerance over violence.”

Many thanks to the Leichtag Foundation for their support of this project, and to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their ongoing support of our efforts to promote tolerance in Jerusalem.

And here’s the Facebook post with pictures of the article:

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An Insiders View – 0202 Beyond the Screen

December 3rd, 2016

When was the last time you could experience a newspaper from Meah Shearim, or get an inside peek at what goes viral in Silwan? Palestinian and Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem, two vastly different experiences from the secular-religious Jewish continuum of another 300,000 Jerusalmites. Only a few blocks separate them physically, but they are all worlds apart.

This Facebook event picture basically sums it up

This Facebook event picture basically sums it up

In a truly Jerusalemite way, they all came together last week (November 22) at the Hamiffal cultural space, at the 0202: Beyond the Screen event. The event brought together representatives from the original 0202: A View from East Jerusalem and the newly-launched 0202: A View from Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem for a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Jerusalem and current events from their different points of view.

Bursting at the seams, with another 750 viewers online

Bursting at the seams, with another 750 viewers online

What does Jerusalem look like? What can we learn from a deeper look at 0202 items? How does East Jerusalem view Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem, and vice versa? What do the same news items look like as covered from East Jerusalem news sources or from Ultra-Orthodox news sources?

During the evening we were able to look at a number of different indicative posts that enabled panelists to analyze media, reality and the gap in between in ultra-orthodox and east Jerusalem,  crossing social, cultural, and physical borders through Facebook. Panelists included: Hatem Khweis – editor of “Hon” website and “Al-Balad” newspaper; Nasr Temimi – an active resident from Ras el-Amud; Yael Yechieli Persico – Director of Freedom of Religious and Pluralistic Judaism, ShatilBoaz Ben Ari – Photographer, “Haredim 10” News; Ohad Merlin – Editor, “0202 – A View from East Jerusalem”; Yossi Klar – Editor, “0202 – A View from Ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem”; Michal Shilor – Founder and Director, 0202.

From L. to R.: Nasr, Boaz, Yossi, Ohad, Yael, Hatem and Michal

From L. to R.: Nasr, Boaz, Yossi, Ohad, Yael, Hatem and Michal

In all, over 150 people squeezed into the main space at Hamiffal, and another 750 people watched on live stream! You can watch the video of the event here:

Earlier in the day Yossi and Ohad, both editors at 0202, were interviewed on the Galei Israel radio station. Click below to hear the interview in Hebrew.

Congratulations to Michal and the entire 0202 team for another successful Beyond the Screen event. Can’t wait for the next one!

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0202 – a Haredi Viewpoint – Launches

October 12th, 2016

The largest population of Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews in Israel lives in Jerusalem. Yet, ask any non-orthodox Jerusalem resident about burning issues in the Haredi community, and they will only be able to tell you about them from what they hear from the mainstream, secular media.

0202, a project begun in March 2015, aims to provide all Jerusalem populations with a window into the ‘other’s perspective, from their perspective. 0202 began translating news items from the Palestinian viewpoint. The Hebrew and English pages can be seen here and here. Today they have over 50,000 ‘likes’ combined and reach over 100,000 people weekly. As part of the 0202 philosophy, 0202 – A View from Haredi Jerusalem, began in September 2016. Many of its 2,300 ‘likes’ were received in its first two days on line; today the page reaches 10,000 weekly. Like its sister pages, 0202 – A View from Haredi Jerusalem reaches key stakeholders regularly: journalists, municipality figures, activists, journalists, Israelis and Palestinians, in and beyond Jerusalem.

0202 - A View from Haredi Jerusalem

0202 – A View from Haredi Jerusalem

Unlike its sister pages, 0202 – A View from Haredi Jerusalem does not need to translate. (0202-A View from East Jerusalem translates items from Arabic to Hebrew or English.) However, it does bridge a vast cultural divide between the ‘general’ (secular and modern orthodox) Jewish population and the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) population of the city.

First, it breaks a few stereotypes of how information is transferred. Many believe the main avenue is through pahskevilim and print media.

Reading pashkevilim

Reading pashkevilim

While this practice still continues, today there are a number of web sites and Facebook pages that serve the Haredi community of today. Here are some examples of interesting posts over the past month.

Here is a recent post dealing with discrimination of girls from a non-Ashkenazi origin:

The Haredi press dealt with this issue at length at the beginning of the school year as well:

This issue has been a recurring problem at the beginning of the school year for several years. Click here for an article from the secular Ynet news on the subject, from a few years ago.

Two different perspectives of a cultural event – which featured women singing – that was disrupted by members of the Haredi population. The post reads, “Dozens of activists break into a missionary conference in Jerusalem.”:

And here’s the way the organizers presented it:

Event with Armenian choir

Event with Armenian choir

And the Times of Israel (secular) coverage of the event.

And here is what others are saying about the page:

From the excellent people at 0202-A View from East Jerusalem, introducing the next project: “A View from Haredi Jerusalem.” They continue to bring items from the Haredi world from outside our Facebook sound box. Here, there might not be a language barrier, but how many of us seriously follow the Haredi media? I promise that it’s fascinating. Congratulations to Michal Shilor, Hagai Agmon-Snir and everyone else working on the project…P.S. Waiting for the completion of the set, “View from West Jerusalem” in Arabic.

Here’s the post in Hebrew:

Welcome to the world, 0202-A View from Haredi Jerusalem. May your posts and the discussions they raise serve to increase understanding among the populations of Jerusalem.

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Cultural Competency Training for Municipal Community Department

July 22nd, 2016

Cultural Competency – we’ve talked a lot about it, on the blog and on our website, but what is it really?

When we began that discussion some ten years ago, we focused on the health care context. Indeed, if health care services are not culturally competent and sensitive to the vast diversity of cultures in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, it really can be a life or death situation.

Cultural Competency at Hadassah Hospital

Cultural Competency at Hadassah Hospital

But Cultural Competency is so much more than that. In those past ten years, we’ve developed and refined our definition of  Cultural Competency to encompass much of our entire approach to community work: All residents have the right to receive basic services (health, education, welfare) that are culturally adapted to best suit their needs. Cultural Competent services enable professionals to provide those services most effectively, and culturally competent residents are empowered to most effectively access these rights and services. You can read about the most recent work we’ve done to advance cultural competency in a number of fields – in health, the police, the workplace, academia. Now, we’re proud to be officially providing widespread training in the Jerusalem Municipality.

Training senior municipal professionals

Training senior municipal professionals

We’ve been working with the municipal welfare department for several years, facilitating workshops for them here and there, providing critical assistance in emergency situations (like the Haredi mother who was accused of starving her child). All the while, we were looking for ways to introduce cultural competency in a systemic way.

A few weeks ago it began. Not only the welfare department, with which we’d been working before, but the entire Social Services Department, which includes the Welfare Department, the Employment Authority, the Absorption Authority and the Public Health. About 80 senior officials from all the different Departments are participating in the first five workshops, which we are now taking place. The workshops introduce principles of the tools and insights of cultural competency.  But this is only the beginning. In the future we expect to hold workshops adapted to the different areas – veterinary services, well-baby clinics, absorption authority, daycare frameworks, welfare workers and social workers, and more.  All will undergo workshops led by those trained to lead cultural competency workshops.

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its continued support of the Cultural Competency program throughout the years.

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JICC Completes Training Course for Police Commanders

July 14th, 2016

What is it like to be a police officer, and be responsible for keeping order and enforcing the law?

Police officers everywhere are on the front lines of law enforcement, bringing them into contact with a vast diversity of people. All too often, as we’ve recently seen in the USA as well as in Israel, events can get out of hand very quickly.

Protesting police treatment in Israel

Protesting police treatment in Israel July 3, 2016

The Israel Police understands the complexities of working with Israel’s different – and sometimes conflicting – population groups, and for the past year we at the JICC have been working with various ranks and groups in cultural competency training.

Israel police officers

Israel police officers

Last week we finished a course for police officials at the National Police Academy. The 50 course graduates, Superintendents and Chief Superintendents, represent the next generation of commanding officers in the Israel Police. Each will command soon a police station or a large police unit. The JICC has been mentoring the course for the past six months, from introducing them to the concept, to integrating cultural competency into different areas of the training course, and in writing a module in the unit commander’s file – on how to operate a culturally competent unit. We, together with the course participants, edited the comprehensive file. In the summary meeting of the course that was held with the Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, the entire course’s work was presented. This included recommendations and tools on how to manage and operate a culturally competent police unit. The JICC, together with the officers of the course and the staff of the National Police Academy, will continue to work to advance the use of these recommendations within the Israel Police.

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Mourning Respectfully in Zion Square, Together

July 3rd, 2016

Two years ago, in light of the murder of the three Jewish boys and subsequent murder of an Arab boy, a group of diverse activists came to Zion Square to light memorial candles and to mourn. What they found was a downtown full of hate, racism and violence. But they didn’t give up and the Speaking in the Square initiative was born. The JICC became their mentors, provided logistical support and helped them develop. They also became one of the cornerstone initiatives – alongside our Neighborhood Tolerance Network and 0202, to name a few – of our Grassroots Campaign to Promote Tolerance in Jerusalem. With the assistance of the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation, the Campaign seeks to empower grassroots activists and their initiatives to fight racism and xenophobia throughout Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, on  Thursday, June 30, a young Jewish girl was murdered in her bed. This time, however, things were different in Zion Square.

Zion Square, June 30, 2016

Zion Square, June 30, 2016

Our Director,  Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, wrote this Facebook post about his experiences this past Thursday night, and sums up the past two years:

Exactly two years ago, even though they didn’t know it yet, a group of Jerusalem young people invented Speaking in the Square. They came to Zion Square on that awful night, right after the funeral of the three boys, to light memorial candles and to sing quiet and comforting songs, and to balance out those who sought revenge and wanted to hurt the Arabs who worked and walked through downtown west Jerusalem. Even though members of the Speaking in the Square core have both left and right wing political views, the fact that they wanted only to sing songs and be sad tagged them among many in Zion Square as ‘leftist traitors,’ and they were kicked, spat upon, and shouted at as they sat on the pavement at Zion Square. They came back the next evening, and every evening during Operation Protective Edge, despite the violence and hate. I wasn’t part of it then, but later I used the term ‘courageous activism‘ to describe their approach, and it became a part of my professional lexicon. It turns out that in order to effect social change, you need to learn not to run away when they curse at you, throw sunflower seed shells at you or even kick you. Those who thought that these university students would disappear from Zion Square with the threats discovered that it didn’t happen. And in time, the violence decreased significantly.

A month afterward, at about the middle of August 2014, the Effective Dialogue approach was born. It was invented by these young people in Zion Square. Instead of hurling insults at Lehava activists and others who expressed racist views, this approach encourages one to talk with them in a way that enables expression of complex thoughts and ideas, helping us to understand that reality isn’t black and white. The goals of the group were then defined. The goal isn’t to turn Lehava activists into Meretz activists (especially since about half of the Speaking in the Square initiative support the Jewish Home party), but to detach the political discussion from expressions of hate, violence, racism and incitement that are too common in Israel’s political discourse. And to understand that deep discussion enables more sophisticated solutions than slogans such as “Wipe out Gaza” or “End the Occupation.”

Speaking in the Square continues every Thursday night, and sometimes on Saturday nights as well. A routine has been created that has re-branded Zion Square and downtown Jerusalem as a place where dialogue is possible. Suddenly it was possible to sit on the floor on mats and talk….Zion Square also received special treatment from City Council members such as Elad Malka, Laura Wharton, and Tamir Nir, who gave a hand so that the police and the Municipality could be a part of the change there. It was not a coincidence that the evenings in memory of Shira Banky took place there, even though she wasn’t murdered in Zion Square, and that the weekly events of the Yerushalmim Movement and others take place there.

In October 2015, almost 1 1/2 years after the process began, there were demonstrations of angry mobs in Zion Square on the heels of the murder of the Henkin family in Samaria. An hour before that demonstration, more people were murdered in the Old City, and the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. Speaking in the Square sat in Zion Square. Thana Jawabreh, who had just returned from a television interview where she emphasized as a Palestinian Muslim her objection to these murders, sat with them. The activists sat in circles, lit memorial candles and expressed their pain. There were those who participated in the angry mob demonstration, filled with rage, and calmed down and sometimes even sat with us. There were others for whom it was difficult to be in a circle that didn’t call for revenge. The Border Police failed to act appropriately and in time, and the event to spiral out of control. But courageous activism is courageous activism, and the group stayed on the floor and sang, even when the atmosphere was difficult around us. The message was heard well – our approach, which encourages tolerance and opposes hate – will not be driven out of Zion Square.

And yesterday, a 13-year old girl was murdered in Kiryat Arba. And another angry mob demonstration was planned in Zion Square. And we came – just beforehand to light memorial candles and to sit in a circle and sing quiet songs. And then, the surprise. We found some Jewish religious girls, students in an Ulpana, from an organization called Or Eitan who got there before us. Members of this young organization, Adi from Mitzpe Jericho and her friends, with the help of Elchanan from Har Homa and others, tried to light candles and do exactly what we wanted to do. When they weren’t successful, we volunteered our candles, which also wouldn’t light….and then we came together. And then more and more arrived, especially teenage girls, especially teenage Jewish religious girls, and joined in on the efforts to light candles and sing, from 8:30 at night to midnight. The Yerushalmim Movement arrived and discovered that their set corner was taken, and then they, too, joined the circle. Once in awhile someone came along and shouted at the religious girls that they’re sitting with ‘leftist traitors,’ that they’re not OK and that they’re not shouting “Jewish blood will not be un-claimed.” (as if any one of the “leftist traitors” wouldn’t care about anyone’s blood…) The girls calmed them down as best they could and explained that they’re just doing what needs to be done, and that it needs to be done with everyone. From afar we occasionally heard the Lehava boys, not more than 20 – 30, shouting racist epithets, but they were no more than a curious anecdote in the Square – most of what was happening last night is what you see in the pictures here. And in the background, close to the circle, were the taxis of Zion Square, Arab drivers who told me afterward that from their standpoint they felt completely safe all night (as opposed to the summer of 2014, when they were being attacked frequently).

Lighting candles in Zion Square

Lighting candles in Zion Square

At midnight we closed the circle, and some of us from Speaking in the Square found ourselves talking with Adi, Tamar and some other teenagers from the settlements, trying to examine the differences between us vis-a-vis the Arabs. And it was excellent to discover that there are gaps, yet we also have things to talk about. Because where else can these girls find people like us to talk to except for Zion Square? And where, except for Zion Square in the middle of the night, can we hear the frustration of girls who feel threatened by countless rock throwers and other acts and need to deal with the the hate these actions trigger, in their local environments and sometimes among themselves?

Hallel, a charming girl and gifted dancer, was murdered yesterday. I hope that someplace she sees what happened last night in the Square in her honor. Reality changes in the Square from day to day and from hour to hour. This change could be felt this year in the Square and in many other places in the city on Jerusalem Day, when we and tens of thousands of Jerusalemites re-claimed Jerusalem Day as A Different Day in Jerusalem. Maybe in the future, with the help of Or Eitan, Speaking in the Square and other groups of young people of another breed, from another generation, the change will also come to Tel Aviv and the Samaria.

Shabbat Shalom!

And here’s the post itself, in Hebrew:

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Window on Mt. Zion – Keeping the Peace during Orthodox Pentecost Ceremonies

June 25th, 2016

This past year has been full of challenges for Window to Mount Zion, trying to enable all faiths and all groups to engage in their respective prayers and religious rituals, without infringing upon the rights and religious rituals of others, while maintaining mutual respect for all.

Armenian Pentecost ceremony

Armenian Pentecost ceremony

Last Sunday – Monday, June 19-20, was a case in point. It was the Pentecost for the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, the day according to Christian tradition that the Holy Spirit descended to the Apostles and other followers of Jesus. For many this is the moment when the church was created, and when the Apostles began spreading the Christian religion, and visiting the Cenacle, the Room of the Last Supper, is a vital part of the holiday’s celebration. (You might remember that we discussed the Pentecost recently. That is because the Pentecost for the Eastern Churches is different than that of the Catholic church, which was a month ago.) The ceremony for the Armenian church took place on Sunday June 19, and for the Greek Orthodox church, on Monday the 20th.

Greek Orthodox leaving David's Tomb

Greek Orthodox leaving David’s Tomb

The procession set out from the Armenian Quarter of the Old City toward Mount Zion and the Cenacle in the late afternoon. They prayed there for about 1/2 an hour, accompanied by a small number of members of the Armenian community. At the same time, Jews prayed in David’s Tomb without disturbance. For a moment Mount Zion was a symbol of inter-religious tolerance that enables everyone to fulfill his or her religious traditions.

The challenge came the next morning, on Monday morning, June 20, when the Greek Orthodox church held its ceremony. According to the ancient status quo agreements, during the Greek Orthodox ceremony a small number of priests go from the Cenacle on the second floor, via a special staircase that is opened only on this day, into David’s Tomb on the ground floor for a very short prayer. King David is a holy and important character for Jews, Christians as well as Muslims, and it is important for the Greek Orthodox to pray next to his grave. However, this event often creates a great deal of tension between the Orthodox Christians and Jews, who see this Christian prayer as defiling the holiness of David’s Tomb.

The police were prepared, with reinforcements in place, to ensure that order was kept. Window on Mt. Zion volunteers were there as well. They not only helped the police in keeping order, they were able to explain what is going on to both those involved and passersby, diffusing some of the tension that is sometimes inherent in interactions with the police.

This is from the Facebook post (in Hebrew).

The morning was not without incident. Over the two days a number of Jews tried to barricade themselves in David’s Tomb, in an effort to stop the Green Orthodox service. These people were arrested. Because of these events, the police closed off David’s Tomb to visitors in the morning, except for a small number of Rabbis. During the service some Jews demonstrated outside. Those who were violent were arrested as well.

We can’t emphasize enough that most of the Jews living, working and praying on Mount Zion throughout the year staunchly oppose violence against Christians in the David’s Tomb and Cenacle complex. Over the last year, thanks to the Window on Mt. Zion program, we have reached important understandings with all those who live and work here that have great improved relations between neighbors. And the more we are there, we see what a difference our presence makes.

On the morning of the 20th, a large, official Greek Orthodox procession, including the Bishop and many members of the Greek Orthodox community in Jerusalem, arrived at the Cenacle. There they held a short prayer service, during which a number of priests and the bishop descended into David’s Tomb as planned.  Shortly afterward, they left the complex. Window on Mt. Zion volunteers were there to explain what was going on to passersby and to those demonstrating against the service. Except for a few incidents of violence, which were handled quickly by the police, the event finished peacefully and respectfully. Here’s the video of the Greek Orthodox praying in the Cenacle:

And here’s a video of their prayer in David’s Tomb:

Eetta Prince-Gibson, also a Window on Mt. Zion volunteer, wrote about the experience in the Ha’aretz daily. Here’s the link to the full article.

Pentecost Haaretz article

Pentecost Haaretz article

And here’s the article from the Window on Mt. Zion blog (in Hebrew).

Many thanks again to the Window on Mount Zion volunteers! Without your help, we are sure events would have ended more like they did last year. Just for comparison, Eran Tzidkiyahu, one of the co-leaders of the Window on Mount Zion project, posted a year ago a short video:


Here are some past news reports to show the contrast:

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Continuing to Advance Cultural Competency in Jerusalem Health Care Systems

June 18th, 2016

At the recent Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City conference we called cultural competency for health care professionals, ‘advanced cultural competency.’ But it doesn’t matter if they’re advanced or just starting out. One of the main takeaways from the conference was that cultural competency is an ongoing process that needs to be constantly reviewed and re-visited.

So last week, on June 7, we continued the process for cultural competency coordinators from Jerusalem HMO’s and hospitals with a joint meeting and peer learning session. There were representatives from the ALYN Rehabilitative Hospital, Hadassah Mt. Scopus as well as Ein Kerem campuses, Sha’are Zedek, and Meuchedet, Maccabi and Leumit HMO’s.

Exercises in principles of cultural competency

Exercises in principles of cultural competency

The goal of the meeting was to discuss challenges the coordinators have in assimilating principles of cultural competency in the different health care institutions. Issues included:

  • Including doctors in the training;
  • Assimilating telephone interpreting into everyday use;
  • Coping with the loneliness of the position;
  • Lack of resources;
  • Strategies of dealing with workers who refuse to show cultural sensitivity;
  • Working on Shabbat, and more.

Participants shared tips and suggestions from their experiences. In addition, Dr. Michal Schuster presented part of the recently-published research she conducted with Irit Elroy and Ido Elmakais regarding accessibility to signage in public and government hospitals. Michal was gave participants suggestions on how to better adapt signage and make it more accessible to different cultures.

Many of the participants said they felt the meeting was a great help and that they wished to continue to meet on a regular basis.

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its continuing support of this program.

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Article in Moment Magazine on Mount Zion

June 13th, 2016

We’ve been updating you here about a number of events taking place on Mount Zion, via the Window on Mount Zion project. For a more extensive history and explanation of the issues surrounding Mount Zion, take a look at Eetta Prince-Gibson’s article (she’s also a Window on Mt. Zion volunteer) that appears in the May-June 2016 edition of Moment Magazine, “Mount Zion: Jerusalem’s Wild & Sacred Backyard.” Click here for a .pdf version.

Moment Magazine May-June 2016

Moment Magazine May-June 2016

Below is the full text of the article.

Mount Zion: Jerusalem’s Wild & Sacred Backyard

A few minutes’ walk from the Temple Mount, outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, stands a stone building sacred to all three monotheistic religions. A sarcophagus on its first floor marks where Jewish tradition says King David is buried. On the second floor is the Cenacle—the room where the Last Supper, at which Jesus celebrated the Passover meal and washed the feet of his disciples, is said to have taken place. To Muslims, the entire structure has been holy since the Ottomans added a minaret and converted it into a mosque honoring King David, whom they consider a prophet, in the 16th century.

Here, religious time and space often collide. This past March, Holy Thursday coincided with Purim, the raucous, festive holiday that celebrates the downfall of Haman, the vizier who plotted to annihilate the Jews in Persia. For some Jews, the holiday is an occasion to assert Jewish power. For Christians, Holy Thursday is a time of humble contemplation and ritual. This year, in accordance with custom, Franciscan Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos (custodian) of the Holy Land, the highest-ranking official of the Catholic Church in the Middle East, has come to the Cenacle to wash the feet of 12 young students from the Jerusalem parish.

The ceremony opens as the kuwwas, traditional guardians of Christian holiness, dressed in red Ottoman fezzes and gold-embroidered crimson vests, swords at their sides, pound their silver staffs on the stone floor to make way for the Custos through the crowd of parents, tourists and pilgrims. Earlier, a group of young Jewish men in their early 20s, with long, curly sidelocks and torn jeans, tried to steal up the stairs to the Cenacle. Heavily deployed, watchful Israeli police chased the men away. “We have to tear down this shikutz,” one of the troublemakers said defiantly, using a particularly derogatory Yiddish term for “abomination.” “God will help us, King David will help us,” muttered another. “This whole mountain—this whole land!—belongs to the Jews. Merry Purim!”

At the height of the ceremony, piercing wails shatter the solemnity. Jewish students have barricaded themselves in a dorm room nearby and are blasting recorded sounds of the shofar through loudspeakers. While the police locate the protesters, break into their hideout and shut off the loudspeakers, a group of men wrapped in prayer shawls, some wearing tefillin, dance and sing as loudly as they can in the courtyard. “Utzu etza v’tufar…Take counsel and it will be foiled; speak a word and it will not succeed, for God is with us,” they chant. A middle-aged woman in modest garb—who comes daily from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim—takes a video, she explains, to document “Christian offenses.” “They want to annihilate us, just like they always have, just like they wanted to on Purim,” she says.

Police close the doors to the Cenacle so that the ceremony can conclude. When the worshippers file out, passing by the dancing men, some of them clap their hands in rhythm; a few even try to sing along. Noam Sagiv, a Jewish student who has come to observe the Christian ceremony, smiles apologetically at a nun in a dark habit. “We understand,” the nun responds. “Lots of people get overwhelmed by their religion. Happy Purim.”

Such disruptions are not uncommon in the King David’s tomb-Cenacle complex, which is located in the heart of Mount Zion. Tensions may be mild compared to those between Muslims and Jews on the Temple Mount, but this 30-acre tract abutting the walls of the Old City to the west has troubles of its own. They do not involve sovereignty: Unlike the Old City, which was seized by the Jordanians in the 1948 war, the 2,500 foot-high hill is an uncontested part of West Jerusalem. The remains of Israeli defensive trenches from 1948, now overgrown with trees and grass, crisscross the rocky land. At its edge, with a panoramic view of West Jerusalem below, are the twisted iron remnants of the mechanism that operated the cable car used to transport wounded Israeli soldiers away to safety.

The problem boils down to coexistence. Unlike the Old City, which is divided into separate quarters for Jews, Muslims, Greek Orthodox Christians and Armenian Christians, Mount Zion is a jumble of dozens of sites, structures and partially excavated archaeological ruins, each imbued with religious, historic and nationalistic meaning. Any Muslim residents are long gone; only the minaret, the Ottoman architecture and a cemetery remain to indicate that Muslims controlled Mount Zion for centuries. But the Christian presence is strong, and monks and nuns of all denominations are part of daily life, as are their places of worship. The German Benedictines have their Dormition Abbey; the Italian Franciscans have the Terra Sancta Monastery; the French Assumptionists have the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu; and the Armenians have the St. Saviour church. This last site is believed to be the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was taken after being arrested, and nearby is a rock cave where Jesus may have been imprisoned. Then there are the dead, laid to rest in Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Armenian cemeteries, the last of which includes a large monument to the victims of the Armenian genocide. Buried in the Catholic cemetery is Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. The Jews have Sambuski Cemetery, a Jewish potter’s field on a steep hill to the northeast where some now come to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish on the traditional date of the death of Moses.

Today, devout Jews and Christians mingle with tourists and pilgrims as they enter and exit the Old City through the Zion Gate. Some of the newcomers stay on the mountain, joining an ever-evolving cast of eccentrics. Recently, a small group of mostly middle-aged British and American Jewish men began gathering in a low stone building of unknown provenance, self-appointed to study the laws of the Sanhedrin—the ancient biblical court of the Land of Israel—in preparation for the imminent coming of the Messiah, the Son of David. Mount Zion, one of them explains, is the place where they believe the Messiah is most likely to return.

Why Mount Zion was left outside the walls erected by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century remains a mystery. It could have been because of the presence of the cemeteries, the relative unimportance of its landmarks in the eyes of the builders, the expense, or any number of other reasons. Legend has it that Suleiman was so angered by its exclusion that he had the hands of his two chief engineers cut off; in another telling, he had the men executed. Whatever the reason, the decision created a sort of no-man’s-land beyond the massive gate that shares its name.

“This is the backyard of Jerusalem,” says Ami Meitav, a Jerusalem official who headed a municipal committee tasked with conducting a survey of the buildings and residents on Mount Zion about a decade ago. But it’s a backyard “without clear ownership,” he adds, one that “no one cares enough about to take control.”

Into that power vacuum have stepped ultra-nationalist religious Jews who are transforming it into a microcosm of all that is both fearsome and hopeful in Israel, as well as a small group of Jewish activists who believe they can bring peace to Mount Zion, and perhaps through it, to all of Jerusalem.

No one really knows where biblical figures such as King David are buried. But during the early days of Christianity, legend singled out Mount Zion as the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, fell asleep and died—not far from the room of the Last Supper. In the 5th century, a Byzantine bishop erected the Hagia Sion Church, which was destroyed in a siege in 614. By the 12th century, the first floor of a new church, built on or near its ruins, had come to be considered the room of the Last Supper.

It was around this time that Jewish tradition came to associate Mount Zion with King David’s burial place. The first historical Jewish reference to this comes from Jewish chronicler Benjamin of Tudela, who, writing around 1163, recounts a story about two Jews employed to dig a tunnel who came across David’s palace. “They proceeded until they reached a large hall, supported by pillars of marble, encrusted with gold and silver, and before which stood a table, with a golden scepter and crown,” the inveterate traveler wrote. “This was the sepulcher of David, King of Israel…”

Yisca Harani, an expert in early Christianity at Jerusalem’s Ben-Zvi Institute, insists that this and all the religious stories associated with Mount Zion should be taken with a grain of salt. “If King David were to come back to Jerusalem, he would not come to Mount Zion,” she says with a laugh. “Jesus wouldn’t, either. This was not their turf.” She adds: “Traditions surrounding the mountain probably have little to do with historical reality. But religious beliefs listen to the beating hearts of believers, not to the learned discussions of archaeologists and historians.”

Once the tomb assumed sacred status, religions began to compete for control of it. The Crusaders put in the Gothic cenotaph that marks the site and rebuilt the present-day Cenacle. Entrusted by the Pope as guardians of Christian shrines in the Holy Land, the Franciscans established a monastery, but quickly came into conflict with the Greek Orthodox Church and other Christian sects. Their skirmishes, as well as disputes over visitation rights between Christians and Jews, led Ottoman Sultan Suleiman (the same Suleiman who built the Old City walls) to take control of Mount Zion in the 16th century. He turned the entire building into a mosque and designated Sheikh Ahmad al Dajani—who was believed to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson—and his heirs as the custodians of King David’s tomb.

The Dajanis—who added the appellation Daoudi (David) to their name—were tolerant custodians. Under their watchful eye, and for a fee, Christians were given the right to pray as individuals in the Cenacle. Muslims, who considered the entire structure a mosque, also prayed in the Cenacle—although separated from Christians by an iron fence. Downstairs, Jews, too, paid and prayed, especially on the holiday of Shavuot, which relates the story of Ruth the convert, who gave birth to the forefathers of King David. These policies continued for more than four centuries; in 1831, the Franciscans were even allowed to hold public prayer in the Cenacle twice a year, on Easter and on Pentecost.

The Dajani Daoudi family flourished, building homes for themselves on Mount Zion. Even from 1918 to 1948, they continued to fulfill their custodial role under the stern eyes of the British, who in 1928 cancelled the Franciscans’ right to conduct public prayer after an Italian heir to the throne allegedly tried to take control of the Cenacle.

For Jews, King David’s tomb remained overshadowed in importance by the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and other sacred places within the Old City walls. But that changed in 1948, when, following Israel’s War of Independence, the Jordanians took control of the Old City and forbade Israeli Jews from visiting Jewish holy sites. Suddenly, only Mount Zion remained in Jewish hands. Now it was the Jews who controlled religious and political realities. Israeli authorities expelled the Dajani Daoudis, who fled to East Jerusalem, and took over the now-abandoned Arab properties. In the main complex, the minaret was closed and Muslim services were no longer offered in the tomb chamber. Instead, full Jewish public worship was instituted. Christians still had the right to pray on the second-floor Cenacle as individuals but needed permission to conduct public worship services from the Mount Zion Committee, which fell under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Ministry of Religion. (Later, Israeli authorities approved five days of worship for the various Christian denominations, including Holy Thursday, Easter and Pentecost.)

Israeli officialdom was in conflict over how to respond to the new situation on Mount Zion, says Amnon Ramon, a prominent scholar of Christianity and a researcher at the Ben-Zvi Institute. On the one hand, the municipality of Jerusalem, along with the Ministry of Tourism, wanted Israeli policy to be welcoming and encouraging. “The city wanted Christian tourists to come to Mount Zion, since most of the other Christian sites were in Jordanian hands,” he says. “And the Foreign Ministry wanted Israel to make a great show of how liberal the State of Israel was.”

But the Ministry of Religion saw things differently and, as so often happens in Israel, ultimately had the upper hand. In 1949, Shlomo Zalman Kahana, the ministry’s director-general, decided to dedicate his life to turning Mount Zion into the religious heart of the Jewish state. He largely succeeded. Kahana invited institutions and individuals to take up residence on Mount Zion—including sculptor David Palombo (who designed the gates to the Knesset), whose widow continues to reside there; the artist-sculptor Perli Pelzig, whose son still lives there; and the owners of Jewish banquet halls that he established—giving them all buildings and land rights. Kahana personally reinstated and refashioned old religious ceremonies and designed new ones related to King David.

Under Kahana’s energetic ministry, Jews ascended to Mount Zion by the thousands, exposed to the crosshairs of watchful Jordanian snipers only a few yards away. They climbed to the roof of the mosque to peer out over the Old City and the Mount of Olives. This was the best vantage point in West Jerusalem from which to see the Old City. In a room near the minaret designated as the “President’s Room,” successive Israeli presidents held official ceremonies and greeted foreign dignitaries, pointing to the Temple Mount—only a short distance away, but inaccessible.

Although his authority to do so was unclear, in 1966 Kahana invited Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein, originally from Queens, New York, who was looking for a home for his new yeshiva in Israel, to establish the Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion. Kahana even signed legally binding agreements that handed over ownership of abandoned properties, almost all of them originally belonging to the Dajani Daoudi family, to the yeshiva.

Just as Jews remember clambering to the rooftop of the mosque to mourn their lost Western Wall during this period, members of the Dajani Daoudi family recall ascending minarets in the Old City to view their lost properties, says Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, who to this day is in possession of the ceremonial keys to King David’s tomb. His home office in East Jerusalem is lined with photographs of his extended family, many of them taken on Mount Zion, in the properties the family no longer owns. Only the family cemetery remains under the family’s control. “It is too painful, even now, for me to come up to Mount Zion,” says Dajani Daoudi, a former professor at al-Quds University in East Jerusalem and a forceful and rare Palestinian public voice for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. “The memories are too strong.”

With the 1967 Six-Day War and Israel’s capture of the Old City, Jews once again could return to the Western Wall. Sidelined, Mount Zion was left to the devices of its residents and, in particular, the Diaspora Yeshiva, which would play a key role in fulfilling Kahana’s dream of a monolithic Jewish presence. In the heady 1960s, the moment was right for Goldstein to create a coed yeshiva dedicated to young, primarily American, Jews seeking spiritual meaning. Goldstein brought a neo-Hasidic approach to the cavernous buildings on Mount Zion, taking in just about any young Jew without demanding that they forgo their long hair, torn jeans and bohemian skirts. He encouraged the students to turn their musical talents to Judaism, and from 1975 to 1983, the Diaspora Yeshiva band offered free Saturday night concerts that attracted hundreds to hear their klezmer-twanged mix of acid rock, bluegrass and folk music.

As more students arrived, the yeshiva—with the approval of the Ministry of Religion—took over buildings surrounding the tomb for classrooms, study halls, prayer rooms and dormitories. As students met and married, Goldstein renovated, opening schools that served hundreds of children born on Mount Zion. But gradually, that era passed. Today, says Abraham Goldstein, Mordechai Goldstein’s son and successor, the yeshiva is a “regular, staid, Orthodox yeshiva,” although many students, American and Israeli, are marginalized or at-risk youths.

Over the past few years, the yeshiva has also been home to hundreds of Israeli Jewish nationalists known as “hilltop youth”—young, fanatical settlers, many of whom have been banished from the West Bank with restraining orders issued by Israeli security forces. These youths have adopted a virulently anti-Arab and increasingly anti-Christian credo. Although there have been few arrests, they are largely assumed by police to be responsible for dozens of hate crimes on Mount Zion, repeatedly defacing and even attempting to torch Christian sites, desecrating Christian cemeteries and spray-painting offensive graffiti to obliterate Arabic signs. In 2013, there were 22 attacks on Christian property alone, up from 11 in 2011, according to the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre, a joint project of the churches in Jerusalem, the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches. Some young Jews have also renewed the dubious practice once observed by some religious Jews in pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe of spitting at Christian clergy.

Goldstein says that the yeshiva is doing all it can to distance itself from these youths. “We do not encourage violence of this kind in any way,” says the rabbi, who sent a letter to the Franciscans apologizing for the disruption of the Holy Thursday ceremony. But, he adds, “We are a large yeshiva, with a lot of open space, and we cannot be held responsible for everyone who tries to join our ranks.”

Goldstein and the Diaspora Yeshiva have played a part in fomenting anti-Christian attitudes—in particular fears that the State of Israel intends to sign an agreement with the Vatican to give the Pope control over the David’s tomb-Cenacle complex. These fears stem from Papal visits to Mount Zion in 2000, 2009 and 2014, which led the Franciscans to renew demands that Israel allow them to hold full Eucharist services in the Cenacle, including the consumption of the holy wafer and wine. According to the current status quo, the wafer and wine, which Catholics believe to be the body and blood of Christ, are not permitted in the building because they would desecrate the Jewish worship space in the tomb chamber on the first floor.

The Franciscans also asked for the right to celebrate Mass in the morning a few times a week before the site is open to visitors. “We don’t want to transform the Upper Room into a church, we don’t want the property, we don’t want sovereignty,” Father Pizzaballa said in statements published in the press around the time of Pope Francis’s 2014 visit. “We want the right to pray there.” The requests were part of longtime negotiations between the Vatican and Israeli officials regarding formalization of all aspects of their diplomatic relationship. The Israeli government, however, has publicly declared that it has no intention of changing the status quo, and none of the Popes, including Pope Francis, performed the Eucharist in the Cenacle.

Goldstein acknowledges that nothing has happened to substantiate his fears of Vatican control, but he says he is still worried. He has signed numerous petitions denouncing the purported intention to “give away” Jewish holy sites and has helped organize several demonstrations. And while he denounces the violence, he also says that he understands it. “Of course I believe that no Jew would hand sovereignty over such a holy place to a non-Jew,” he says. “But there are people who, out of greed or maybe because they believe that giving in to the goyim is in the best interest of the State of Israel, might allow Christian worship.”

And that, he continues, “would be intolerable. Jewish law forbids us to have a synagogue in a building used for idol worship. And Catholic services are idol worship.”
Only a few yards from the main offices of the yeshiva and from David’s tomb is the massive stone structure of the Dormition Abbey, whose high-domed bell tower dominates the horizon. Father Gregory Collins, the current head of the abbey, wears the hooded, rough-hewn robe and large silver cross of the Benedictines. Originally from Belfast, Father Gregory took up his position here a few years ago, and his Irish-lilted English echoes musically through the vast halls.

The church opens to the public several times a year, and crowds of Israeli Jews enjoy attending the annual Christmas Eve services. Father Gregory notes with amusement that he “may be the only clergyman who is called to preach on Christmas Eve to a church full of Jews.” He understands the complexity of the situation: “I come from Northern Ireland,” he says. “I know the pain of the decades of conflict, religious and political. We must recognize each other’s humanity, whatever our faiths or beliefs. We Christians have not always upheld this, but it is what we must seek.”

But Father Nikodemus Schnabel, a young, energetic man with a kindly manner, says sadly that “a day doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t spit on me. Sometimes, I prefer not to wear my robes outside of the Abbey, in order to avoid unpleasant interactions, especially if I have to walk down ‘Spit Alley,’” referring to the narrow walkway between the walls of the Abbey and the walls of the Greek Orthodox cemetery that leads from the Diaspora Yeshiva to David’s tomb.

“I am also hopeful and thankful to the many Jews and Muslims who came up to express their solidarity, have helped us rebuild our cemeteries, and volunteer to help us keep law and order,” Father Nikodemus continues. And while he notes that the municipality did, in fact, erase the graffiti “quickly and efficiently, it angers me that the authorities do not do more to put a stop to this behavior.”

The damage to Benedictine property is light compared to the destruction that has occurred at the King David’s tomb-Cenacle complex. Historically, each religion has appropriated space from the religion that came before it, attempting to erase the memory of its presence. The building is now a layer cake of religious architecture. The classic vaulted ceilings of the Cenacle bear testimony to the Crusader-era church, while in the tomb, a mihrab—a semicircular niche in the wall that points toward Mecca—is only partially hidden by a large, recently installed Formica bookcase filled with Jewish religious texts. Verses from the Quran decorate intricate stained glass windows, and in the southwest corner, next to the exit, is an Islamic-style cupola.

But more recently, extremists have tried to physically eradicate the remainders of Christian and Muslim inhabitance. Until 2012, the Ben-Zvi Institute’s Ramon says, the interior walls of the tomb chamber were covered with tiles hand-painted with leaves, flowers and geometrical shapes in shades of green and turquoise. Since the establishment of the state, right-wing Jews have seen these tiles as an affront to Jewish sovereignty, and in 1950, the renowned poet Uri Zvi Greenberg symbolically smashed a few of them in an attempt to assert Jewish dominance on the Mount.

In the early morning of December 20, 2012, policemen found two men in ultra-Orthodox garb attempting to destroy the tiles. The men were dismissed as deranged, especially when one explained that he had to break the tiles because their glaze was preventing him from getting a shidduch (an arranged marriage). The tomb remained unguarded and two weeks later, others—also suspected to be religious Jews—destroyed almost every tile.

The Israel Antiquities Authority appointed a committee of experts that concluded the tiles could and should be replicated and replaced, and there were even negotiations to bring in artisans from Turkey. But then the Authority reversed its decision, stating that the destruction had inadvertently improved the site by exposing the original ancient rock walls. “A serious act of vandalism, a string of coincidences and a decision by the Israel Antiquities Authority have combined to change the character of King David’s tomb on Mount Zion, holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity,” says Ramon. “For the first time since the 16th century, someone tried to erase every last trace of the building’s Muslim character.”

Ramon says that lack of governmental oversight has handed David’s tomb over to the ultra-Orthodox. Just a few years ago, the tomb was open to all, with no separation between men and women. But when an Orthodox Jewish philanthropist made a large contribution, dividers were set up to create men’s and women’s sections, and a wooden ark with Torah scrolls was brought in. The donation—made under the auspices of the National Center for the Development of the Holy Sites, which belongs to the Ministry of Religion—turned David’s tomb into an Orthodox synagogue that is administered by the Diaspora Yeshiva.

“The state has abdicated its responsibility and left Mount Zion in chaos,” says Ramon. “It has been taken over by extremists enthralled with Jewish power who want to Judaize the mountain and remove all traces of its non-Jewish history.”

Several years ago, The Jerusalem Foundation, the city’s largest philanthropic organization—which is dedicated to promoting pluralism and was founded by legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek—invited the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC) to move onto Mount Zion into a large, abandoned building near David’s Tomb. The JICC’s mission is to increase civic involvement of all of Jerusalem’s diverse communities in determining the management and future of the city.

As the JICC took up residence, its leaders were struck by the chaos. They connected with another NGO, the Washington, DC-based Search for Common Ground that also maintains offices in Jerusalem, to establish Window to Mount Zion, which has tried to focus on creating a more peaceful reality on the mountain. Eran Tzidkiyahu, co-project coordinator from SCF, and Merav Horovitz, co-project coordinator from JICC, regularly organize tours for the public and maintain a dedicated group of volunteers to keep an eye out for trouble and help the police to maintain law and order.

On one of these tours, Tzidkiyahu points to a sign at the entrance to the Cenacle. “A sign like this could only be invented in Jerusalem and only on Mount Zion,” he quips. Written in Hebrew, English and Arabic is a list of “instructions for behavior at the Room of the Last Supper.” One of them states that it is also forbidden to bring in “food and drink”—a pointed reference, Tzidkiyahu explains, to the wafer and wine Christians need in order to hold a Eucharist service. He points to another part of the sign. “This informs visitors that this is a holy site,” he says. “But actually, under Israeli law, the Cenacle is not a holy site. Despite its holiness, it has no particular legal standing.”

Window to Mount Zion is not alone in decrying the tangle of contradictory responsibilities spread among numerous institutions. Right-wing Jerusalem city councilman Aryeh King calls it “an absurdly chaotic situation, with an unknown number of different authorities with unclear responsibilities.” No one, he says, “not the government ministries, not the municipality, not anybody, supervises or is even aware of what is going on there.”

According to King, “no one is really sure exactly who is responsible for what on Mount Zion,” thanks to a combination of ancient agreements, Kahana’s machinations, and the activities of the Israeli Custodian of Abandoned (Arab) Property, the Jewish National Fund, the Authority for the Development of East Jerusalem and multiple other city authorities. The rabbi of the Western Wall is also involved, due to the location of Jewish holy sites on the Mount. Even Amidar, a state-owned company responsible for public housing, is part of the mix. “At some point—who knows when—Amidar was given control of the President’s Room,” says Ramon, barely concealing his smile as he considers just how ridiculous this is.

David Solomon, employed by the Ministry of Religion as site director for the David’s tomb area, agrees. He watches as a young man in ultra-Orthodox garb invites tourists to light candles and receive a blessing—all for the modest sum of NIS 10 ($2.50). Solomon angrily chases him away. “There are so many charlatans like this man roaming around here, making a small fortune, and there is no one to protect the unsuspecting tourists,” he says. “There is no one to take responsibility here.”

Ami Meitav, the municipal official who describes Mount Zion as Jerusalem’s backyard, adds that the lack of responsibility and accountability extends to the churches, too, including the Greek Orthodox Church, one of Jerusalem’s largest landowners. “The Greek Orthodox Church is responsible for the large field commonly called the Greek Garden, but has left it uncared for,” he says. “Yet they refuse to allow the municipality to build a sports field there—even though it would serve their students, too.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official at the Foreign Ministry says that ministry officials are aware of the chaos on Mount Zion, but that in the absence of a dedicated foreign minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who, due to coalition considerations, also holds the position of foreign minister) just doesn’t have the time or inclination to attempt to bring order to this religiously, politically and diplomatically delicate situation. Or perhaps, adds the official, not caring is a way of promoting a nationalistic political agenda without taking responsibility for it.

After a series of incidents last January, during which extremists spray-painted graffiti on the Dormition Abbey, Window to Mount Zion successfully pushed for police presence to be increased. The group also convened a “tenants’ meeting” for all of the individuals, groups and institutions that make their home on Mount Zion. Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Catholic monks of various sects, Protestant pastors and Ashkenazi and Sephardic rabbis filed into a room at the JICC building along with uniformed policemen and volunteers. “It was probably the first time in 1,500 years of interreligious strife,” says Hagai Agmon-Snir, director of JICC, “that all of the people on the mountain actually sat down together.”

The meeting, he says, addressed prosaic aspects of life—garbage removal, parking spaces, future zoning. “That’s part of being neighbors, too,” he says, “even for sacred and historical institutions.” The meeting also addressed the graffiti, and all the residents signed a statement harshly condemning the acts and calling for the maintenance of “the delicate fabric of coexistence.” It was the first of many such meetings that Tzidkiyahu hopes will allow Mount Zion’s disparate inhabitants to begin to create a new vision together.

Meanwhile, Tzidkiyahu has a suggestion of his own. Although the city government is currently promoting a plan to turn Dung Gate into an official tourist entrance to the Old City, he would like to see Mount Zion become the access point. “An entrance through Zion Gate would create a narrative of tolerance and coexistence, a spiritual entrance that would invite us all to imagine a different world,” he says.

Tzidkiyahu believes that Mount Zion offers the State of Israel an opportunity to change history. “For millennia, religions have fought over this holy site,” he says. “Now, in the 21st century, we have an opportunity to create a different model of coexistence, based on inclusivity and trust.”

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