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Thanks, Jerusalem

Rather than triumphant marches through Arab neighborhoods, let it be a day of inter-communal compassion

Laughing, a 19-year-old (cool, Jewish) babe offered the knife to her (cool, Muslim) manager at the restaurant they both work at and tilted her head to better expose her throat. “Stop it!” he laughed back, “There are cameras here! They won’t understand.”

Welcome to Jerusalem. It’s complicated.

In contrast, next week, as we descend into Jerusalem Day, I’m nervous. Actually, I feel sick thinking about it. As the chanting, flag-waving, packs surge through the Old City to once again scream simple, simple abuse in the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters, who will hold them back? Lieberman? Mayor Nir Barkat?

The glossy municipal booklet is full of pictures of things being done with my outrageously high dues. I’d love it if even one of those pictures included people other than Jews. I’d love it if the new playgrounds or municipal high tech hubs captured by camera were on both sides of the city. I’d love it if Arab neighborhoods were on the map at all. Come on, Nir!

This morning, my FB feed included a delightful little film, The Shampoo Summit. It ends by wishing there were more oases of cooperation. The film maker didn’t look very hard. This, a Hebrew article about a soccer game between girls from Sakhnin and from Efrat as well as this, an article about Budo for Peace with 500 kids a week came to me in the same hour. Later this week, you can also Run for Peace, or in Thisisjerusalem (1-10 June) you’ll have 10 days to celebrate and challenge what this city could be like. And frankly, you can shop for peace just about any time anywhere if you have the cash.

In fact, there are tons of good things happening and none of them involve screaming slogans. These events tend to be smaller and quieter with fewer flags. And further under the radar, there are even more. My latest delectable collectible of this kind was hearing from a major Jerusalem figure in the Start Up sphere that she coaches an accelerator in Gaza City…via Skype.

But I’m looking for something bigger, like a Jerusalem Good Deeds Day across the divide. I envision a city wide Jerusalem Day — vast swathes of kids and folks doing stuff for the other side. What if Jewish teens painted houses for people without means…from the other side? And if Arab kids did the same? It’d dispel a few myths in a single bound. What if mixed pick-up-the-trash teams cleaned the seam areas between us? What if they came over here and planted trees. What if we went over there and planted trees. Just think of the photo opportunities for the makers of the next municipal booklet. Think of people saying thank you across the divide. It’s the kind of activity that discourages chanting hordes. It’s the kind of activity whose complexity is hard to catch on camera.

This week’s Torah portion, Behokotai – By My Laws – says if you swear something in words, you have to deliver in hard goods. I’m looking to see the good intentions of the phenomenal Jerusalem art, culture and cooperation scene – some of it city funded — translated into stuff on the ground.

Palestinians rightly complain that their municipal services are terrible in comparison to what we have in the Jewish neighborhoods. It’s not just the easy things to see: the lack of sidewalks, trees, buses, street lights, parks, garbage collection, play and exercise equipment, the state of their schools… It’s also the mother-baby clinics, health services, town planning, the social workers, mental and dental health clinics, that person-driven street washing machine, post offices and, and, and… C’mon, Nir. It’s time. Deliver the hard goods. Be the Mayor of the whole occasionally Holy City.

That same aforementioned babette helped an (old, possibly cool) Muslim woman with her heavy shopping bags and received a blessing in Arabic for her efforts. She didn’t understand it but you can tell a blessing when you get one. She said, “Thanks.”

About the Author
Helen Gottstein is a presentation training specialist and an actress. Presentation training and performances available for bookings in Hebrew and English. helengot@gmail.com
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