Of the 50 initiatives that took part in A Different Day in Jerusalem – events on Jerusalem Day, Speaking in the Square was one that is especially close to our hearts. It is one of the first initiatives that we began mentoring as part of a citywide effort to fight racism and xenophobia in Jerusalem some 2 years ago, and they’ve come a very long way since then. They’ve even changed the dynamic of Zion Square as we wrote here.
On Saturday night, June 4, the eve of Jerusalem Day, they were one of the main events in downtown Jerusalem as part of A Different Day in Jerusalem. Here are some impressions of the evening by one of our core participants, Giora:
In the year in and a half that we’ve been coming to Zion Square, the only constant is that it’s always changing. It doesn’t matter how many times I go, every night there’ll be something that will surprise me. Sometimes it’s something small, like a new street performer, and sometimes it’s a surprising arrest of [Lehava founder] Benzi Gopstein, which will completely change the dynamic in the Square, and after a few tense minutes deep discussions begin that weren’t possible in the 6 months beforehand.
So each time we produce a “Debating in the Square” event in Zion Square it’s a risk. We’re never sure if the event will succeed, and sometimes we can do everything right and the event will still be a flop. The Square has its own life, and we can only adapt ourselves to the dynamic of Zion Square. This is even more true in and around the time of Jerusalem Day. In Jerusalem the political tension is constant, and it only increases as Jerusalem Day and the Flag Parade come closer.
On Saturday night, June 4 – the eve of Jerusalem Day – Zion Square surprised us again – this time, a good surprise. From the moment we arrived it was clear that even though the next day was Jerusalem Day, even though it was very hot, and even though Shabbat was over very late, the Square was thirstier than ever for a deep political discussion. If on a regular night we need to look for speakers to represent the different stances, this time the audience asked to speak up and express its opinions. They discussed the Flag Parade, mixed neighborhoods, Jews going up to the Temple Mount. We always found impassioned and eloquent speakers who wanted to take the podium. Some of these speakers were youth who we’re familiar with – we know them from their activities with Lehava on Thursday nights. While the debates were going on, there were private conversations in the circles surrounding the “center stage” groups of 2-3 people, all having deep discussions. On the outer circle, we saw additional familiar faces, youth who usually come to Zion Square late at night, walking by slowly and watching and listening to what was going on. When we usually have a debate evening, I’m a little tense, trying to see where the best place is for me at any moment – if we need a speaker, if there is something outside the circle that might disrupt the discussion, making sure that everything is working. On the eve of Jerusalem Day, from the moment that the event began, I had the opportunity to take a few steps back, to speak with people in the audience, and to see people who choose to listen respectfully to different opinions.
The evening was so successful that it was almost a shame to wrap it up. But at around 23:30 we decided we needed to finish up the event. All of us, the regulars, the night’s participants and the audience, left with a feeling of elation and great achievement. We knew that it was an especially successful evening. One of the reasons that the energy in the Square was so positive was because of the variety of events produced by A Different Day in Jerusalem for Jerusalem Day. People came to the Square whom I had known only on Facebook, and it was especially nice to connect faces with names.
Here’s the Facebook post (Hebrew):
Here is what an onlooker had to say about Speaking in the Square, and A Different Day in Jerusalem in general: