Jill Levenfeld, Kids4Peace Jerusalem staff member
What a feat it was for our feet to walk together this last Friday over four kilometers around the walls of the Old City as Kids4peace Jerusalem residents sharing our stories, our histories and herstories too.
#Forward Together indeed, our Kids4peace community of over 100 leaders gathered, clad in colored shirts wearing our hashtag proudly. We walked the walk and talked the talk; very aware of the fear and violence around us. We customized our own unique mini –pilgrimage so that we would be visible in the public sphere while sharing our Palestinian and Israeli narratives. Together we stepped in and out of new and unfamiliar places walking out our stories. Because stories have legs, love, loathing, laughter and lots of life to carry.
We encircled the entire circumference of the Old City by foot which takes about six hours (!) passing under all seven gates. That’s a lot of legwork and brainpower for our youth who remained engaged and curious. We were guided by four excellent tour guides, two Palestinians — Jalal and Samer, and two Israelis Hava and Alex. Each guide was responsible for a designated section, between specific gates, delving into the history and perspective from his/her particular point of view.
“This was a very ambitious undertaking”, said Hava as we were walking. She had never led such a tour for a community like ours; of Israeli and Palestinian young leaders living in Jerusalem. Impressive youth who care and who dare. Dare to engage with each other despite what their school friends might say. Their parents are equally brave supporting our work, and believing in the importance of taking our voices to the streets.
Walk about Zion,
go round about her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels;
that you may tell the next generation that this is God,
He will be our guide for ever.
The Psalms has it right….This last Friday, we sure did
“go round about her , considering well her ramparts ….and went through her citadels,” as we felt the divine, learned and opened our eyes guided to new perspective.
Jalal, our first guide, talked about the many political leaders who ruled over Jerusalem, how they entered the city, and how they left their influence. I thought to myself, if Kaiser Wilhelm is remembered today for his audacity in 1898 as he reshaped Jaffa Gate due to his height and large helmet, then just imagine the new gateways our creative Kids4peace young leaders will burst open.
As the light rail passed, some of our youth spoke about their concerns riding the train. Why don’t the ticket machines get fixed in Shuafat the same way they are repaired in other parts of the city? Why isn’t there more security on the trains to make me feel safe? How can we optimize the light rail as a space not just for travel together, but a chance for commuters to get off the train to wander into neighborhoods not familiar ?
Our K4P young leaders are doing that already. They learn and visit each other’s neighborhoods crossing the boundaries that separate us.
And the boundaries are many in our city. Samar, our second wonderful guide of the morning walked us to Damascus Gate while talking about the different neighborhoods within the walls. Approximately 36,000 residents live inside the Old City and their lives are not easy to navigate between the hordes of border police and tourists. He pointed out the Central Bus Station opposite the Gate asking the kids if they have ever been on one of the Palestinian buses? A separate transportation system where an Egged bus ticket would not get you far. Making us aware again of the complexity of the multiple realities in Jerusalem.
Hava, our third guide of the day, met us in the Kidron Valley as we watched Jerusalem’s diversity gather for prayer. Hundreds of Muslim men, from neighborhoods like Ras Al Amud, balanced folded prayer rugs on their shoulders as they ascend solemnly towards Lion’s Gate, the entrance to Al Aksa for Jumu’ah Friday prayer. This is the same gate during the Six Day War that Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin came through in 1967 changing the status of Jerusalem. Below the Gate, we see Christian clergy and their pilgrims fill the Gardens of Gethsemane in their colorful robes. Hava reminds us of the New Testament verse that as Jesus approached Jerusalem, and saw the city, He wept.
Tears blend with our histories at Lion’s Gate as our senses heighten. Each of these gates open up a chance for us to learn, see, and feel something new.
Uncertainty awaits at the gate. Hava warned us as we approached Lion’s Gate, that we might not get permission from the Border Police to enter the Muslim Cemetery, our next stop. But Hashtag #Forward Together has its own momentum and power. We enter, and learn about the Muslim burial traditions. Our dead in Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab, are separated geographically, like the living. The Kidron Valley serves as a separator between the Jewish burial on the Mount of Olives from the Muslims who are buried here under the Golden Gate. But our traditions run parallel when it comes to the afterworld. We need those parallels in THIS world, not just while we wait for the Messiah who is believed to come from the East, agreed by ALL of our traditions.
As we walk through the land of the dead, we hear clearly the Khutbah, Friday sermon at Al Aksa ( above our heads, as if coming from the heavens). I was walking in the Cemetery at that moment with Mohammad (Joulani) but Mohammad the Prophet was ever present as we walked in the Yerushalayim Shel Mata (Jerusalem Below) aligned with the Yerusahalayim Shel Maal (Jerusalem Above). I asked Mohammad if he could translate a bit of what was being said in the Khutbah. A verse from the first chapter in the Koran was being quoted, which comingled nicely the vision of our #ForwardTogether,
Sirat al mustaqim—Guide us (gently) to the straight path.
Along with our Muslim friends, we too at Kids4peace are in search of that straight path and hope that we can continue to gently guide our community, even when the road is unpaved or unjust. #Forward Together