Sanctifying Public Space
There are many blessings to living in Israel that, often in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day survival, even we take for granted. Living in the Holy Land is a treasure trove of questions, complexities, and opportunities. Jerusalem, in particular, makes international headlines often, albeit, not always for reasons you might wish—politics, violence, an occasional embassy opening.
I want to share with you the experiences that hardly ever make it into the headlines, but which are actually very much part and parcel of living in Israel. We are in the time period of the year in which we count the days of the Omer. Originally a commandment associated with the agricultural origins of our ancestors, it has evolved historically to become a period of mourning, and yet it is punctuated with a few climaxes that reflect a new era in Jewish history—Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) to name two. It culminates at Shavuot, another agricultural holiday, that has received a renewed sense of importance and attention by secular Israelis, thanks to the Kibbutz Movement. Shavuot has also lent itself as an amazing example of the potential and depth of celebrating holidays in the public sphere, and community centers take a lead role in this endeavour. Only a few years ago community centers published a a manual if you will, that includes texts, songs, explanations, stories, questions and customs of the holiday, including the Scroll of Ruth in its entirety. These “manuals” were passed out at local celebrations hosted by many community centers, transforming them into a colorful and rich access point to a Jewish holiday which may have otherwise culminated in eating cheesecake for dessert without really knowing why.
We have also been privileged during this season to watch our Muslim neighbors celebrating the month of Ramadan. In many mixed cities in Israel, the month-long holiday has become an amazing cross-cultural opportunity, bringing together locals, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, to celebrate evening Iftar (break fast) meals together, and encounter “the other” through a channel that is actually void of politics. You can get a feeling for a joint Iftar here.
The International Jerusalem YMCA has grown its programming in honor of the holiday and is hosting an entire two-week event, “Ramadan Nights,” which has included tours, storytelling, facilitated conversations, concerts and break fast meals in the home of local residents, as well as a larger meal at the YMCA campus in Jerusalem, on King David street. In a city where the divides between Jewish and Arab, modern and traditional, East and West are blatantly delineated and felt, it is refreshing to be reminded of the incredible potential for tolerance and respect that is granted by the fluidity in our public space.
May it be a chag sameach (happy holiday) and Ramadan kareem (a generous Ramadan).