On Friday evening, June 16th, 2017 a young Israeli woman was stabbed to death in the area of Damascus Gate, Jerusalem. Hadas Malka, a 23 year old women (See article here) from Giv’at Azar.
That morning I began a three-day tour with a group of Mormon youth from Utah, who are in Jerusalem for a couple of weeks. Kids4Peace is running a tour for them through one of our new projects, “K4P Tours: Jerusalem Through the Eyes of the Interfaith Community”. The goal of these tours is to give people an experience of Jerusalem that discusses the challenges of the city while showing the importance and the beauty of getting to know one another and learning about one another’s religions and narratives. This is through encounters with Jerusalemites of all three Abrahamic faiths (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), Israelis and Palestinians from both East and West Jerusalem.
We began our tour on Mt. Zion, with an introduction to an interfaith Jerusalem. We heard from Carmiel, our Jewish tour educator, and Suma, our Muslim educator. Both were raised in Jerusalem, and both have a strong connection to the city from a place of faith, and an understanding that we must learn to live together as a community, each with his or her own narrative yet open to the reality that there are other narratives as well. We walked through the Christian, Muslim and Jewish quarters, experiencing the beauty of each one.
We then took a break for a couple of hours and regrouped at “Kol-Haneshama” a Reform synagogue in South Jerusalem. From there we continued with the group to their hotel in east Jerusalem, not far from Damascus Gate. We wanted to continue the Jewish experience of Shabbat, knowing that on Sunday we would be going to visit a Christian home in Beit-Jallah and then a Muslim home in Beit-Safafa, after the Iftar (the break-fast meal at the end of the day, during the month of Ramadan). We all gathered in a room at the hotel in East Jerusalem, and Carmiel and I led together the Shabbat rituals of blessing the grape juice, washing hands and blessing the bread.
We then walked into the dining hall at the hotel to find a group of Muslim men who were holding their evening prayer service after the Iftar. The dining hall was filled with a majority of Muslim visitors from around the world who came to Jerusalem for this holy month of Ramadan. All of this we experienced with a Mormon group from Utah! It was a truly magical experience, a true interfaith Jerusalem evening.
That Friday evening was a first for me. Not the interfaith experience but rather the location in which it took place. This kind of religious diversity in one location was something that would not normally happen in Jerusalem, in such a divided city — divided in its religion and its nationality.
After dinner, we wrapped up the day, all sharing how appreciative we were to be able to learn about Jerusalem through the work that we do in Kids4Peace. I felt so honored and proud to be representing something that I believe in and is so needed in Jerusalem today. After this wonderful experience, Carmiel and I gathered our stuff to start our journey home, about a half an hour walk for both of us. Carmiel observes the tradition of not driving on the Sabbath, so I joined him.
As we were walking out of the hotel, we heard about the attack near Damascus Gate. We discussed how it would be best to raise this tragic event with the group, while also trying to navigate the best way to walk home. I was scared, but having walked through these areas so many times in my life I figured it would be ok. I also trusted Carmiel, an experienced tour guide, to take us through the best possible route. Two of the leaders from the Mormon group felt responsible and wanted to make sure we were ok; they walked us down to Damascus gate. Here we were, two Mormons and two Jews, standing at Damascus Gate at the busiest possible time of the year for this place, all very much feeling like we were minorities in this situation.
Carmiel then walked up to the Israeli border police and asked him to let us pass to the road so we would not have to walk through the crowded Muslim Quarter. He said that due to the attack, they were not letting anyone through, while looking very confused as to why a Jewish man with a kippah on his head was even standing there at all.
Carmiel simply explained that we were guiding a group that was staying at a nearby hotel, and since we observe the Sabbath, we needed to walk home. The border policeman then proceeded to tell us that we could not pass and would have to walk through the Muslim Quarter. Our Mormon friends would not leave us alone and walked us all the way through until we reached a quieter area of the Old City.
I have never felt more like a stranger in my own city — the city I grew up in, the city I love and care about, the city I fight to make better, every day of my life. Yet, this feeling segwayed straight from experiencing what I love most about this city: the multifaith and multicultural reality. I dove directly from a hopeful high, into the soup of hate, fear and tension that Jerusalem is famous for brewing — the parts that I work hard to end.
Carmiel and I walked home together at 11 o’clock at night and discussed the current status of the city. We shared strong feelings of feeling compelled to continue the work of trying to make this city a place that embraces rather than pushes away diversity. I saw images of members of our community in my head, faces of the people I spend hours with every week, working together to achieve this dream:
Ismat, a 40-year-old man from Beit-Safafa who left a lifelong career of carpentry to commit his life to Kids4Peace; Reeham, a 42-year-old religious Muslim woman, a committed educator who believes that the youth we are educating are the ones who will make a real difference in Jerusalem; Meredith, a young mother of two, a religious Zionist Jew who moved to Israel from the U.S., and a strong believer in community as a force of change; Montaser, a Muslim Palestinian who grew up deep in the heart of the West Bank who often has to wait at Qalandia Checkpoint for two hours just to cross over to Jerusalem so he can do this holy work; Sarah, an American born Jewish young women who gave up her life in the U.S. to move to Jerusalem, serve in the IDF and through that came to truly believe in working together to create equal opportunity and shared community in Jerusalem. These faces and so many more come to mind when thinking about the kind of Jerusalem I wish to see in the future.
On Thursday night, June 15th, Kids4Peace celebrated Ramadan together with over 350 members of the community. Together we shared a potluck Iftar meal. This is the reality I want to continue to build–not the reality I was reminded of on my walk home on Friday night. We need to educate our children to learn, love and respect, those who are different, not dehumanize and hate. Only together can we make this world a better place.
My heart goes out to Hadas’s family, and it also goes out to the families of the three young Palestinian men who attacked her. If we all commit to educating towards mutual understanding and respect, maybe they would all still be with us today.
May we spend the final days of Ramadan and the holiday of Id Al Fider, as we segway into the Jewish fast of the 17th of Tamuz commemorating the fall of Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, in remembrance and peace.
Written by Michal Ner-David, tour group and grants coordinator