Many Jews, Muslims and Christians call Jerusalem home, as do I, but most of us never come to know the hidden sides of home: Jerusalem as experienced through the eyes of their neighbor. As a Jewish Israeli citizen, it was a normal thing for me to grow up without setting foot in certain areas around the city, the places populated primarily by Palestinian people. All I heard of these places was that they are “unfriendly” or “dangerous.” I didn’t question these statements but followed the silent guidelines thoroughly. It was only in graduate school, outside the boundaries of Jerusalem, that I began a long reflective process that shook my beliefs to the core and called me to face those hidden sides of my home. This psychological and cultural process led me to eventually cross the invisible thresholds of my childhood and to spend a summer in the Arab town of Anata in East Jerusalem.
My experience in Anata was life changing. I spent a lot of my time with Umm Mohamed, a woman of about 55 years old, whose name means literally – the mother of Mohamed – a very popular name in town. She spoke quite good English and I used my broken Arabic to communicate. I was invited to her home frequently and when presented to her family she would call me “habiba,”meaning darling in Arabic. I listened to her stories of frustration, anger, joy, and hope, and she was curious and attentive to mine.
It was hard for me to remember that I grew up only seven miles away from Umm Mohamed’s home. Until this summer it seemed that our worlds existed galaxies apart. Getting to know her and her lived experience at home touched my heart and melted conceptual barriers erected by fear and ideology. Gradually, not only did my views shift from a narrow focus on independence toward a vision of interdependency, but, in my experience, something very profound in me was transformed and healed.
In the context of these experiences, I decided to create a workshop for Muslim, Jewish, and Christian women in Jerusalem called “Hidden Sides of Jerusalem” to give them an opportunity to come to know each other by traveling together to places in Jerusalem that are important for them to show to each other, places through which they are able to share their history, experiences, and aspirations. In this project, Jerusalem becomes the common ground to diversified experiences of home. From a conflict zone, Jerusalem turns into zones of encounter. In order to help me turn the vision of this workshop into reality I turned to Dr. Sarah Bernstein and her colleagues at the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI). I feel privileged to be collaborating with them.
I then started fundraising, a type of work I had never done before. I begun by asking individual people I thought may be able to help or refer me to others but found out that this strategy was not working well. I then turned to explore crowd-funding: a form of networking with individuals I know to fundraise through the Internet. I realized that websites like Rally.org, which I chose for my campaign, make it very easy for us to create our own fundraising site and begin fundraising. I went for it. What I didn’t realize was that using crowd-funding would create a social momentum behind my project, which I wouldn’t have experienced if the project was funded through a grant, a fellowship, or the generosity of a couple of people. A close student of mine whom I haven’t seen for about seven years and is now in College in London, donated and said: “I’ve been so excited to read about your project and can’t wait to see how it proceeds.”
The ability to share the project through social media yielded donations from people I don’t personally know. One woman, for example commented, “As an American Catholic with a Jewish father, who has visited East Jerusalem, I truly feel that your project has great meaning and touches my heart.”And another woman from Texas excitedly said, “I have always believed that women are the key to world peace. I support this project with all my heart.” There are currently over 100 hundred individuals supporting this project. A hundred voices saying ‘yes’ to the possibilities held in getting to know and touch each other and the places we call home.
I cherish the possibility to keep people updated with the voices, stories, and images from the ground, to build an international community, standing on the common ground of collaboration and connection. Not only the workshop participants will become part of this journey but every single person who invested and is invested in the project is now part of it. The circles around this vision can grow as people become involved and as they welcome the stories of emerging relationships between the women in this project.
Support this project at: https://rally.org/Jerusalem