Backgammon (shesh-besh) is an ancient game deeply rooted in the Middle East. Its origins can be traced back nearly 6000 years to the ancient Kingdom of Ur, now modern day Iraq. And while the game grew popular and spread to the West during the time of the Romans, it never left the Middle East. There is evidence that in the Ottoman Empire Jews and Arabs would listen to music, smoke hookah, and play together. Though much has changed since the Ur and Ottoman times, one doesn't have to look far to see that Jews and Arabs across the Jerusalem Divide continue to play the game: in the Iraqi Market Place, in the Old City, during Reserve Duty, in Coffee Shops in Ramallah etc. Jerusalem Double taps into this history, and the powerful role play and music have in our lives to create new Jerusalem cultural experience where everyone is welcome: a backgammon league for Jews and Arabs, that in just over a year of operations, is now 6,000 people strong.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
Jerusalem Double seeks to bring Jews and Arabs together in equal, person-to-person, and non-political encounters. The project also aims to introduce Jerusalemites to neighbors and neighborhoods they felt uneasy or lacked reason to interact with previously. Jerusalem Double achieves this goal by hosting tournaments in different neighborhoods that have traditionally been viewed "off limits." Through the power of play, joint culture, and the comforting familiarity of a game most Jerusalemites have been playing since childhood, barriers fall away and connections are formed.
Additionally, Jerusalem Double seeks to engage stakeholders in the municipality. For example, in one event last year, the light, charming atmosphere of Jerusalem Double attracted the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem to an event held in Bet Hanina of East Jerusalem. He had never been there before and witnessed first hand problems of parking and sanitation in the eastern part of the city. He is now partnering with us to solve those same issues.
Jerusalem Double tournaments take place in parallel neighborhoods in East and West Jerusalem, and they are designed to create crossover between communities that have been segregated for year. Tournaments typically consist of 64-128 players, however a musical performance draws more people into the mixed-atmosphere and provides further entertainment for hundreds of spectators. Because of the equalizing nature of backgammon, Jerusalem Double reaches beyond the moderate elite of Jews and Arabs to those of all means and backgrounds: teachers and politicians, business owners and taxi cab drivers, self-proclaimed "right-wingers," as well as liberal peace-activists.
Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem don't interact beyond the daily grind, or at political events. To be sure, they meet in hospitals and on the train, and occasionally at the work place, but these encounters are usually transactional. All it takes is a few hours touring the city for this unfortunately reality to become evident. In addition, very few city-sponsored cultural events, if any, take place in East Jerusalem. For years, the Jerusalem Municipality been neglecting East Jerusalem- including in the realm of cultural events for its diverse residents.
In a year of operation we've-
- engaged 1000 backgammon players and over 5000 other participants from across the Jerusalem Jewish Arab divide
- held tournaments in 16 Jewish and Arab neighborhoods all over the city, creating crossover between neighborhoods that are usually segregated
- presented our vision of coexistence "backgammon will bring peace to the Middle East" to an audience of 1600 at TEDxWhiteCity
- played (lost miserably) and presented at the world backgammon championship at Monte Carlo
- recruited the support of two international backgammon champions who flew to Jerusalem especially to compete at our local championship, Masayuki Mochizuki, Mike Natanzon
- awarded 25,000 shekels (7,000) to the winner of the Jerusalem championship
- broadcasted the grand final of the Jerusalem backgammon championship on the 16th century walls of the old city
- been mentioned in a tweet by the Israeli Prime Minster who called our initaitve "a beautiful example of co-existence"
- rallied support from municipal, governmental and philanthropic partners, some of whom had never previously funded culture in Arab east Jerusalem
- led an initiative to create parking solutions around the old city (and the Al-Aqsa mosque) for Muslims during prayer times together with the deputy mayor of Jerusalem Ofer Berkowitz who visited east Jerusalem and heard about the problem at our first tournament
- Been featrued in hudreds of publications in the region and around the world
- **Ted Talk >> **NYT >> https://goo.gl/AnrLNH**Times of Israel >> https://goo.gl/kyDZde ** Viral NasDaily FB video >> https://goo.gl/2MCtwr
How do you measure the success of your program?
We measure success by looking at the number of players and participants at our events, their demographic breakdown, and their continued involvement in the our programming. So far thousands have participated, of which about 60% are repeat attenders. Participants include taxi drivers, car mechanics, university professors, students, activists, doctors, lawyers, municipal workers and many more. Additionally, we look at our impact beyond the events themselves; media publications, social media engagement, and the involvement of to both city influencers and municipal stakeholders. To date, 3 members of the City council have attended our events, as well of dozens of local leaders including supermarket giant Rami Levy.