Monthly Archives: July 2016

A Source of Pride – Speaking in the Square Debate Nights Discuss the Gay Pride Parade

“Sometimes, after an evening in Zion Square, it’s difficult for us activists to go to sleep: energies are high, and sometimes the atmosphere is tense. It takes awhile for the adrenaline to leave our systems and fall asleep. But sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep from the excitement and wonder at the strength of what took place yesterday in the Square, in a crowded and hopping Debate Night.”

Speaking in the Square July 21

Speaking in the Square July 21

That is how one of the Speaking in the Square activists described the Speaking in the Square Debate Night on July 21, which took place after a thankfully uneventful Gay Pride Parade. Speaking in the Square has been there over the past 2 years through the thickest and thinnest of social tensions. Last Thursday, they discussed the pro’s and con’s of the parade, which has been prominent in the public discourse leading up to the parade.

Religious, secular, Haredi Jews discussing the Pride Parade

Religious, secular, Haredi Jews discussing the Pride Parade

The activist continued continued: “There were Ultra-Orthodox, modern orthodox, secular, gay and straight, and all spoke about the Gay Pride Parade: On tolerance, about considering the ‘other’ and on all of our lives in Jerusalem. For many, it was their first encounter – intriguing but full of emotion – with those who have different opinions. We’re happy and proud to provide that opportunity.”

Jerusalem's diversity at Speaking in the Square

Jerusalem’s diversity at Speaking in the Square

And here’s the Facebook post in Hebrew:

The subject of the Gay Pride Parade came up in last week’s Debate Night as well, as a result of the public storm raised by a number of Rabbis in the weeks preceding the march. They opened the night with the question of if the parade should run through downtown Jerusalem. They continued on to the question of if single-sex marriages should be allowed. Other subjects that were raised include assimilation and legalization of recreational drugs.

Speaking in the Square Debate Night is back

Speaking in the Square Debate Night is back

Between the questions a woman performed a spontaneous values-related-social rap, and after her a young man performed a rap in favor the legalization of cannabis. These spontaneous performances are also part of the respectful discourse that Speaking in the Square are advancing in Zion Square. Zion Square is becoming the town square in the full meaning of the term – a place where different people meet and they talk informally, mutually respecting each other.

The diversity of Zion Square on a Saturday night

The diversity of Zion Square on a Saturday night

“During the summer youth and tourists all come down to the square, and it’s an excellent opportunity for activities that promote tolerance,” said one Speaking in the Square regular. “We’re proud to be part of it. Come and join us!”

Many thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jerusalem Foundation for their continued support of our efforts to promote tolerance in Jerusalem.

Here’s the Facebook post in Hebrew from last week:

Cultural Competency Training for Municipal Community Department

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.

“What do you say when…..” – Keeping Medical Standards High with Medical Interpreters

As a genetic counselor, what do you say when a family is struggling with infertility, or their unborn fetus has been diagnosed with a genetically-transmitted disease? How do you broach these subjects with Arab patients, or Haredi patients, or patients from different countries, where it is not acceptable to talk in public about issues relating to the child-bearing process? And how does the medical interpreter, who himself often comes from that community but is not trained in the discipline, deal with these questions?

Medical interpreting for genetic counseling was the subject of a recent workshop we facilitated for 18 Jerusalem-based medical interpreters from Hadassah (Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus) and Sha’are Zedek (main hospital and Bikor Holim, which is now part of Sha’are Zedek) – Russian, Amharic, Yiddish and Arabic-speakers in addition to Hebrew. We’re proud to have been a major part of the training and assimilation process of medical interpreters in Jerusalem, which the hospitals now consider an integral part of their care. (We’ve written here and here about these trainings in the past.) Like other aspects of professional healthcare, it is important for medical interpreters to maintain their skills through periodic professional development, and this workshop was part of an ongoing process of supervision and mentoring of the medical interpreters.

Discussing experiences in medical interpreting

Discussing experiences in medical interpreting

We chose to concentrate on genetic counseling because of its multi-layered complexity. According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in genetic counseling, “specially-trained professionals help people learn about genetic conditions, find out their chances of being affected by or having a child or other family member with a genetic condition, and make informed decisions about testing and treatment.”  Because it brings together many different scientific disciplines, it is very difficult to understand, even for someone who studied advanced science. In addition, meetings with genetic counselors are stressful from the get-go, since one is consulted only when there is a problem (or a potential problem) in the child-bearing process – either before conception, during pregnancy, or after the birth of a child with genetic problems. Add to this the different approaches and viewpoints that different cultures have to the different stages of the child-bearing process, as well as their outlook on children with special needs – and the meeting with the genetic counselor is even more tension.

And when the medical interpreter is tasked with being the agent of communication during such a stress-filled meeting, it can be one of the more challenging of situations. Medical interpreters are trained to translate for all types of medical issues from cardiology to orthopedics to oncology, and are not trained as genetic counselors themselves. Sometimes, they feel uneasy with the subject matter, since it often breaches sensitive issues such as birth defects, sex, ending of a pregnancy, and sometimes their initial reaction is to skip over probing questions. At the same time, these questions are vital to the genetic counseling process, and it is critical that an experienced interpreter translate everything.

In the meeting we approached the subject from a number of different angles. After an opening exercise that focused on professional dilemmas in interpretation, participants heard a lecture from Shachar, a genetic consultant from Sha’are Zedek. They learned about the field of genetic counseling, for whom it’s targeted, the challenges in meeting with patients and the challenges in interpreting for patients. The genetic counseling process seeks to understand and evaluate medical and psychological information as well as family complexities related to genetic diseases. In addition to understanding the situation, genetic counselors also try to understand the different options appropriate for each patient and their families. This is why interpersonal communication, and interpreting into the patients’ native language, is of utmost importance.

After the lecture the interpreters discussed a number of challenges they’ve faced. In one example, a patient, who didn’t have the patience to hear what the genetic counselor was saying, told the interpreter, “Just tell her [the genetic counselor] whatever you want.”  Such an answer is sometimes difficult to translate, and makes the interpreter feel uncomfortable, but from the standpoint of the genetic counselor it is actually important information in the communication process between them. In this case, the interpreter must overcome his or her discomfort and translate exactly what was said.

They also discussed mediating and advocacy in medical interpretation – two terms that mean a deeper involvement of the interpreter in the meeting. They discussed situations in which these unusual cases might take place, and especially how to do it correctly.

In the end, they broke up into groups according to non-Hebrew language, and different lecturers taught terms specific to genetic counseling, pregnancy and birth in Arabic, Russian, Amharic, and Yiddish.

We hope to have additional peer learning sessions for medical interpreters in Jerusalem – they deserve it! We’ll keep you posted here!

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its continued support of cultural competency in health care in Jerusalem.

2016-08-26T14:22:44+00:00 July 21st, 2016|Blog, Cultural Competence, Cultural Competence in Health Services|

Comparing and Contrasting Mount Zion to the Temple Mount – JICC and Window to Mount Zion, in Jerusalem Post Article

The Temple Mount and Mount Zion are two areas considered holy to a number of different groups, in relatively close proximity. Yet, we mostly hear about tensions only about the Temple Mount.


Journalist Peggy Cidor explored this question in the article that recently appeared in the Jerusalem Post, both in print and online. You can find the full text, in which she cites both our director Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir and coordinator of the Window to Mount Zion project Merav Horovitz-Stein, below.

Despite the existence of significant religious sites for Judaism, Islam and Christianity on both Mount Zion and the Temple Mount, only one seems to periodically explode with tensions. Why?

Last Friday evening was Laylat al-Qadar, the last Friday of Ramadan – a night dedicated to special prayers and meditation. As in the last few years, it drew tens of thousands of worshipers to the Temple Mount – to Haram al-Sharif and al-Aksa Mosque.
According to Hisham, the taxi driver who drove me to the Old City the following Sunday morning, there were some 300,000 worshipers there. More official figures estimate 150,000.

“In any case,” says Ami Metav, formerly with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Jerusalem region, “we’re talking about an impressive number of people. Despite the tension that arose over the prior few days on the Mount [with Palestinians entrenching themselves in al-Aksa with a supply of stones and fireworks, and one person lightly wounded on June 28], it went on without even the tiniest disturbance, without any need for the police to interfere.”

Tension and friction in Jerusalem are almost a matter of routine, sometimes ending in bloodshed, other times controlled before reaching that stage. But in two particular locations, very different initiatives and activities have produced different results. While the eyes of the world are locked on Jerusalem in general and more precisely on the Temple Mount, nearby Mount Zion – which has just as many points of friction and tension among various religious factions – has managed to remain less chaotic most of the time.

One explanation is the fact that while Mount Zion has long been part of Israel proper, the Temple Mount was recaptured in 1967 during the Six Day War.

Another reason is that despite the tremendous potential for tourism and global interest, Mount Zion has never made it to the front lines of the violence, apart from sporadic incidents perpetrated by hooligans, mostly arson of Christian institutions. Although there is there a Muslim site – the Dajani Cemetery – the other parties involved are Jewish and Christian, with most of the city’s Christian community represented.

There are some obvious reasons why the situation is less explosive on Mount Zion than it is on the Temple Mount, even though both are highly significant sites for more than one religion. A source in the local security forces says that since the Christian sites on Mount Zion are mostly Catholic, it couldn’t be otherwise.

“The fact that they are Catholic sites means they belong to the Vatican. No official representing the State of Israel would want to reach a situation in which the Vatican’s interests would be harmed under our control. That’s out of the question,” he says.

And indeed, despite tough opposition by some Jewish religious, right-wing parties, the conflict between Jewish and Christian interests at King David’s Tomb – whose second story is recognized by Christians as the room in which the Last Supper was served to Jesus and his disciples (the Coenaculum), in a conflict that has reached some peaks over the last two years – nothing there can compare to the extent of the conflict experienced on the Temple Mount over the years.

As for the Greek Orthodox and Armenian sites there, while the former are rather hostile to Israeli sovereignty and the latter express no preference for either side, both avoid as much as possible calling for police intervention in cases of friction with Jewish factions on Mount Zion.

Despite repeated recommendations to do so, there is no official body responsible for keeping order on Mount Zion. For several years now, the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC) there has acted as a sort of non-official volunteer agent between the parties.

“Since we are not officially on duty here,” explains center director Hagai Agmon-Snir, “our efforts to calm the situation in cases of dissent or to offer solutions to local conflicts between the parties operating here are welcome. After all, we are not identified with the authorities but we are neighbors, and we have learned to know each one of the parties.”

THE TEMPLE Mount is a totally different story. Comprising only 300 square meters of the one square kilometer of the entire Old City, the world remains focused on it. For Metav, a coordinator and facilitator for the municipality, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the East Jerusalem Development Company (PAMI), there is no corner or issue that is not familiar to him.

Metav’s daily routine takes place in the narrow streets of the Old City, wherever there is a need to listen, act, offer solutions to residents and, above all, mediate between the Arab residents and the authorities, which they avoid out of fear and lack of knowledge but also an unwillingness to “cooperate” with Israeli authorities. Infrastructure, heavy construction – nothing moves in the Old City without Metav’s being involved or at least notified.

“With regard to the Temple Mount, the situation is so fragile that at any moment things can just explode,” he concedes.

Metav recently published a book on the Old City in which one of the chapters centers on the Temple Mount.

“There is something basic that we have to understand,” he begins. “While for us, Israeli Jews, there is an understanding that protecting our country might also mean going to war and losing loved ones, for the Palestinians, saving al-Aksa or protecting it from any attempt – real or imagined – to fall into foreign hands is a good reason to die or to send one’s children to death.”

Metav adds that this is not a position of judgment but a conclusion he has reached based on facts and thousands of hours of conversations with Palestinians.

“They are incredibly sensitive to any act or step that might be interpreted as an attempt to harm their status on the Mount,” he says.

He is convinced that Jerusalem’s Palestinian sector is largely ripe for what he calls “a process of Israelization,” which he sees as irreversible. “But at the same time, this the best moment for those opposed to this move to try anything they can do to stop it – hence, the very tough reactions that are all converging on the situation on the Temple Mount.”

Metav says that what we’ve seen during last year’s High Holy Days compared to the situation during Passover this past April illustrate exactly what he is describing.

“I am not talking about our rights, but about the situation on the ground. Last Rosh Hashana and Succot, Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount; and since it was a holiday period, there were quite a few visitors. As a result, when Arabs arrived for their prayers, the police decided, in order to avoid any friction, to stop them and allow them to enter only a few hours later.

“For them it was clear: Sheikh Raed Salah Abu Shakra [leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, convicted among other things of funding Hamas and of assaulting a police officer] had been telling the truth. This meant al-Aksa was in danger and that the Israeli plan was to impose here what had been imposed in Hebron at the Cave of the Patriarchs – dividing the Mount area.

“This was the sign for many young adults, already incited by the imams, to launch the attacks [that kicked off a wave of Palestinian violence]. The stabbings and deaths began there.”

Asked to explain, if this is the case why police then allowed so many Jewish visitors on the Mount, Metav admits that while the police and security forces’ evaluations and recommendations are always entirely professional, the final decision is in the hands of those with the ultimate authority – the politicians, “who sometimes see a different picture.” This is a situation that does not exist on Mount Zion, where there is less political interest or impact.

“Look at what happened here this past Passover,” Metav points out. “The police didn’t impose any restriction on Arabs visiting the Mount, and as a result it all went as peacefully as possible.”

Metav clarifies that he is not suggesting that Jews should be prevented from visiting the Temple Mount, but that “these things should be done with the utmost sensitivity and caution. There is no other way to say it: It is a terribly explosive location.”

Inside the Old City, near Jaffa Gate, the newly renovated alleys and infrastructure spearheaded by the JDA and PAMI with Metav’s close involvement show what he has in mind when he talks about the need to listen to residents and provide solutions for them. Cleaning the little byways there has a wider impact than in any other place in the city; it simply means there is a possibility for some cooperation with the authorities, not just in obtaining basic services.

But all these aspects of daily life fall away as soon as al-Aksa Mosque is at stake.

“Take the cameras that King Abdullah of Jordan wanted to install on the Mount [in October 2015 for round-the-clock surveillance, in what was said to be an effort to calm tension],” continues Metav. “All the equipment had arrived here, sophisticated cameras; they were planned to be directly linked to a center in Jordan, and the Israel Police was permitted to get all the material filmed. But I was quite sure it would never happen. The worshipers adamantly refused to let anyone install them. I can understand them; it’s a severe breach of their religious privacy. And indeed, there is no indication that the cameras will be installed,” he says.

“So it’s all a matter of fragile equilibrium: Not to allow any riots or violence and, at the same time, to make it clear that there are no plans to change the situation – the famous status quo on the Mount,” concludes Metav.

BACK at Mount Zion, things are operating more on the basis of self-policed properties, with the Jerusalem Intercultural Center working with all groups – at the’ Diaspora Yeshiva and the Chamber of the Holocaust Museum; at Christian institutions such as Dormition Abbey and the Coenaculum in King David’s Tomb; and at Muslim sites such as the Dajani Cemetery.

As the JICC’s Agmon-Snir affirms, citing the example of King David’s Tomb, “Despite all these [potentially] explosive situations, we, all the parties involved, have managed to reach some kind of peaceful cooperation.

“Moreover, last week, for example, Hagihon planned a break in the water supply to the Mount. We, at the center, were the only ones aware of it, so coordinator Merav Horowitz informed all the parties [of all sectors] and forced Hagihon to inform everyone and take them into consideration. That’s how we work here.”

Have a Taste of Our Arabic Classes

Our Arabic for Communication classes are out for the summer, but registration for next year (2016 – 2017) is in full swing!

To get your mouth watering for Arabic, have a taste of a level 1 class from the 2015 – 2016 year, in which they finished a section on words about foods. They had learned verbs and other words through discussions in the market, and recipes. To sum up the section, they put their learning where their mouth is (hope they didn’t eat their words), and enjoyed a scrumptious meal. Each student explained what he or she made and gave the recipes and preparation instructions, all in Arabic.

How do you say 'sushi' in Arabic?

How do you say ‘sushi’ in Arabic?

How do you say sushi in Arabic? Register here to find out. But hurry! Places are filling up quickly!

Until next time, Sahtein (Bon Apetit)!

JICC Completes Training Course for Police Commanders

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.

New Group of MiniActive Youth Underway

You can never be too young to learn to positively change your environment.

New group of MiniActive Youth

New group of MiniActive Youth

Using that mantra, a new group of MiniActive Youth began today. There are 32 girls aged 10 – 16 in this cohort. They came from all over East Jerusalem to the Abna al-Quds Community Center in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

Discussing in small groups

Discussing in small groups

Today, they learned about the different activities of MiniActive in general, and about what other groups of MiniActive Youth have done in the past. You can read about it here on our web site, or here on our blog.

Introduction to MiniActive

Introduction to MiniActive

They also discussed different options of what they can do. Among other things, they’ll be doing projects in Issawiya and Silwan area. We can hardly wait to show pictures!

Discussing different options

Discussing different options

Here’s the Facebook post (in Arabic) from the MiniActive Facebook page:

End of Cultural Competency Training the Trainers Course at Assuta Hospitals

We’re writing here to report about the end of a series, but it’s actually just the beginning of a process.

When I talk about cultural competency I feel....

When I talk about cultural competency I feel….

We wrote here about the beginning of Training the Trainer workshops on Cultural Competency at the Assuta Medical Center Hospital and Medical Center system for 60 professionals from their School of Professionalism (They have been chosen as outstanding in their respective fields). This is the first time ever that an entire chain of health care centers has undergone such a process.

Assuta Medical Center

Assuta Medical Center

We met with these professionals for three full days (the last was last week), in which they received tools, knowledge and insights into how to facilitate cultural competency workshops. Since the beginning of June they have been leading the workshops. In October, they will present cultural cultural competency workshops to all of Assuta’s 2,800 employees.

Facilitating the workshop

Facilitating the workshop

The workshops included peer learning according to different cases. One participant told of a critically ill patient from a religious family. It was clear that the patient’s days were numbered. The family emphatically insisted on hooking him up to a sophisticated machine that was very noisy, expensive to operate, and did not help him medically in any way. Only when the medical staff asked why they insisted on this specific machine, they explained that it was important for them to know exactly when the patient died, so they knew when his soul left his body and they could say the Shema Yisrael prayer. Upon hearing this, and understanding that it was part of the family’s mourning process, they found other solutions. In the end, it was found that a simple, quiet blood pressure monitor would suffice for the family. Thus, the family was able to mourn in the way it needed to, without being an unnecessary burden on hospital resources.

Santé Israël at the Olimpiada Aliya Fair for French Speaking Olim

One of the first things you do as an Oleh Hadash, or new immigrant to Israel, is become a member of one of Israel’s 4 national Kupot Holim, or HMOs. And so begins our saga with the Israeli health system.

At the Sante Israel table

At the Sante Israel table

If you’re lucky, and you’re a French-speaker, you now have the Santé Israël web site, developed and operated by the JICC cultural competence team, and more specifically by our Marie Avigad. Santé Israël describes the ins and outs of the health care system in Israel, which is quite different than that of France and other French-speaking countries.

"The first site to respond in French to your questions about the Israeli health care system

“The first site to respond in French to your questions about the Israeli health care system.”

Last Thursday, Marie represented the Santé Israël website and online community (here’s a link to its Facebook page as well) at the “Olimpiada” Aliyah information fair for French-speaking new immigrants, which was held at Sacher Park in the middle of town and was organized by Qualita . There were dozens of booths and tables offering services and information.

Many booths at the fair

Many booths at the fair

Marie’s table was especially busy, giving visitors a hands-on introduction to the web site.

Learning how to use the site

Learning how to use the site

In all 5,000 (!) people attended, and 35 organizations were part of the production of the Olimpiada, the first such gathering of Francophone immigrants since the establishment of Israel! Kol Hakavod to the Qualita organization for producing such an event. And of course, many thanks to the Pharmadom Foundation and the Rashi Foundation for their continuing support of Santé Israël.

Here’s the link to the Facebook post (in French):

Mourning Respectfully in Zion Square, Together

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: