Scenes on the Seam: Three Jerusalem events the world won’t see, but should
An avante-garde community art festival, a bilingual play about garbage and a cafe started by parents at a Jewish-Arab school reveal the ways Jerusalemites really manage to get along - or don't.
To some, Jerusalem has become synonymous with extremes. Extreme religion, extreme politics, extreme behavior. Last week, Finance Minister Yair Lapid told the New York Times, "Jerusalem is not a place, Jerusalem is an idea," perpetuating the myth of a city so precious one mustn't think of it in physical terms but in ethereal ones.
To those of us who live in the earthly Jerusalem, this city is indeed a place – one with a plentiful mix of troubles and triumphs. Writing this blog for Haaretz, I’m constantly torn between singing this stunning city’s praises and exposing its ugly underside. Here, rather than do either, I offer readers three Jerusalem scenes this week that probably won’t make international headlines but provide some insight into what real Jerusalemites who live, work and create along the Arab-Jewish divide are doing.
1. The MusraraMix Interdisciplinary Art Festival started Tuesday evening and continues through Thursday night. In this, the 13th year of the festival, the collection of avant-garde art, music and multi-media installations is impressive and thought-provoking. Its theme: No Ego, which requires artists to think and create collaboratively. A project of the Musrara art school, whose longer and official name is now The Naggar School of Photography, New Media, New Music, Visual Communication and Photo-Therapy, the festival is not just attracting more artists from abroad – including two from Turkey, a first – but also the participation of the local community.
Musrara, which literally sat on the border between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to 1967, was once incredibly dilapidated, not to mention dangerous. From the mostly Moroccan immigrant population that moved in during that period grew the Israeli Black Panthers of the 1970s. Many of those families stayed, but they often complained of feeling squeezed by the trendy artists and charm-seeking investors who started moving in as the neighborhood gentrified.
Now, notes Sharon Horodi, one of the festival’s curators, many veteran residents are opening up their private courtyards to allow for more exhibition space, increasing the feeling of it being a neighborhood block party and not a snooty, "Please don’t touch" museum event. In fact, in one exhibit, the audience will be invited to throw paint on the portraits on the wall – posing the question if the art then belongs to the whole community that created it. In another exhibit, visitors can virtually create a public mural using their smart phones, after downloading an app called Action Painter.
"Ah, this part is paint, and that part is chalk," an ultra-Orthodox mother said to her two young children as she stopped to look at a colorful mural that had just been made by a group of German graffiti artists called Klub 7. In addition to being on the seam of East and West Jerusalem, Musrara also abuts Haredi neighborhoods and has seen more religious families move in of late.
Reaching back to the neighborhood’s roots, the final musical highlight of the festival will be "Souk Al Kalala," bringing musicians from the town of Netivot to perform North African classics with new adaptations.
See the online program guide for further details, but be aware that only a fraction of them are listed there. For example, Wednesday night features an intriguing event called "War Again: International Skype Show – a collaboration shared by 9 composers/performers, 2 poets, 4 players and Skype." (9 Ha’Ayin Het Street, through Thursday 11 P.M.)
2. "Take Away," an Israeli-Palestinian production on the theme of trash is being performed Wednesday evening at the Khan Theatre. Garbage? Yes, garbage – "How we trash each other and our world." The show is produced and created by Bonna Devora Haberman and Kadar Herini, who have been working together for two years co-directing the YTheater Project Jerusalem.
Haberman, a Canadian-born writer and activist with Women of the Wall, describes the play as "a unique collaboration between an ardent Zionist and a Palestinian nationalist." Herini, a Palestinian from the village of Hizme just north of Jerusalem and the former theatre director of the Jerusalem YMCA, says it's a new way to tell the story of his homeland to the world.
The play takes place in a dump on a holy hill – and the main characters? Garbage harvesters struggling with love, life and loss.
A visit to their website lays it out flatly, in English, Hebrew and Arabic: "We are Palestinians and Israelis. Our lives and world-views usually exclude one another. We agree about almost nothing." It continues: "We are Muslims, Jews, Christians and Druze who collaborate … We struggle, we do not whitewash. We face difference and difficulty with caring and respect."
The show goes on despite the opposition and pressure they’ve faced. In Palestinian society in particular, collaboration – even artistic collaboration – is a no-go zone. But there was a lot of resistance from the other direction too, Herini says.
"There are Palestinians who declined to participate in this because it is cooperation with Jews or Israelis, but there are Jewish-Israelis who said they won’t or can't participate in something that is a joint Israeli-Palestinian project," says Herini, 37, who now lives in the neighborhood of Abu Tor, which itself is mixed – though not integrated.
"It hurts me what’s happening in this country," says Herini, noting that last year, a new road sign went up announcing a superimposed name for the neighborhood that no one uses: Givat Hananya. "I have the tool of theatre that I can use to express the feelings of my people, my Palestinian-ness. Each needs to hear the other’s story. That’s why we need to need to bring to many places as possible."
The play is a tragicomedy: You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the lament or the laughter is the more predominant take away, depending on how much of the dialogue you get. One of the most interesting facets of the 75-minute show is that each of the four actors speaks in Hebrew or Arabic only; there is no translation. Clearly, there are some things that need no interpretation. At the very least, the words for garbage in Hebrew and Arabic – "zevel" and "zabale," respectively – are virtual cognates.
"One of the reasons we’re doing the piece is to enable each to speak in his or her own voice, and so the challenge to us is to create a theatrical conversation without completely translating," explains Haberman, who lives in the German Colony. "So the theater, the action, does the work. How they use the stage provides access. We also thought it would encourage the audience to maintain its desire to learn to understand the other more fully."
"Take Away" is on Wednesday night at the Khan Theatre at David Remez 2, 6 P.M. and 8:30 P.M. To view a video clip or purchase a ticket, see here.
3. Friday is the launch of Schenot-Jiran Cafe , which means "Neighbors" in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively. The goal is to start a cultural café bringing together Jewish and Arab Jerusalemites in a place where they are increasingly crossing paths but barely speaking: the Train Track Park. The old railroad lines, now a park that stretches from the newly opened First Station all the way south to the Malha neighborhood and the zoo, runs through Jewish neighborhoods as well as Beit Safafa, a Palestinian neighborhood that was divided between 1948 and 1967.
The initiative is being launched by parents at Hand in Hand, a bilingual Jewish-Arab school in the Pat neighborhood. The campus of the school has a large back garden, and the recently finished park-cum-path runs right next to it.
"We have a joint dream to build a home for our community, the Arab-Jewish community in Jerusalem. Because this new park sits between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, we decided that the best way we saw for it to happen was a community café for cultural activities," explains Maya Frankforter. Friday's event will include live music – the Arab-Jewish band Wasat il Tariq will play at 2 P.M. It will also feature a market for selling homemade Arab delicacies made by women of Beit Safafa and art and handicrafts made by Jewish women in the community.
"This is the first event," says Frankforter. "We want people to join us and also tell us what they think and what they’d like to see. We hope that people just walking by will also come in and participate."
The project grew out of a friendship between Frankforter and Suna Zuabi Othman, a parent at the school who lives in Beit Safafa. Zuabi Othman, a chemical engineer who grew up in a village in the north of Israel, says Frankforter has become one of her best friends as well as her partner in the project.
"This has been a dream for us, and this is our pilot program," says Zuabi Othman, who has been putting out the word around her neighborhood and has been received positive responses. "We have especially been planning to do events during Ramadan," starting July 9. In many Islamic countries, the fast at the end of each day of the Islamic holy month is marked by a festival-like atmosphere, which the café hopes to incorporate.
For now it will be an open-air café, the organizers say. "When it gets cold," says Frankforter, we'll have to think about what next." Their own building would be ideal.
The launch is Friday, 11 A.M. to 3 P.M., along the Train Track Park near the Hand in Hand (Yad b' Yad) School. For more information see their Facebook page.