Shari Eshet
Not giving up yet
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Jerusalem — The City of Sisterly Love

Jews and Arabs need to pull together to protect Jerusalem's colorful diversity from the effects of terror

Tehila Friedman-Nachalon, a board member of the Yerushalmit movement, a partner of NCJW working to make Jerusalem an inclusive, vibrant city, sent this to me from her heart and I wanted to share it with all of you who love Jerusalem and pray for her safety.

“You might be the director of a parents committee in a school in East Jerusalem, or the manager of a children’s community center, or perhaps the head of a theater company. You, like me and like my friends, are social workers, community leaders, actively involved Jerusalemites.

We don’t know each other, but we have met before — at the zoo with our kids, at Malcha Mall doing our grocery shopping, sipping a coffee at Mamilla and maybe we even participated in the same social initiative or a protest against the municipality. You might be religious. We could have met in the Old City, on our way to pray. You might be a mother. Maybe we shared a room in the birthing center at Hadassah. We might have bumped into each other walking in the park by the First Train Station. For sure, we have met over the years, because, contrary to what many say, Jerusalem has become more integrated. In almost every part of the city, one can see both Arabs and Jews, going about their daily lives. We’ve gotten used to each other.

But we haven’t really met — despite the fact that we should have met. We have something in common, something important.

We both share a common love. We both share the love of this city. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We both have less complicated places we could be, where we could live easier lives. Places where we wouldn’t have to meet each other, where we could live only with people who are just like us. But we both love this city. With its charm, its craziness, and its intensity. Love — it’s hard to explain. We know it only when are in it.

And now our beloved city is ablaze. Now our city is losing its bustling color. The streets are empty. We are all plagued by fear and hatred. I know. You are angry at us. We haven’t advocated enough for the improvement of conditions in your neighborhoods. We have been too busy with “our” neighborhoods, “our” struggle. We haven’t protested enough against discrimination and racism. We haven’t really seen you. Secretly, we have hoped that you will one day disappear. We are also angry. We haven’t heard your outcry against terror. We haven’t seen you take a stand against increasing radicalization and incitement against us. And you too, you also hope that we will eventually succumb to despair and disappear.

But we won’t disappear. And neither will you. The only one that will disappear is Jerusalem. The stones might remain, and the history, but the spirit, the atmosphere, the diversity, all that we both love so much, will disappear. We are like a divorced couple enmeshed in a vicious custody battle over our children. We’ve all seen these cases where people totally lose their minds. They do all they can to hurt each other. They are convinced that the other is a monster, with evil intent. They spend their time devising revenge acts, distancing themselves, distancing the other, and wishing the other only hell. They are so consumed and so self-righteous, that they don’t realize that their children are being torn apart.

Jerusalem is our child. We are responsible for her. We, together, East and West. If only we would know that we have forgotten this, that we have forgotten our responsibility.

In the recent days, we have been busy in the Western part of Jerusalem. There is an exceptional community of activists working around the clock. My friends at the “Yerushalmit Movement” are organizing events for children and their parents in the neighborhoods that have endured attacks — where the children are afraid to walk outside. Others, in tens of other organizations, are giving support to the wounded through initiatives designed to calm tension and fear and to strengthen the community. We are also working to deliberately patronize businesses who have suffered from empty streets.

We are busy and we are worried. Not only for us and our children. We also fear for Jerusalem. We’ve invested nearly 10 years in rebuilding what was destroyed in the last intifada and, in its wake, the municipality’s encouragement of a growing religious extremism. It’s been nearly a decade that we have worked tirelessly to restore a lively and attractive Jerusalem — to create a place that can be a home to many different communities, including yours. Because in our opinion, colorful diversity is an integral part of the charm and intrigue of the city — it’s what makes Jerusalem Jerusalem. We envision a city that is a “community of communities”. A place that holds space for differences and at the same time enables us to live together. We have been working hard to create the Jerusalem that we dream of, so that it would become a reality.

And now, I am worried that all that we have worked so hard for will simply disappear. I know that it is naïve, but I am convinced that there are dreamers like us among you as well. Those who love Jerusalem more than others hate us. Those with strong Jerusalemite identities that can hold common ground with others.

I know you are there.

You love Jerusalem and we love Jerusalem. Maybe if we stop thinking that Jerusalem is “ours” and start thinking that we are “Hers,” maybe we will be able to start working towards the betterment of our beloved city, together. “

nahalat shiva

About the Author
Shari Eshet is the former director of NCJW's Israel Office, based in Jerusalem. Now a private consultant, she still works for the betterment of the State of Israel.
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