Co-existence and Tolerance in Yafo

Today I had two very interesting meetings, one with the former deputy director of the Shimon Peres Center for Peace, Dr. Dan Shanit, and the other visiting with a staff member of the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa.  In fact, both meetings were in Jaffa (or what is known in Hebrew as Yafo), the oldest part of Tel Aviv, and a port that goes back more than 7000 years.    The morning meeting was very interesting, not only getting a clear picture of the co-existence project the Rotary clubs in Jerusalem are working on starting, as well as learning about another project in Jerusalem (Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow) that uses technology as the tool that brings Jews and Arabs together, with dialogue a side effect.  I’ll be writing about it, and comparing the model to the dialogue first programs.   We also talked about some of the criticisms of the life-raft style programs.  It was a very interesting hour.

This afternoon I traveled back to Yafo, after having started on a bus, but not only the bus was delayed, but then it broke down and I had to walks a bit and then hail a cab.  I was a couple minutes late, but made it to the Arab-Jewish Community Center, a beautiful modern facility overlooking the Med.  This was a co-existence project unlike any I have encountered.  The municipality of Yafo covers about 55,000 people, with about 35,000 Jews, and 20,000 Arabs.  The community center is just that – a place for the community to gather: after school programs, dance programs, martial arts, a library, a gymnasium, and workout gym for women, and a focus on tolerance programs.   The Center works with the Citizens Accord Forum for Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem (I met them last week), and sponsors a youth parliament for high school students (a similar program has existed in Haifa, under the same umbrella).   There is also a classroom exchange program in 3-4th grade, between Jewish and Arab public schools, where the kids do joint programs twice a month at the Community Center (and visit each other’s school at the end of the year).   There is a youth camp organized by the teenagers as well.  There are also programs aimed for women in the community, and a lot more, which I will explore in greater depth.   I was really impressed by the look and feel of the place.  Some of the programs – focused on dance – reminded me of the Netflix documentary “Dancing in Jaffa,” which I need to re-watch.

The day also included time for a run along the beach.  Oh that was fun.  A walk to Rabin Square (not worth it), and exploring some more Tel Aviv neighborhoods.  Tomorrow I have two meetings in the most commercial areas of the city —  Breaking the Impasse, and Eco Peace (Friends of the Earth Middle East).  That will wrap up my formal meetings for the trip.  I had to cancel the Abraham Fund meetings due to a conflict on their side, but Eco Peace was added.  I will also have a skype interview in a week or so with The Shades Negotiation Project.     And next week the hard work of digesting all of the materials and trying to make sense of what I experienced will begin.

I’m going to miss this incredible weather too.  Oh, it topped out at 84 today.  Totally atypical for February, but no one is complaining!

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