Tag Archives: Jerusalem

From Tragedy to Hope

Earlier this week we marked the first yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Shira Banki, a 16 year old who was murdered by a Jewish extremist at last summer’s Jerusalem Pride March.

The past few weeks have been very difficult for all of us. Barely a day goes by without another terrorist attack somewhere around the world, a mass shooting, a horrific attack on police, an attempted coup… The shock of it all is overwhelming, and it does something to us – tearing at our sanity and our hope for a better future.

Amidst this despair, I’d like to tell you something that happened in the wake of Shira’s murder. In that first week, members and allies of the LGBTQ community, under the auspices of the Yerushalmit (Jerusalemite) movement, organized a public shiva (week of mourning) in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. As Sara Weil, an American who had made aliyah many years before, recalls:

"Every night I was there with a lot of other gay activists, standing there, being confronted. And you had these circles of confrontation around the square. There were many different levels of intensity and bumping heads."

One man challenged the mourners, asking why they didn’t gather in public mourning for victims of Arab terrorism. This led to a challenging, yet civil conversation, and to an idea – Why not, after the seventh day of the Shiva, continue to come to Zion Square on a weekly basis to carry on the dialogue between Jerusalem's disparate communities?

Thus began Meeting Place: Encounters in Zion Square.

Every Thursday night for the past year, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, LGBT and straight, left and right, have come to Zion Square to dialogue – with the aide and support of trained facilitators - about controversial issues affecting Israeli society. As Sara, now the co-director of this project, described it this week:

“Over the course of the year, I've spoken to over a thousand people, many homophobic, some violent. I've experienced over and over again the power of empathy for breaking down barriers of fear. I've witnessed heated confrontation with declared homophobes end in a handshake or hug. I've seen activists from Lehava (radical-right organization) soften their anger and hold respectful dialogue, one even becoming a friend. And I've observed myself, exposing my body and soul to the rugged street, participate in a small slow revolution in the City Center of Jerusalem.”

An advocacy campaign has led Mayor Nir Barkat to dedicate Zion Square to the memory of Shira Banki. Yesterday, under tight security, the Pride March - sponsored by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance - returned to the center of Israel’s capital. This year’s 15th annual march brought a reported 25,000 members of the LGBTQ community and its allies out, by far the largest turnout in the history of this event.

Meeting Place was born out of LGBTQ activism in Jerusalem, and grew into a vehicle for engagement and social change through the practice of radical empathy, compassion, and civil discourse.

Conversations for the sake of conversation are rare and valuable. As we watch our historic and disturbing political year unfold here at home, and as we contemplate our inability to have healthy political discourse across our differences in our Jewish community, the goal of these Jerusalemites to build a “community of communities” is inspiring – for our hopes for Israel, and for us to think about what is possible here in the United States if we succeed in creating better conversations.

Of course, conversation alone isn’t everything. That Mayor Barkat can attend the conversation in Zion Square and sit on the ground with the activists, but a few days later announce that he would not attend the pride march out of respect for Ultra-Orthodox sentiment is a humbling reminder that good conversations need to be complemented with political strategy for achieving change.

Still, on this anniversary of Shira’s death, I find hope in the dialogue and engagement that have come from the horror of last summer. As Sara writes:

“My experience in Zion Square this past year has convinced me that empathic and patient grassroots activism, activism lead from the heart, not the head, from forgiveness, not anger, can and will heal our society. We will learn to live together.”

In this, and in so many ways, Shira Banki’s memory is truly for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,


Boston city councilor sees Israel in a new light

This Op ed originally published in The Jewish Advocate

On Thursday morning Dec. 18, I returned from a very moving and educational trip to Israel that was organized by the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council ( JCRC). Joining me on what was officially called the “Israel Study Trip” were JCRC staff and over a dozen elected officials from across Massachusetts, including fellow city councilors and state representatives. Together we traveled across the country meeting with Members of the Knesset, community leaders, and activists. Some of our most powerful experiences were exploring the Jewish and Christian holy sites. I felt blessed to be able to say Kaddish for my father at the Kotel on his 15th Yahrzeit.

As a group we toured Yad Vashem and heard the stories of Holocaust survivors. Despite my three prior trips to the country, twice with my family, and once on Birthright, this was a truly unique experience. The itinerary that Jeremy Burton and his staff at JCRC created for us provided a broad view of Israel and its current political, cultural, and economic climate.

For my colleagues who had never been to Israel (and I believe I was the only participant who had been before), this was an eye-opening experience – a rare opportunity to get beyond the headlines and learn more about a country and a region that we often see only on the news.

Full Op ed available at www.TheJewishAdvocate.com

JCRC Responds to Attacks in Jerusalem


Statement by Jeremy Burton, Executive Director, and Jill Goldenberg, President, on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council:

We are heartbroken and angered as the details of today’s savage attack in Jerusalem emerge. An attack on a house of worship, any house of worship, must be condemned without equivocation. We expect that all people of faith and all leaders of faith communities will condemn today’s terrorist attack and the brutal murder of these four rabbis at prayer.

Beyond the anguish we feel for any attack on worshipers, and for the vile targeting of innocent Jews, Boston’s Jewish community feels a particular connection to today’s events. Three of the four victims identified today were dual Israeli-American citizens and one, Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, z’tl, was a son of Boston and a member of one of our most distinguished families.

Rabbi Twersky was head of the Torat Moshe yeshiva, and the grandson of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, z'l, luminary of Orthodoxy and founder of the Maimonides School in Brookline, of which his grandson was an alumnus. May Rabbi Twersky's memory and the memory of all of today's victims be for a blessing and may their families find comfort in Zion and Jerusalem.

There are those who seek to incite violence through acts of terror and by spreading fear and anger, and diminish hope for a real possibility of peace. Today’s terrorist attack and other attacks in recent weeks are the product of those who would diminish hope and turn us against one another.

It must be noted and amplified that Palestinian President Abbas has condemned today’s attack. It would be a failure to note today’s condemnation yet ignore the fact that in recent weeks Abbas has contributed to the incitement by praising other terrorist perpetrators in Jerusalem as heroes.

While many in the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim worlds have been quick to condemn today’s horror, some - notably Hamas - have chosen another route: praising and celebrating the murder of Jews in a house of worship. Today’s events underscore again that Hamas is a terrorist organization that celebrates the killing of innocent Jews and seeks the destruction of the state of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves praise for his actions in recent weeks and today to maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock. He has been resolute in his committment to reject any voices, even those in his own government, that would alter the status quo. We praise the swift efforts today to protect the safety and welfare of all synagogues, mosques, and churches to prevent acts of retaliation while ensuring the security of the Israeli people, Jewish and Arab alike. We join the voices of those who urge restraint from vigilante acts of retaliation amidst our grief and anger. Justice must come through the rule of law and the state, not by the hands of individuals acting outside the law. Those who aided and incited today’s attacks must be brought to justice.

Now is the time to lead our peoples away from the abyss of violence and despair and to renew efforts toward a better future. Even if it seems that the two-state peace we support is not possible right now, we reject steps that will make it harder to get there. We must restore hope of achieving a negotiated peace between the two parties by building economic cooperation, personal connections, and a constituency in both Israeli and Palestinian society prepared to make the hard choices ahead.

Sadly, it is events like this that serve as a horrible and tragic reminder that the only viable resolution to this conflict is a negotiated agreement between Israelis and Palestinians to establish two states sharing one homeland. Terrorism undermines the possibility of peace. The killing of innocent civilians can never be justified and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

JCRC is available for comment upon request.