Cultural Competency within the Haredi community?

When we talk about cultural competency, it’s usually about helping service providers serve a range of minority groups better. Or it’s about one minority group learning to work better within the majority’s ‘system.’ But what about one minority group within itself?

This was our focus when we held a cultural competency workshop for women lecturers at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) in early July. The JCT is an institute of higher education that targets Orthodox and Haredi men and women, in separate campuses and in single-gender classes, focusing on engineering and computers, management and life and biological sciences (such as nursing).

Teaching cultural competency at the JCT

Teaching cultural competency at the JCT

The lecturers came from a range of disciplines – business administration, mathematics, law, nursing, and more, and themselves represented a variety of cultures and religious observances.

From the outside, the Haredi world might seem monolithic and singular. But when you look more closely that world is extremely diverse, and cultural competency skills are necessary in teaching, especially if the lecturers do not come from that world, which was the case for some in the workshop. Some lecturers spoke about how they looked for course content that was appropriate for the students, including examples that the students could relate to. Another lecturer spoke about how her students address her in the third person, as is the norm in the Haredi world. Yet another told that the teaching style expected in the Haredi world leaves little room for spontaneity in the classroom, which is quite different than what she’s used to in other ‘general’ frameworks. And yet another, a lecturer in economics, told about an incident of a male colleague. He wanted to present the Brazilian economic model to his female students. He typed in “Brazilian model” into Google, and got quite a different result than he’d planned.  While everyone in the class was quite embarrassed, workshop participants agreed that the matter would have been considered much more serious if it’d been a class of only male students….

This is just one example of our continued work in the field of cultural competency, in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Jerusalem Foundation, for its continuing support of Cultural Competency in Jerusalem since its inception a decade ago.

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Santé Israël – Bikur Olim (Bikour Olim)

There are some 100,000 French-speaking immigrants living in Israel. What do they do if they need extra help in navigating the health care system?

Training to help French-speaking immigrants

Training to help French-speaking immigrants

Santé Israël is here to help, with its Bikur Olim project. In French, it is written Bikour Olim.

Bikur Olim (a play on the phrase, Bikur Cholim, which means visiting the sick) is piloting in Jerusalem. Operating in cooperation with the Qualita organization that assists French-speaking immigrants in Israel, and with the generous support of the Pharmadom Foundation, the program seeks to help and accompany French-speaking immigrants to access their rights – in the health system, at the Municipality, at the National Insurance Institute, and other service providers.

At the second meeting at the JICC offices

At the second meeting at the JICC offices

In June we held 2 training sessions for program volunteers, one at Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center and the other at our offices on Mount Zion. In the first meeting the volunteers met Estelle Rubenstein, Director of Social Services at Hadassah Ein Kerem. Estelle advised the volunteers on how they can accompany patients and families at the hospital, and how to help them access their rights without expressing their personal opinions. Aviva Yoselis, MPH, from the Shira Pransky Project, presented skills on effective three-way communication between a doctor, a volunteer and the patient.

Parts of the presentation at the second meeting

Parts of the presentation at the second meeting

The second session was led by our Cultural Competency Desk Director, Orna Shani. Orna concentrated on dilemmas that might arise as during the accompanying process, the role of the volunteer in a meeting vs. straight translation, and the different stages of accompanying a client.

They are now producing a flyer, and during and after the High Holiday season they’ll begin offering their services. Can’t wait to see the good they’re going to do.

With calling cards and everything

With calling cards and everything


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Window to Mount Zion – Documenting the Dajani Cemetery

Mount Zion is home to cemeteries from almost every religious community in Jerusalem. The Dajani cemetery (which we’ve written about here and here) is the only Muslim cemetery in the area…

For more than 500 years, the Dajani family served as custodians of King David’s mausoleum in Mount Zion. Over the course of their custodianship, the family built a neighborhood in the area and buried their deceased in a cemetery around King David’s mausoleum. Members of the family often served as public officials in the city of Jerusalem, and made a significant contribution to Jerusalem’s history. Some of the family’s prominent members are buried in the Mount Zion cemetery. These members include Mr. Aref Al-Dajani, a high public official in Yemen during the reign of the Ottoman Empire who served as Jerusalem’s Mayor, and Mr. Hasan Sidqi Al-Dajani, a renowned lawyer and socio-political activist who lost his life in the mid-1930s in a politically motivated assassination.

Dajani family, at cemetery

Dajani family, at cemetery

We’re happy to announce the completion of a special project – the documenting of the graves of the Dajani cemetery. A few months ago, together with several daughters of the family, we began documenting the Dajani cemetery in Mount Zion and the results are published online in Arabic at, and in Hebrew at It’s part of a larger cemetery documentation project, of a number of these fascinating cemeteries. Here’s a link to the site:

Here’s a post from Window to Mount Zion’s Facebook page:

Many thanks to our partners in action for the success of this program.

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MiniActive – Empowering Boys as Well as Girls

Since 2012 our MiniActive project has been empowering Palestinian women – and their families and communities – throughout East Jerusalem. For the past few years we’ve also been empowering teenage girls‘ along those same principles.

And now, the boys working to improve the environment

And now, the boys working to improve the environment

Now it’s the boys’ turn.

Near the Arab Central Library

Near the Arab Central Library

In June we began 2 new groups for boys, called “Youth Power,” each group with about 10 boys, aged 10 – 14. One group is from Kafr Aqeb, and the other group comes from throughout East Jerusalem, such as: A-tur, Silwan, Beit Hanina, Issawiya, Ras el-Amud, Shuafat.

They start by cleaning the area

They start by cleaning the area

Like the girls, they’re working to improve their environment. Each group is focusing on different projects.

Not forgetting any details

Not forgetting any details

One group is working beside the Arab Central Library in Wadi Joz. The second group is also having clean-up operations in their neighborhood.

Cleaning in different parts of East Jerusalem

Cleaning in different parts of East Jerusalem

The boys are also learning English.

Learning English experientially

Learning English experientially

Much of the intensive work is taking place during the school summer vacation, but the program will continue into the year – improving the environment with their hands, studying Hebrew, and more.

Great work!

Here’s a short video of the boys in their English class:

Here’s a nice  Facebook post from the MiniActive Facebook page:

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation and the Natan Fund for their continuing support of MiniActive.



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Promoting Tolerance All the Way to Australia

Michal Shilor, our Coordinator for the Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance, was just the focus of an article on the Australian web site, +61J: Broadening the Conversation. In the article she spoke about her work at the JICC promoting tolerance, Jerusalemite  Day, her founding of 0202, and Jerusalem as the World Capital of Tolerance.

0202: Showing all sides of Jerusalem

0202: Showing all sides of Jerusalem

You can see the original article here. And here’s the text:

Found in translation: Activist puts Hebrew, Arabic speakers on same page

By Ittay Flescher

IN THE SUMMER of 2014, Michal Shilor was studying social work. On the night before her final exam on The Components of a Welfare State, she heard kids yelling “Death to Arabs” outside the window of her apartment in the Nachlaot neighbourhood of central Jerusalem. She thought to herself: “How can I be studying for something that’s supposed to be about social change and how a state should give equal rights to everybody while this is happening outside my window and I am doing nothing?”

Realising that her need to do something was more important to her than studying for an exam, she went outside and followed the group of boys and men to Kikar Tziyon (Zion Square), the centre of the city’s economic and cultural life. On one side of the square stood the far-Right group Lehava,yelling ”Death to Arabs” and “Mohammed is Dead” with further calls for revenge, following the burial of three Israeli boys that had been kidnapped and brutally murdered by Hamas.

That same night, news had also emerged about the fate of 16-year-old Palestinian who was kidnapped, beaten and, while still alive, set on fire by three Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem. The men justified the murder to police as a response to the abduction and murder of the three Jewish teens.

On the other side of Kikar Tziyon, Shilor saw a large Left-wing rally chanting loudly against fascism and racism. She found herself sitting in the middle with a small group of friends, singing songs and lighting candles, feeling isolated by the aggression of both sides.

As conversations began to emerge between these groups and the many passers-by, Shilor and her activist friends decided to return to Kikar Tziyon every night to have discussions with people about their different visions for Jerusalem.

That discussion became “Speaking in the Square,” a forum  that has created a space for complex one-on-one conversations every Thursday night for the past four years and hese  turned Kikar Tziyon into a place that is no longer violent.

Shilor was not finished. “I’m talking to the far-Right activists, saying things that my Jewish friends are telling me about what Palestinians think and feel, but all of my knowledge about the Arab residents of my city (who make up 37% of Jerusalem’s population) comes from Jewish eyes.”

She turned to Facebook, which is used heavily in East Jerusalem, to do some research but couldn’t speak or read Arabic. Her solution, with the support of several cultural and philanthropic organisations, was to build  a team of Hebrew and Arabic speakers who  could find and translate the most viral political and social posts from East and West Jerusalem on a daily basis.

Four months later, the Facebook page 0202 Points of View From Jerusalem went live and has since become one of the most important sources of information for Jerusalem activists and residents alike (the numbers refer to Jerusalem’s telephone area code, 02, and by using it twice, the name conveys connection with the other side of the city). A year later, a page translating posts from Haredi Jerusalem was also added to the project.

The head of 0202 is Shira Laurence, who moved to Jerusalem 10 years ago from the United States. Laurence heads a team of half a dozen part-time staff who manage around 35 translators, most of them volunteers. A self-described “language nerd”, Laurence wrote her senior thesis for Middle Eastern Studies on Jerusalem.

She says one of the most significant achievements of the site involved driving lessons in the Arnona neighbourhood of West Jerusalem, which has a mostly modern Orthodox, Jewish population.

Arnona is popular for people learning to drive in Jerusalem because it’s a relatively new and spacious precinct with wide streets, and much easier than the often small and crowded streets of East Jerusalem. In June 2015, signs went up in Arnona bidding driving lessons on Shabbat and Jewish festivals. Shortly after this announcement by the Jerusalem City Council, there were hundreds of Facebook posts in Arabic from residents and driving instructors in East Jerusalem complaining about how the decision was discriminatory as it prevented them from teaching or learning how to drive at a time that suited them.

When posts of complaint in Arabic where translated to Hebrew by 0202, it eventually led to the council allowing Arab driving instructors to work in the neighbourhood on Shabbat.

The issue received almost no coverage in Jewish West Jerusalem until these posts where translated to Hebrew by 0202, which eventually led to the council reversing the decision.

Dalia Goodhardt, who recently made aliyah from Melbourne and now works on the social media team at 0202, says being part of the team has broadened her horizons about Jerusalem. “Editing posts, especially from Haredim, has exposed me on a regular basis to different narratives of what Jerusalem means to different people. At times it is challenging, as I often translate posts whose views I don’t share, but I always edit neutrally so the reader can make up their own mind.”

Goodhardt, who attended Beth Rivkah Ladies College before majoring in Arabic at Melbourne University, added: “Working at 0202 has given me a better understanding of the Palestinian narrative, giving me more empathy to respect their viewpoints, even though I don’t always agree.”

WATCH: Hagai Agmon Snir, Director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Centre and Board member of 0202 speaks to Plus61J about the importance of Jews in the city learning Arabic.

Shilor says: “Our city is roughly a third Arab (Muslim and Christian), a third Haredi, and a third modern Orthodox or secular. We meet each other in the streets, on public transportation, in restaurants, in hummus places, in garages, in taxis. There are over 500 activist events that celebrate diversity every year.”

Shilor notes that on a tense Jerusalem Day this year, following President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy, with violent clashes on the Gaza border and the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Naqba (the “catastrophe” of Israel’s independence) all occurring in the same week, there were over 80 events promoting tolerance in the city. She believes these events created a different, “authentically Jerusalemite” narrative of the day.

WATCHJerusalemite Day of Diversity, 2018

“Just as a city which has infrastructure for bike lanes hosts cycling events, includes a growing community of riders and attracts people from abroad to experience the ‘bicycle capital of the world’, so too, Jerusalem can become the tolerance capital of the world, despite the serious and unresolved political-diplomatic issues facing the city,” Michal Shilor wrote in the journal Fathom.

Shilor’s Facebook translation page is a grassroots attempt to help the different groups within Israeli society speak with one another and discover that more things unite than divide them. For people who call Jerusalem their home, It’s a small but important step in the right direction.

Main photo: Michael Shilor (left) and Shira Laurence

WATCH – Chen Amram presents: Jerusalem – the World Capital of Tolerance

Jerusalem’s light rail has new destination: Teaching Arabic (Tablet)
ELHANAN MILLER With coexistence in mind, the train’s operators will dedicate July to encouraging Israelis to open up to a language too few speak

Follow the 0202 Facebook page in English

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation, the UJA-Federation of New York, and the Natan Fund for their support of promoting tolerance in Jerusalem. Many thanks to the Leichtag and Rayne Foundations and the Natan Fund for their specific support of 0202.

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Celebrating a Year of The Little Prince

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” goes the quote that is most often attributed to world-renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead.

And this was said without knowing Jerusalemite activists. The only difference between Jerusalemite activists and Rottweiler dogs is that eventually,  Rottweilers ease up….

Picture with everyone

Assessing how far we’ve come

On Wednesday, July 11, the main core of Little Prince – Cleaning Up Jerusalem Together activists –  some 70 Palestinians, religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox Jews – got together for a joint meeting. It wasn’t just any joint meeting. It was to celebrate the first full year of activity of the Little Prince project, and to assess where we’ve come, and where we’re going. Many thanks to Muslala, which provided the perfect ambiance for the meeting and the work groups afterward.

Another picture with everyone

Strategizing on where we’re going

It was exciting to see all of Jerusalem’s sectors represented, from at least 10 neighborhoods. It was exciting to see the cross-sector cooperation within and between the different work groups.

Small group 1

Activists broke up into small groups according to project

The members broke up into 4 work groups: Supervision and Enforcement, Sanitation Policy and Infrastructure, R & D, and Education and Awareness-raising.

The conference belonged to the different activist groups, and even though it was a rare opportunity to meet most of the current candidates in the Jerusalem mayoral race (in alphabetical order) – Mr. Ofer Berkovitz, Rabbi Yossi Deutsch, Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Adv. Yossi Havilio, and of course Acct. Moshe Leon. The candidates were polite and according to prior agreement with them, listened to the activists, without giving “opening remarks” or talk during the main session. It showed respect for us and for them. None of them left without promising (of their own accord) to make Jerusalem a symbol of a clean city in Israel, and that it’s top priority for them. The Jerusalem activists will be there in the following months – and afterward – to make sure that this commitment is heard again and again, and is eventually translated into clear outcomes, no matter who wins the mayoral race.

small group 2

Work emphasized cross-sector cooperation when beneficial

There were a lot of points and ideas that were written in the work groups. In light of the conference a Cleanliness Platform was written, which will be signed by all the mayoral candidates. We would like to thank everyone  who showed the activist power of Jerusalem, which can be an excellent resource for the Municipality and the mayor, if they know how to work with them.

small group 3

All to clean up Jerusalem – together

It never ceases to amaze us how a process that was begun by a group of Palestinian women from East Jerusalem (see MiniActive’s ‘We won’t live in filth!‘ campaign) spread to all sectors throughout Jerusalem, leading to this tidal wave force of activism for a clean Jerusalem!

Leading up to the conference we made a short video:


Here’s the original Facebook post summarizing the conferece:

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for their continued support for developing activists in Jerusalem!

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Window to Mount Zion – Since When Does Dinner Make Headlines?

Since when does dinner make headlines?

Enjoying dinner in the JICC garden

Enjoying dinner in the JICC garden

When those at the dinner include Jews, Christians and Muslims, all ‘residents’ of Mount Zion in one way or another.

Today everyone looks calm and relaxed; but this was far from the case just a few years ago, before Window to Mount Zion began, when inter-religious tensions on Mount Zion were at an all-time high. We’ve come long way. At the meal, we discussed new ideas and initiatives to help those who live on and visit Mount Zion.

Kol Hakavod!

Here’s the post from Window to Mount Zion’s Facebook page:


Many thanks to our partners in action, Search for Common Ground.

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2018-08-24T09:31:35+00:00July 25th, 2018|Blog, Mount Zion, Promoting Tolerance in Jerusalem|

Living Safer, Living Longer in the Palestinian Community

This past month, our Living Safer, Living Longer program, which empowers residents to take control of preventive health and safety in their homes, became fully operational in all sectors of Jerusalem society. We discussed here about the development of the project, and here about the Haredi and general Jewish sectors. Now, the project has begun in earnest in the Palestinian sector as well.

Living Safer Living Longer in Beit Hanina

Living Safer Living Longer in Beit Hanina

Here are some pictures of the program in action, where program participants are presenting the principles of the program to seniors clubs throughout East Jerusalem.

In Sur Baher

In Sur Baher

So what did our MiniActive volunteers think of the Living Safer Living Longer course itself? Here are some of the things they said:

“I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before.”

“I saw I needed to do a lot of things in my own home [and now it’s much safer].”

“The program’s gotten under my skin, and I talk about it everywhere I go.”

“I try and convince a lot of people I meet to make their homes safer, and I even go with them to buy safety aides and help them install them in their homes.”

“The meeting with the firefighter saved me from a large fire in my own home. A fire broke out while I was frying food and I knew what to do and acted in a cool headed manner.”

At the end of the course each volunteer received a demonstration kit with the program’s logo, and a training certificate (with a picture!). Each kit included a number of safety aides, such as: a smoke detector, safety plugs for electrical outlets, safety closures for cabinets (to prevent access to dangerous materials), a door stopper (to prevent doors from slamming on hands and feet), as well as checklists for preventive health tests and home safety.

Here are some more pictures from a home safety lecture:

Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for their support of the MiniActive program, and an anonymous donor for its support of Living Safer, Living Longer.
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In Your Language – Hadassah Celebrates a Decade of Cultural Competency

One of our first projects when we started the Cultural Competency project a decade ago, together with the Jerusalem Foundation, was to work with Hadassah in making its systems culturally competent.

Cultural Competency workshops in action

Cultural Competency workshops in action

A large component of their work was establishing a translation service for patients. This grew into the “In Your Language” project, which today provides in-person translation and interpretation from Hebrew into Arabic, Russian and Amharic, in both of Hadassah’s campuses, Mount Scopus and Ein Kerem. Here is the clip from 2011 about the project:

Recently, the Israeli Foreign Ministry recently made a short video in Arabic for its Arabic Facebook page. We just had to share this! Here’s the video:


Many thanks to the Jerusalem Foundation for its continued support of our cultural competency program since its establishment.

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Arabic Week on the Jerusalem Light Rail

On many modes of public transport in Israel – at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on the Israel Railways – you hear announcements in Hebrew and English. But not Arabic. Even though a full 20% of Israeli citizens – and over 30% of Jerusalem residents – speak Arabic as their mother tongue, and even though Arabic is an official language in Israel. (And English isn’t).

Yet on the Light Rail in Jerusalem – reflecting Jerusalem’s unique makeup in which 37% of the city’s residents are native Arabic-speakers – all signage and announcements are in English, Hebrew and Arabic equally. As our director Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir said recently in this article on Tablet, “the light rail is the spine of Jerusalem’s tolerant tendency.”

This week, we, together with Citypass, the company that operates the Light Rail, and Madrasa, a free web based school for spoken Arabic, went one – or several – steps further. Introducing: Arabic Week on the Jerusalem Light Rail! There were posters in the stations, the ticket-checkers have been handing out phrase books with words and phrases. It’s been one big Arabic celebration!

'Have a good trip!' in Hebrew and Arabic

‘Have a good trip!’ in Hebrew and Arabic

Here’s a video from the launching of Arabic week, at the Davidka Square station in downtown Jerusalem:

There’s also the official video made by the Citypass company (in Hebrew and Arabic):

There were even free Arabic lessons at the Citypass service center in downtown Jerusalem, including by our own Suha, veteran Arabic teacher in our Language Center.

Arabic lesson with Suha (photo: Yisrael Weil)

Arabic lesson with Suha (photo: Yisrael Weil)

We’re proud that this week had its roots at the JICC – some of the Citypass managers are studying Arabic with us this year, and got the idea both from the Arabic week at the Knesset during the same week, as well as from our own Arabic week in late March. (See here for more about that.) You can download the entire phrasebook here. You can see the posters that were hung in the train stations here. There is also an online quiz game in Hebrew and Arabic, which you can play here.

Example of one of the posters. Did you know that the word "blouse" is also used in Arabic?

Example of one of the posters. Did you know that the word “blouse” is also used in Arabic?

Just one more example, making Jerusalem the World Capital of Tolerance!

Many thanks to Citypass, the company that operates the Light Rail, and to Madrasa, a free web based school for spoken Arabic, our partners in action. And many thanks as well to the Jerusalem Foundation, the UJA-Federation of New York and the Natan Fund for their ongoing support of the Language Center and for our Grassroots Campaign for Tolerance.

Want to read more about Arabic Week? Below is the full text of the Tablet article. You can read the online version here. The week was also covered in the Hebrew-language Ha’aretz daily newspaper (You can read that article here), and in the local Jerusalem newspaper (Hebrew article here). There was another Hebrew-language article on the Mako news site, as well as this article, from a second local Jerusalem newspaper. Arabic Week was also covered on the Al-Monitor web site, which seeks to cover news from all over the Middle East.  The text of the article follows the Tablet piece.

The Tablet article:

Jerusalem’s Light Rail Has New Destination: Teaching Arabic

With coexistence in mind, the train’s operators will dedicate July to encouraging Israelis to open up to a language too few speak

Many Israelis feel frustrated with their inability to communicate with their Palestinian neighbors in Arabic. But now they have a chance to practice their salaam aleikums at any Jerusalem tram stop.

Citypass, Jerusalem’s light rail operator, has declared the first week of July “the Arabic language week on the light rail.” Signs explaining the Arabic equivalent of “validate your ticket” and “have a safe ride” have been placed at stops along the tram’s red line, which stretches from Yad Vashem in the southwest to Pisgat Ze’ev in the northeast. Passengers can also register for free colloquial Arabic lessons at the company’s service center downtown, to better understand the Arabic pamphlets handed out by ticket conductors throughout the week.

In Jerusalem’s largely segregated public-transportation system, the tram already stands out as a binational and bilingual oasis. With three stops in Arab East Jerusalem, the tram has become an essential means of transport for the city’s 330,000 Arab residents, who comprise 37 percent of Jerusalem’s total population.

Unlike the national rail system and Jerusalem’s bus service, stop names are announced in Arabic on the tram, as well as in Hebrew and in English. That’s not self-evident. In 2011, member of Knesset Lia Shemtov of Yisrael Beiteinu demanded that Arabic be removed from the trams, arguing that “united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. Why instate this precedent now?” City Hall rebuffed her claim, saying that “the light rail serves all Jerusalem residents, Jews and Arabs alike.”

“We thought it would be nice to expose the Jewish public to the Arabic language,” said Yaron Ravid, CEO of Citypass. “We employ people from East Jerusalem both in operations and maintenance, and make an effort to reach out to the Arab community.”

Ravid said his company goes to great lengths to make information accessible to passengers in Arabic on its website and Facebook page, trying to cater to the special needs of Muslim residents.

“On Ramadan we put our trams at the disposal of worshipers on Temple Mount,” he said. “On Thursday evenings throughout that month our employees distributed dates and water at our stops. We do nice things.”

Vida, a veiled woman from the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Ghosh working in Citypass’ customer service, said she was excited about her language being celebrated on the streets of West Jerusalem.

“It will do a lot for Arab-Jewish coexistence in Jerusalem,” she opined. “Today we have ticket conductors who speak both Arabic and Hebrew, so people on the train don’t face any language barrier.”

Like the rest of Jerusalem, the light rail has also suffered from political violence in recent years. During riots following the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir by Jewish terrorists in July 2014, three East Jerusalem stops were vandalized and set aflame. Arab residents sporadically hurl stones and Molotov cocktails at trams traveling through the neighborhoods of Shuafat and Beit Hanina, often halting service across town. Most recently, in April 2017, visiting British student Hannah Bladon was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

But at the Arabic-language-week launch at Davidka Square the atmosphere was festive. A teenager dressed in a lion costume—the city’s symbol—was handing out ice pops to passersby, as a musical group played traditional Palestinian music outside the company’s main service center.

“Jerusalem has experienced difficult times, but contrary to its public image, Jerusalemites really believe in the value of tolerance,” said Hagai Agmon-Snir, director of the Jerusalem Intercultural Center on Mount Zion, whose Arabic teachers will offer free classes to passengers.

According to a poll carried out by the Intercultural Center ahead of Jerusalem Day last month, 82 percent of Jerusalem residents said they were pleased with the city’s ethnic diversity, with 96 percent reporting daily exposure to people of a different religion or national group.

“There are currently very few reports of hate crimes on the tram,” Agmon-Snir added. “The tram is like the spine of Jerusalem’s tolerant tendency.”

Mordechai Friedman, 24, dressed in ultra-Orthodox garb, was collecting brochures specifying the many achievements of Citypass, while teaching Hebrew speakers how to say “it’s like Europe here” and “let’s sit over there” in Palestinian dialect.

“It’s a wonderful initiative,” Friedman said. “I work with people from East Jerusalem, but unfortunately don’t speak Arabic.”

“It’s always interesting to learn about other cultures,” he added. “I think we could solve many problems if we had a common language. I think we should teach Arabic to pupils just like we teach English, starting from kindergarten.”


From Al-Monitor:


Jerusalem tram seeks to fast track Arabic learning for Israeli Jews

Jerusalem Light Rail launched an initiative this week to promote Arabic language learning among Israelis in the city. It’s the first such campaign in the tram system’s seven years of operation.

Although around 20% of Israel’s population is Arab, Arabic comprehension among Israeli Jews is very low. A survey published July 4 by Israeli-Arab coexistence group Sikkuy found that a mere 8.6% of Israeli Jewish adults have a working knowledge of Arabic compared to more than 60% with the same competence in English.

The tram, which began operating in 2011, runs through the heart of the contested holy city, from Jewish neighborhoods in the west to Palestinian neighborhoods in the east. Along the way, it passes the Old City with its holy sites, the bustling Mahane Yehuda Market, Palestinian refugee camps and Israeli settlements. Though construction of the light rail was fiercely opposed by Palestinians, it has become the city’s main artery, carrying about 160,000 passengers a day, a large portion of them Palestinian residents of the city.

Jerusalem is Israel’s most populous city, home to 856,000 people, around 40% of them Palestinians. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and annexed it, a move unrecognized by the overwhelming majority of the international community. Palestinian East Jerusalemites have residency, but not citizenship. The Palestinians insist that East Jerusalem be the capital of any future Palestinian state.

The campaign to promote Arabic is being sponsored by the privately owned CityPass, which operates the light rail, the Jerusalem Intercultural Center (JICC) and Madrasa, an online Arabic school for Hebrew speakers. JICC director Hagai Agmon-Snir called Jerusalem a “center of tolerance” in the day-to-day lives of Jews and Arabs, a fact sometimes obscured by occasional outbreaks of violence.

“A short ride on the train shows that there are passengers of every sort on the train. There are Jews and Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, secular, religious, Muslims, Christians, Armenians, tourists, young and old, students,” CityPass spokesman and marketing director Ozel Vatik told Al-Monitor. With the train serving all the city’s populations, he said, the initiative’s goal is to bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

East Jerusalemites have greater exposure to Hebrew in their daily lives — as some 35,000 work in the western part each day, Agmon-Snir said — than Jewish Israelis have to Arabic. He said that the project’s aim is to cultivate familiarity and respect among Israelis for the Arabic language and Arabic speakers.

For Arabic Language Week, ticket inspectors have been handing out booklets with words and phrases in Arabic along with their Hebrew translations. Although some of the phrase book’s expressions are useful, teaching Hebrew-speaking passengers polite expressions, such as “Pardon me” and “Would you like my seat?,” others are questionable. “It’s like Europe here” and “How nice it is to sit in the air conditioning,” have little practical use and are more likely to cause puzzlement.

CityPass also sponsored two free Arabic-language courses at one of the central stations outside Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda Market. They were booked beyond capacity.

Posters featuring Arabic words along with their Hebrew pronunciation and explanations are being displayed at stations throughout the city. Some of the posters were defaced within days at several East Jerusalem stations along the city’s traditional divide. In one instance, the Arabic words for “light rail” were crossed out and the “Arabs out” scrawled in Hebrew below it.

Jerusalem Light Rail prides itself on being the only public transportation system in Israel that broadcasts announcements and posts notices in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Vatik told Al-Monitor that the rationale behind Arabic Language Week was to help bridge the language barrier separating Palestinian and Israeli residents of the city.

Most East Jerusalemites who spoke to Al-Monitor outside the Damascus Gate were unaware of the campaign. Mohammed Abu Khdeir, an engineering student from East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood, told Al-Monitor that while the intent of the Arabic campaign was positive, its execution could have been better.

“Look at this poster. One word of Arabic and nothing else,” Abu Khdeir remarked, pointing to a sign explaining the Arabic word for meat. “There’s no way to know what this is about.”

Asked what Arabic phrases he thought Israelis should know, he paused pensively before replying, “Nobody has ever asked me that before.” He suggested that the light rail try a similar initiative to help East Jerusalemites learn Hebrew. Hebrew is not taught in East Jerusalem schools, which have a Jordanian curriculum, but a growing number of East Jerusalemites are investing in learning the language to help them navigate life with Israeli Jews.

Vatik said he has received a lot of feedback from Arabic Facebook users on the CityPass site asking for a Hebrew-language initiative, and he hopes to launch one in the near future.

“In the end, we’re riding together, and we live together in this city, and it’s not a bad thing to be familiar with the other’s language. I think there’s a lot of good in it,” Vatik said.


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2018-07-14T06:46:11+00:00July 7th, 2018|Blog, Courses, Language Center, Promoting Tolerance in Jerusalem|