Monthly Archives: January 2016

Continuing Pope Paul VI’s Tradition Peacefully on Mount Zion

“Veni, Sancte Spiritus/ tui amoris in eis ignem accende,” – Come Holy Spirit, hug your believers in the fire of your love

Last week our Window to Mount Zion volunteers were part of an extraordinary joint prayer service that took place in the Room of the Last Supper (read here in Hebrew about it) on Mount Zion. Held every year during the last week of January, this was an extremely diverse gathering – Ethiopians and Copts, Catholics and Orthodox, Romanian, Armenian, Lutheran and other communities; Priests, nuns, students of theology and many laymen, shoulder to shoulder to pray for the unity of the Christian church. All 150 of them praying for Christian unity. This is no small feat, given the centuries-old history of rivalry and worse between the different divisions of the Christian church.

The event was led by the Benedictine monks from the nearby Dormition Abbey (read here in Hebrew about it). They read from the Bible: Isaiah’s prophecy: “My House will be a house of prayer all peoples,” sang psalms, read from the New Testament as well. Sermons were given in Latin, German, French, English, Hebrew and Arabic, each one with a message of unity in faith, hope for a better world and a determination to stand together against difficulties along the way. Our Window on Mount Zion volunteers, in coordination with both the police and the monks leading the service, served as ushers and made sure the service proceeded smoothly. Both the police and monks were extremely grateful for our assistance.

The event ended with the Lord’s Prayer. As participants left, Jewish passersby, on their way to worship at David Tomb, greeted the Christians, creating an atmosphere of coexistence, mutual respect and cooperation. This is exactly the type of relations we are striving for in the Window on Mount Zion project.

How did this tradition come about? In 1964, Pope Paul VI made his first papal visit to the Middle East since the Middle Ages, during which he visited various Orthodox communities. In January 1964 he conducted an historic meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, the first such meeting in 900 years! Since then, in an attempt to continue this improvement of relations, Christians around the world hold joint prayer services during the last week of January. In Jerusalem, this week was sealed with a joint prayer in the Room of the Last Supper, formally a neutral place, historically and religiously significant, and a sacred site to almost all the Christian communities in the city.

For a moment, it seemed as if Isaiah’s prophesy was coming true…

Many thanks to Search for Common Ground Jerusalem and USIP for their partnership in this project. You can learn more about “Window to Mount Zion” in Hebrew at the site and at the Facebook Page .

MiniActive Women – Intensive and Unrelenting Activism for Change

Unrelenting Creativity  – that has been the modus operandi of the MiniActive network since its establishment in 2012. And today, three years on, MiniActive women are continuing to find original ways to deal with a challenging situation. Garbage collection in East Jerusalem, always a sore spot, has become even more problematic over the past few months. The women still call the 106 municipal hotline, but many garbage piles remain.

Refusing to give up, the women changed their tactic. Since October, MiniActive women have engaged in a “We Don’t Want to Live in Garbage” campaign on their Facebook page. Each day several pictures of overflowing garbage ticks and makeshift garbage dumps are uploaded to the MiniActive Facebook page.

Original Type of Garbage Receptacle

Original Garbage Receptacle

These are often shared by the 0202-A View from East Jerusalem Facebook page, that translates Arabic-language Facebook and Internet posts into Hebrew, which reaches a number of prominent journalists and local politicians. While collection has improved somewhat, we will continue putting pressure on service providers to provide fundamental services to East Jerusalem residents.

MiniActive Anti-trash Campaign, from January 19

MiniActive Anti-trash Campaign, from January 19

May future news bring pictures of Jerusalem’s beauty – and not of its filth.

Fighting Racism through Neighborhood Tolerance Committees

On January 21, the house of Professor Yaakov Malkin, provost at the International Institute for Humanistic Secular Judaism and himself an atheist, was vandalized, and the perpetrators left a note with a knife. In response, the “Neighbors Tell Their Stories” team in Katamon and the German and Greek Colonies immediately decided to act and show their support of the traumatized family. The women wrote a letter of support and visited the family the following day, bringing with them the letter, signed by dozens of neighbors, wine, and flowers. Diana, a founding member of the “Neighbors Tell Their Stories” team, wrote about her experience here.

Letter sent to Prof. Malkin and his family

Letter sent by the “Katamon-German-Greek-Colonies Tolerance Group” to Prof. Malkin and his family

The “Neighbors Tell their Stories” team is part of a growing network of neighborhood ‘tolerance teams’ that we are setting up all over Jerusalem as one way to fight racism and xenophobia in the city. It is part of a larger program, Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance, which is supported by the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation.

“In the multiply-divided city of Jerusalem, where difference is often perceived as more of a threat than a blessing, it’s very hard to recreate that gorgeous variety in a single room. But last Monday night, at our first evening, […] I had the sense of finally coming close.” This is how Diana  described the first event, in which neighbors from various backgrounds told their personal stories in order to create a better and friendlier neighborhood, regardless of race, gender, background, or political beliefs. “The audience — drawn mainly by posters on the street and Facebook posts — listened with rapt attention. Their own journeys to this neighborhood began from all corners of the globe — from Persia to Paris, the east coast of America to Eastern Europe, Tunisia to Thailand, and even Meah Shearim. Most people in attendance did not know most other people, or at least not well (a woman who looked familiar jogged my memory: ‘We know each other from the bra shop’). Yet conversations flowed like rivers…”

Neighbors Tell their Stories

Neighbors Tell their Stories in German Colony

Diana, along with three other women, has created the series of monthly meetings in order to break down the barriers between the separate ethnic groups who live in Katamon and the German and Greek Colonies. Together, this neighborhood “tolerance team” has chosen to call themselves “Neighbors Tell Their Stories,” and they already have a few other ideas to implement in the coming months…Their monthly meetings bring together 30 neighbors to hear stories of people like Yosef, whose family survived the Holocaust in Hungaria; Nili, who was born and raised in Paris and moved to Israel out of Zionist ideals; Ruth, who works with the Ethiopian community in Israel; and others.

Listening to neighbors

Listening to neighbors in Katamon

Professor Malkin’s family was very grateful, and the meeting sparked a new relationship between neighbors who’ve lived near each other for decades, but have never met or spoken. They decided that Sivan, Professor Melchin’s daughter, would speak at the next “Neighbors Tell Their Stories” event next month.

In addition to the team in Katamon/ Greek and German Colonies, there are six more teams who work in other neighborhoods: Abu Tur, Katamonim, Baka, Nahlaot, Rehavia, and French Hill, which have done some pretty amazing things. The key to this project’s success is that each neighborhood is setting its own goals and objectives, according to the nature and character of that neighborhood.

Take Abu Tor / A-Thuri, for example, which is concentrating on Jewish-Arab relations in these adjacent neighborhoods. This is extraordinary, since Abu Tor is one of the places that the Israeli army and police set up makeshift roadblocks when violence flares up, and these areas are sources of particular tension. Despite this, at the beginning of January, in cooperation with the Metropolitcan Baka’a Community Council, Jewish and Arab residents held a most productive evening based on Open Space Technology. The positive energy that infused the 50+  activists that met in Beit MICHA, Abu Tor starkly contrasted the roadblocks that had been temporarily placed just down the street a few months ago. Some of the initiatives presented are already being implemented: an Arab-Jewish team of women walkers in the public sphere, meetings over coffee between the Arab and the Jewish neighborhoods in a different home each time, and the continuation of neighborly Arabic and Hebrew classes, resulting in meetings to practice speaking together. One of the Arab children who attended the meeting drew this, as a sign of hope for a better future of living together. Other ideas that will be implemented in shortly in Abu Tur include a Jewish-Arab soccer group, a Jewish-Arab community garden, a street festival, and more.

At the Open Space Technology Meeting

At the Open Space Technology Meeting in Abu-Tor

The French Hill group also focuses on bringing Jews and Arabs together, and works in full cooperation with the local community center. As the neighborhood is made up of many young families, the group decided to focus on activities for children of all ethnicities to work together, creating art, learning about traditions, and celebrating holidays together. During the joint Christmas/Mawlid (Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday)/Hannukah celebration, a neighbor commented that “it was incredible meeting everyone – Arabs and Jews, young people and old, Ashkenazi and Middle Eastern Jews – and warmed my heart to see all the children playing together, and hearing their parents talking together. We filled the room with light, happiness, love and fun.”

Playing dreidle alongside a Christmas tree

Playing dreidle alongside a Christmas tree at the French Hill

Both Baka and Katamonim teams are currently organizing their first events, both aimed at a series of events to meet the neighbors. The Baka events will empower the elderly and enrich the young by coming together to hear stories from veteran neighbors about their personal histories in the neighborhoods. The Katamonim team events will bring together Ashkenazi and Sephardi, religious and secular, young and elderly, by creating evenings with traditional music and personal stories, and local, home-made Kubbeh!

Poster advertising the Baka'a event

Poster advertising the Baka’a event

Matan, a member of the Nahlaot team, is initiating of the Political Coffee idea. Matan wants Fridays at the Machane Yehuda Market to look a bit different: he wants to put up signs and bring coffee to the Strawberry Garden which is next to the market, and use Effective Dialogue (a special method of dialogue with a non-compliant ‘other’ that was developed by the Speaking in the Square initiative) to encourage people to hold complex political conversations in a fashionable and tolerant manner. He’s already gotten some friends together to learn about the Effective Dialogue technique from Speaking in the Square activists, and they plan on hosting the first Political Coffee day in the beginning of February!

And, inspired by the Nahlaot team, we found this graffiti sprayed around Nahlaot this week: Simple words and phrases, such as: ‘What’s up?’ ‘See you later’ ‘You’re right’ – painted in Arabic, French, Hebrew, and transliteration.

Seen in Nahlaot

Seen in Nahlaot! – pro-tolerance Graffiti for a change!

The Rehavia team has just gotten started and is made up of Ultra-Orthodox, religious, and secular residents; men, women; parents, students. They are interested in breaking down the barriers between the groups through neighborhood tours told by different residents with varying perspectives, joint Shabbat dinners, creating a Street TED Talk Day about ‘What Rehavia means to me,’ and by hanging large banners between porches in the neighborhood, displaying messages of tolerance in various languages.

Two special groups that are also getting started today are a Facebook talkback (comments) group that will work in the all-pervading ‘neighborhood’ of the Internet and social media, and an English speaking group that will work in breaking down the walls between the Anglo community in Jerusalem and the rest of the communities here.

2016-01-30T07:24:14+00:00 January 25th, 2016|Blog, Effective Activism, Promoting Tolerance in Jerusalem|

Window to Mount Zion – Solidarity in the Face of Adversity

We usually like to post positive news here, but in the Jerusalem everyday reality, not all is positive. This past weekend, in the middle of the night, the walls of our neighbors on Mount Zion, the Dormition Abbey and both the Armenian and Greek cemeteries, were littered with anti-Christian graffiti. (Click here for the news story from the Jerusalem Post.)

Grafitti on Dormition Abbey

Graffiti on Dormition Abbey

In addition to across the board condemnation by both Jewish and Arab Israeli leaders, we, the residents of Mt. Zion, thanks to the Window on Mt. Zion project, released the following statement:

Dormition Abbey statement

Dormition Abbey statement

“We, the institutions, organizations and individuals residing on Mount Zion, harshly condemn the writing of anti-Christian hate slogans on and around Christian sites on Mount Zion – Jerusalem, which took place tonight, January 17th 2016.
The vandalism included curses and violent threats. We, residents of Mount Zion, call on the public to preserve the security and mutual respect of the Holy Places to all religions on Mount Zion. When one of these places is desecrated, it affects not only the site itself, but also all other holy sites on Mount Zion. In addition, these repeated acts of desecration undermine the delicate fabric of coexistence in the Holy Land in general and in the Holy City of Jerusalem in particular.

On behalf of:

* The Diaspora Yeshiva on Mount Zion
* The Armenian Patriarchate, Armenian Cemetery on Mount Zion
* World Benei-Akiva on Mount Zion
* The Christian Department, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion
* Arik Pelzig – Harp of David on Mount Zion
* The Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion
* Dr. Zigmond Zigler Cohen, Mount Zion resident
* The Jerusalem University College on Mount Zion
* Custodia Terra Sancta, Ed-Cenaculum Franciscan Monastery on Mount Zion
* The Jerusalem Intercultural Center on Mount Zion

This is probably the first time in the long history of Mt. Zion (at least 1000 years of inter-religious conflicts!) that a joint statement of the resident institutions of the mountain issued a shared condemnation against the desecration of a holy site on Mt. Zion! So, while we’re deeply saddened by this incident, as well as other tragedies that have happened in the past few days, we are proud of the Window on Mt. Zion program, which has enabled us to reach this unprecedented collaboration.

We’re operating the Window on Mt. Zion program in cooperation with Search for Common Ground’s Jerusalem office, thanks to a grant from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). This amazing program has raised, in a few months, awareness about the different and varied religious sites on Mt. Zion – Christian, Muslim as well as Jewish – to thousands of people, young and old, Israelis and tourists, Jews, Christians and Muslims. The goal – to make Mt. Zion a place that welcomes people of all backgrounds and faiths to the very special sites that are of utmost importance to people of all faiths throughout the world.

The next day, an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish leader, Nahum Shlezinger, came to Mount Zion just to apologize in the name of Judaism, and to tell the Christians that the anti-Christian graffiti is not the Jewish way. Helped by the excellent cooperation between the local police and the church – as a result of our efforts, the connection was made and the dialogue between the Jewish leader and the Christian representative happened. You can see it here and on a Facebook post on the Window on Mount Zion Facebook page:


May we continue to bring only good news.


First Ever Arabic-language Horticulture Therapy Course through MiniActive Women

We’ve been excited about the opening of the first Horticulture Therapy Course to take place in the Arabic language, in cooperation with the David Yellin Academic College of Education, for awhile. We’ve had to make some changes adjust to the ‘situation’ – the course was originally supposed to take place at the College in the west Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hakerem. But because it was difficult for many participants to leave their neighborhoods in general, and to leave their neighborhoods for west Jerusalem neighborhoods was even more difficult, we moved the course to a school for special education in Beit Hanina – the largest school for special education in East Jerusalem.

Learning Practical Part of Horticulture Therapy

Learning Practical Session of Horticulture Therapy

At the end of the course in May 2016, participants will practice what they learned by starting a therapeutic garden with the children. The course has been meeting for just over a month  – and it was definitely worth the wait! Thus far they’ve gone from the beginning stages (above) to planting (below) –

From planting


To composting as well.

Composting in the course

Composting in the course

We can hardly wait to see the fruits of their labors – as well as their work with the children afterward. Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its continued support of MiniActive.

MiniActive Professional Development – Hebrew Courses

An integral part of the MiniActive network is to be in touch with municipal workers and officials. Much of the initial contact (calls to the 106 municipal hotline) is in Arabic, but the women found very quickly that in order to ensure that their complaints are followed through they must also have written and verbal contact with Hebrew speakers. This was no small obstacle, since many of the women knew very little or no Hebrew whatsoever.

Enter the ‘Speaking Hebrew’ project, a group of volunteers who seek to teach Hebrew to Arab women from East Jerusalem, with the classes taking place at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – Mount Scopus campus.  We began working with the project last year, and this year we’ve reached record numbers!  Four classes – 130 women – are studying Hebrew in 3 levels, and there is an additional class taking place in Sur Baher.

In class

In class

 It is sometimes challenging to enable the groups of 15 – 20 Palestinian women to pass the security guards at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, but we  – and they – have been undeterred by these temporary obstacles.

At the University gatesAt the University gates

Continuing to Be at the Forefront of Cultural Competence Training: Now for the Immigration Authority vis a vis Asylum Seekers

There are some 50,000 asylum seekers in Israel who come from African countries, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, and some 2,000 in Jerusalem. Currently, Israel’s policy toward this population is very harsh, with a stated goal of detaining as many men as possible and encouraging them to leave the country. On the surface, then, it would seem to be the last place to hold cultural competency training. And yet, hold that training we did. Together with the Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI), we helped write a training handbook about Cultural Competency for those coming from Eritrea and Sudan in Israel (in Hebrew, here, and here is the link to the actual document). We also held a series of training workshops, the last of which was held on December 30, 2015.

We held workshops for all those who come in regular contact with asylum seekers. This included RSD workers (Refugee Status Determination) – those who decide if and when to grant refugee status; Enforcement – those who grant visas and evaluate the statuses; and those who expel asylum seekers from Israel. The workshop on December 30 was for department supervisors.

The training workshop was based on the basic introductory workshop to Cultural Competency that was developed for the health care industry, and adapted it to the needs of the immigration authority. It was not always easy. There were those who understood the need for cultural competency training – the great differences in language, religion, and culture between Eritrea and Israel – and the need to be sensitive to these differences. There was also sometimes a basic difference in understanding of terminology: Many of the NGO’s who work with asylum seekers speak of them as ‘asylum seekers’ who have rights that need to be obtained and services that must be delivered. However, the official terminology of the authorities is that of ‘infiltrators’ or ‘illegal migrant workers,’ which carries a whole different set of connotations. Despite this gap, CIMI, which works to help asylum seekers obtain their rights, has a strong working relationship with the authority. In addition, there are already a number of components of cultural competency at the facility where visas are checked – the announcement system and signs are translated into Tigrinya, asylum seekers are given special consideration during the month of Ramadan, and more.

CIMI brochure

CIMI Training handbook

The training handbook, written together with CIMI, was an important achievement. (Front cover pictured above.) This was the first time ever that such a comprehensive document was written and published. The handbook contains information about both Sudan and Eritrea, why they came, and cultural characteristics (concept of time, methods of communication, challenges in their community in Israel, and more). May this handbook serve the workers well.

In addition to workers from the immigration authority, we are working together with CIMI with a range of professionals – local police,  municipal community and social workers in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and more – to improve the cultural sensitivity of services to workers from Eritrea and Sudan.

2016-02-01T17:33:18+00:00 January 8th, 2016|Asylum Seekers, Blog, Cultural Competence, Identity Groups and Conflicts|