How A Movement Is Born

A Muslim, Ethiopian, Christian, and Haredi Meet For Coffee

No, there is no punchline, as the Facebook post noted. I ran across it as I scrolled through my feed during a meeting (admit it, you do the very same thing), and I immediately recognized two of my recently profiled “heroes” sitting with a friend, Nir Cohen.

If everyone in Israel is connected by only three degrees of separation, take it down to one degree in Jerusalem. Nir is a relatively known fixture in Jerusalem’s social entrepreneurship scene, so anything is possible, but I still couldn’t piece together how they all knew each other. Try to follow along.

Nir met Tali Ysia two years ago at the Jerusalem Parliament - no, not the Knesset, but a group of 500 dedicated young people who believe that 1 + 1 is way more than two and pride themselves, rightfully, on selfless cooperation to benefit the city. I profiled Tali recently after hearing her speak about equality in Jerusalem. Nir was convinced that he and Tali could find some way to import multiculturalism to Jerusalem. They threw some ideas on the table, walked away empty handed, yet stayed in touch — because its impossible not to in Jerusalem.

Fast forward to December 2016, when Nir met Inbal Halperin, yet another one of Jerusalem’s true believers (we have so many that you won’t be able to keep up). And in less then a month, Nir, Tali, and Inbal hatched “Open Houses, Open Holidays,” events around Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Russian Orthodox, and Armenian holiday seasons. An ultra-Orthodox family in the city’s most religiously conservative neighborhood of Mea She’arim opened their home for Hanuka to secular Jews, Ethiopians, and Arabs. The Mekone family hosted a similar group at her home for the Ethiopian holiday of Sigd. And the Manna family opened their home in Beit Hanina for Mawlid, celebrating the birth of the prophet Mohammed. They toured the Christian Quarter on Christmas and the Armenian Quarter on Novgorod, the Russian Orthodox New Year. Thanks to the Leichtag Foundation’s support, more than 260 people were welcomed in each others’ homes and you would think — mission accomplished.

But no. Nir, Tali and Inbal thought more could be done. The circle grew bigger and that’s how a secular Jew, an Ethiopian, a ultra-Orthodox, a Christian, and a Muslim met for coffee.

Credit: Nir Cohen. Left to right: Nir, Tareq, Tali, Adonis and Srulik

Tareq Nassar, an architect from Beit Hanina, a Muslim who speaks no Hebrew, came to the table. So did Srulik Krushmerski, the Haredi on the right with the long sidelocks, who speaks no English and whom I profiled a few weeks ago after he lectured me on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This was the first time Srulik sat with such a diverse forum. Enter Adonis Shehadeh, a Christian Arab, who thought she was just translating between English, Arabic and Hebrew, but joined the bandwagon.

And that is how a movement is born. At a coffee table, a secular Jew, an Ethiopian, a Muslim, a Christian and a Haredi, decided last year wasn’t enough. They were preaching to the converted. This year, they decided to hand pick friends in their social circles, the extremes of their society, to participate in Open Holidays. Expand the circle of understanding to those who have not yet heard that Jerusalem can be an open, welcoming, and tolerant place.

Under the radar is often the best way to achieve what this dedicated group of people have undertaken. Nir tells me that I might not be able to publish more about Open Holidays, but stay tuned to see how these events unfold. In the meantime, Nir, Tareq, Inbal, Tali, Adonis, and Srulik, you are most certainly #MyJLMHeroes, just for showing up.