The para­dox of Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - BAR­BARA SOFER The writer is the Is­rael di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions at Hadas­sah, the Women’s Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica. Her lat­est book is A Daugh­ter of Many Moth­ers.

Ay­oung and tal­ented jour­nal­ist col­league from Tel Aviv con­sulted me re­cently about pos­si­ble sto­ries in Jerusalem that show­cased Jews and Arabs in­ter­act­ing to­gether. I paused a mo­ment, not know­ing where to start.

The para­dox of life in Jerusalem is that while we live our lives for­ever alert to pos­si­ble ter­ror­ism, our daily hu­man in­ter­ac­tions are be­com­ing more and more in­te­grated.

I’m not only talk­ing about in­sti­tu­tions like our hos­pi­tals where teams of Jews and Arabs rou­tinely work to­gether – from the kitchen staff to the trans­plant sur­geons heal­ing Jewish and Arab pa­tients; from the de­liv­ery room to geri­atric de­part­ments. Kid­ney and liver trans­plants go from Jews to Arabs and vice versa. You can’t get more in­te­grated than that.

But I’m think­ing about our ev­ery­day lives, the com­mon­place in­ter­ac­tions that weave the tex­ture of daily Jerusalem.

So ex­actly how in­te­grated is my life as a re­li­gious, head-cov­er­ing Jewish woman who lives in a mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood in what the Aus­tralians would call Western Jerusalem?

My choice for re­cre­ation is the Syl­van Adams Sports Cen­ter at the YMCA on King David Street. The 85-year-old YMCA, with its his­toric swim­ming pool, sum­mer camp and choir, has al­ways been a venue for Jewish, Chris­tian and Mus­lim res­i­dents and tourists. It has be­come even more so with the open­ing of the new 9,290-square-meter sports com­plex.

The name of the new fa­cil­ity is that of Cana­dian im­mi­grant, Jewish phi­lan­thropist and sports afi­cionado Syl­van Adams. He heard that “the most im­por­tant YMCA in the world in the most beau­ti­ful city in the world” had long strug­gled to open a mod­ern sports club in the an­cient city. Adams had al­ready spon­sored sports cen­ters in Mon­treal and Tel Aviv when he stepped in to make pos­si­ble the com­ple­tion of the Jerusalem cen­ter.

At the re­cent fes­tive launch (a year af­ter the ac­tual open­ing), Adams said he didn’t even have to com­plete the tour of the fa­cil­ity be­fore he signed on. He par­tic­u­larly fore­saw chil­dren and adults of all back­grounds swim­ming and work­ing out to­gether in an up­beat, con­ge­nial at­mos­phere. In­deed, the pool’s swim­ming lessons draw hun­dreds of kids, whose eth­nic­ity you can only tell by the way their moms tie their head scarves. There’s even a Ju­nior NBA League.

The best mo­ment of the launch was when train­ers demon­strated a va­ri­ety of gym­nas­tics and aer­o­bics on stage. Think of men and women dressed in blue-and­white YMCA T-shirts, do­ing push-ups and som­er­saults to the 1978 hit song “YMCA,” with its heart­en­ing mes­sage: “Young man, you can make real your dreams/ But you got to know this one thing/ No man does it all by him­self.”

The train­ers were, of course, a mix of Jews and Arabs. Among the lat­ter was the per­sonal trainer who works with a friend and me, mak­ing sure we don’t in­jure our­selves lift­ing weights in the hi-tech, mul­ti­cul­tural gym. I go af­ter work. My day-job of­fice is in Hadas­sah Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter, so I go from one to­tally in­te­grated en­vi­ron­ment to a sec­ond.

On Mon­day nights, af­ter swim­ming, I do my food shop­ping at the Osher Ad (“Hap­pi­ness Up”) su­per­mar­ket. The dis­count chain caters to those who, like me, keep a mehadrin (strictly kosher) home kitchen. How­ever, be­cause of the store’s low prices and su­per-sized pack­ag­ing, it draws large fam­i­lies of both Jews and Arabs. We queue up to­gether at the check­out and com­pare the bar­gains in our carts.

ABOVE THE su­per­mar­ket is a mall, where I fre­quently buy cloth­ing for my grand­chil­dren at the Amer­i­can-like chain sto­ries. My fa­vorite sales­woman is a young woman who wears a hi­jab.

At my branch of Su­per-Pharm, the phar­ma­cist who takes a per­sonal in­ter­est in my med­i­ca­tions wears a hi­jab.

The health fund nurse who takes my blood pres­sure and keeps tabs on my in­oc­u­la­tions wears a hi­jab.

My gy­ne­col­o­gist at Hadas­sah Med­i­cal Cen­ter is a fe­male Arab doc­tor. When she’s not at the hospi­tal, she runs a clinic for re­li­gious Jewish women in Beit Shemesh, and an­other on Satur­days, for Pales­tinian women who need a spe­cial­ist.

The man­ager and me­chan­ics at the garage where I have my car ser­viced are Arab. So is my hair­dresser.

My Tel Aviv col­league, far to my Left po­lit­i­cally, is sur­prised and im­pressed. I tell her that she needn’t be im­pressed. None of the above de­rives from a po­lit­i­cal agenda. I never choose the pro­fes­sion­als and ser­vice per­son­nel out of a de­sire to be eth­ni­cally di­verse. That’s just the way life is in Jerusalem.

Any Jerusalemi­te can tell you a sim­i­lar story. Af­ter all, Tel Aviv is 95% Jewish; Jerusalem, only 64%. Some­how in our rel­a­tively poor, sup­pos­edly right-wing, hy­per-re­li­gious city, in­te­gra­tion is ev­ery­where. We have para­dox­i­cally man­aged to cre­ate an ex­traor­di­nar­ily mixed so­ci­ety de­spite our his­tory and the on­go­ing threat of ter­ror­ism.

“That’s not the way we live in Tel Aviv,” my col­league ad­mits.

Not that ev­ery­thing in Jerusalem is dandy. Ru­mor has it that our new mayor will be walk­ing the streets of Jerusalem early in the morn­ings to be­come bet­ter ac­quainted with the chal­lenges of the city. He should make sure to visit Arab neigh­bor­hoods as well as the Jewish ones.

An af­ter­noon re­cently spent in­ter­view­ing a fam­ily in Sil­wan made me aware of how ne­glected the neigh­bor­hood is. Like­wise, I hate know­ing that 50% of Jerusalem’s Arab women who are my age have di­a­betes, de­spite na­tional health care. I don’t know any Jerusalemi­tes – Left, Right or cen­ter – who don’t think mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices and health ini­tia­tives should be ex­tended to all neigh­bor­hoods: rich and poor, Jewish and Arab.

My Tel Aviv col­league cre­ated a su­perb pro­file of two Jerusalem nurses, close as sis­ters, who go be­yond their shifts in the depth of their friend­ship. She al­tered her view of Jerusalem.

If those who live in Tel Aviv have a skewed im­age of Jerusalem, we shouldn’t be sur­prised that those who live out­side of Is­rael can’t imag­ine how closely Jews and Arabs live to­gether. None­the­less, ac­cu­sa­tions that we prac­tice apartheid, which of­ten come from for­eign friends who live in ex­clu­sive gated com­mu­ni­ties on moun­tain­tops, still ran­kle. Apartheid – the sta­ple charge of the Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment and Sanc­tions move­ment against Is­rael – is re­peated so of­ten, even friends have be­gun to won­der what we’ve be­come.

I in­vite them: Come to work with me, come gro­cery shop­ping with me, jump in the YMCA pool with me. And do Zumba to that YMCA song. As it says, “You can make real your dreams… No man does it all by him­self.” In Jerusalem, we’re do­ing it all to­gether.

Some­how in our rel­a­tively poor, sup­pos­edly right-wing, hy­per-re­li­gious city of Jerusalem, in­te­gra­tion is ev­ery­where


‘THE BEST mo­ment of the Jerusalem YMCA’s launch was when train­ers– a mix of Jews and Arabs – demon­strated a va­ri­ety of gym­nas­tics and aer­o­bics on stage.’

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