An Honest Reflection from the Streets of Jerusalem

Ben Avrum JerusalemBy Elisheva Mazya

After these past several days, which were some of the most complicated that I can remember in my 12 years in Jerusalem, I felt an urge to provide a more personal update on what is really happening on the ground. No hidden agenda, no specific ask. Simply to give you a wider picture – or maybe a deeper one – of how it feels to live and breathe in Jerusalem right now.

Yesterday morning, I had a meeting in my office with Itai, our Director of Marketing, about working on rebranding New Spirit. Suddenly we heard the noise of what felt like 1,000 ambulances. We checked online for updates, clicking “refresh” continuously – until we saw the new headline: a terrorist had shot 20 people in the Armon Hanatshiv neighborhood, six minutes from our office. Another “refresh” showed us that another terrorist claimed the life of an elderly bystander.

For the next two hours, we were not able to work. My colleague Einat said that she felt weird making calls so soon after the attack. Itai and I finally decided to get some lunch and “refresh” ourselves, rather than endlessly refreshing news sites for updates. As we walked towards the Talpiot streets, we found that both of us were walking very fast, glancing all around, our hearts racing. We looked at each other and started to laugh at the realization that we were both feeling the same anxiety – and at the same time, the need to hide it from the world.

Moria, head of our student communities, phoned Muchamad, one of our community members and a student at Hebrew University. She wanted to make sure he was still planning to come to our big event the next day, where he was presenting his new initiative called “Safa Hadasha” (“new language”). The program helps students of all backgrounds teach Hebrew and Arabic lessons in schools in both west and east Jerusalem, an innovative model of coexistence.

Muchamad informed Moria that, right now, he will not be going anywhere near the city center out of fear of being attacked. That everywhere he goes, he can’t help but feel that people are afraid that he might be a terrorist. That he can’t wait for this whole nightmare to be over and to once again play an active role in New Spirit.

When I got in a taxi towards downtown, I realized that the driver was Arab. Even though he was nice to me, in the first few moments I waged an internal debate: should I politely exit the cab and feel like I’m perpetuating this horrible situation, or should I stay where I was and risk the very unlikely possibility that he might try to attack me?

But I stayed put, and when I arrived at the Machane Yehuda market to meet some friends for a drink, I realized that we were practically alone – the whole shuk, which is usually packed at night, looked abandoned. It reminded me of the very dark days of the second Intifada, where Jerusalem was literally a ghost city.

And then, exactly at that moment, I remembered why we were there in the first place. New Spirit was founded in 2003, right after the second Intifada, to save the city of Jerusalem from drowning. We have worked very hard over the past decade to bring young people back to Jerusalem – the students, the artists, the activists. We helped bring the city center back to life. And most importantly, we brought happiness to the lives of all kinds of communities here in Jerusalem. Over the last five years, we helped make “Jerusalem” an emerging trend!

But these days, it’s hard to be guards of Jerusalem, and it’s challenging to promote our agenda of an inclusive Jerusalem in the midst of so much internal violence and destruction. But it also reminds me of how crucial it is to be an optimist and to be active in city life.

Most importantly, the unique solidarity in Jerusalem is once again raising its head and proving what I have always known to be true: Mitzion Tetze Tora, the Torah will come out of Zion. The groundbreaking social initiatives – from supporting small buisnesess to taking care of policeman who now spend so many hours on Jerusalem’s streets – are unique to the city and a source of inspiration.

Jerusalem is a city of more than 3,000 years with a complicated history full of good deeds and bad. It has known many ups and downs. And it will survive, again, thanks to its dedicated civil guards.

Elisheva Mazya is the CEO of New Spirit, a nonprofit organization dedicated to attracting and keeping talented young people in Jerusalem and reviving the city as a vibrant hub of art, culture, entrepreneurship and innovation.

[Our thanks to the communications team at the Schusterman Foundation who edited the original.]