Kulna Yerushalayim

Kulna Yerushalayim ("We are ALL Jerusalem") is a grassroots organization founded by Arab and Jewish friends from East and West Jerusalem to advance coexistence in the city. What started just over a year ago as a grassroots initiative between friends is now a city-wide movement of thousands.

Location: Jerusalem, Israel
Year founded: 2016

Description

Background:

Kulna Yerushalayim was founded in the summer of 2016 by Arab and Jewish friends from East and West Jerusalem, after a long history of working together to advance coexistence in Jerusalem. In 2011, we launched “Simply Sing,” a series of sing-along events in Hebrew and Arabic designed to bring Jews and Arabs together around a shared love of Middle Eastern Music. The project operated successfully and consistently until 2016; however, as “Simply Sing” gained more traction we realized that in order to lead significant change on the ground – particularly in East Jerusalem – they must start a new organization, one that is jointly run by Jews and Arabs, and that is independent of established organizations and agendas.

A year and a half into its operations, Kulna’s best-known project is "Jerusalem Double": a series of backgammon (shesh-besh) tournaments in East and West Jerusalem that have already engaged 6000 players and participants. Harnessing the power of play, music, and game that's been in the Middle East for nearly 6000 years, "Jerusalem Double" facilitates a human encounter between Jews and Arabs, and creates crossover between segregated neighborhoods and communities.

The projects have been featured on the TED stage, NYT, Economist, Reuters, Times of Israel, and dozens of Israeli and international publications from Japan to Pakistan and Egypt, putting Jerusalem and our vision of co-existence on the global map.

Goals & Strategy:

Kulna Yerushalayim strives to promote the following goals:

  1. Create and facilitate non-political encounters between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem through cultural platforms and activities.
  2. Improve the quality of life in East Jerusalem by evangelizing municipal stakeholders.

Our two goals are complementary in promoting a broader strategy for significant social and material change in Jerusalem. While positive encounters between Arabs and Jews in a divided city are worthy and welcome in their own right, our vision is more ambitious.

“Jerusalem Double” and “Simply Sing” events have been attended by thousands of Jerusalemites of all backgrounds, and they’ve garnered significant media attention in Israel and around the world. They are so successful because they appeal to a wide and diverse audience of Jerusalemites who are united by culture and tradition that spans the Jewish-Arab divide. Attendees are not the moderate elites one might expect to find at events of this sort, but a true representation of the Jewish and Arab populous in the city: bus drivers, university professors, car mechanics, religion leaders, sanitation workers, artists, peace activists, youth workers and many more. Participants hail from around the city: Nachlaot, Beit Tsafafa, Talpiyot, Kiryat Yovel, Shuaafat Refugee Camp, Katamon, Beit Hanina, and even a few settlements on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

These events and their broad appeal connect Kulna to the people on both sides, and help engage new stakeholders. For example, the first time a number of Jerusalem Municipality workers (including the deputy Mayor) had visited the neighborhood of Beit Hanina was for a Jerusalem Double event. Today, these same municipality workers are involved in a Kulna campaign to create parking solutions for Muslims looking to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque on Fridays and during the month of Ramadan.

On the other side, the initiatives Kulna leads to improve the quality of life in East Jerusalem signal to the local population that the organization means business, and lends it the legitimacy it needs to facilitate encounters between Jews and Arabs in a complex political landscape where any form of interaction is labeled “normalization”.

There is no shortage of organizations working in the Arab-Jewish space in Jerusalem; some promoting encounter and dialogue, others battling for equality, human and civil rights and a more equitable allocation of municipal and state resources. To be sure, this work is important and plays a vital role in Jerusalem’s civil society. However, in the opinion of the writers of this document, focusing on just one side of the equation will always fall short. In one of the most complex and diverse cities in the world, we believe that the only way to achieve a real lasting impact is by uniting its people into a movement around a shared notion of “common good,” one that can will not only rally the support across divides and differences, but also promote a working assumption that we all belong to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Double

About

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What is the mission and purpose of this program?

Jerusalem Double seeks to bring Jews and Arabs together in equal, person-to-person, non-political encounters, and to acquaint Jerusalem's residents with neighbors and neighborhoods they might have previously felt uneasy about or lack reason to interact with.  Jerusalem Double achieves this goal by hosting games in different neighborhoods that have traditionally been viewed as "off limits." The combination of play, joint culture, and the comforting familiarity of a game most Jerusalemites have been playing since childhood breaks down barriers and creates connections between people from different backgrounds. Additionally, Jerusalem Double seeks to engage stakeholders in the Municipality in order to improve the quality of life in East Jerusalem. For example, in 2017, the light, fun atmosphere of Jerusalem Double attracted then-Deputy Mayor to an event held in Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem. It was his first time there, leading him to witness first-hand the problems of parking and sanitation in East Jerusalem, and to work with us to implement more equitable parking regulations to accommodate those wishing to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque on Fridays and during Ramadan.


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Program Description

Harnessing the power of play, music, and a game that has been played in the Middle East for nearly 6,000 years, Jerusalem Double facilitates a human encounter between Jews and Arabs, bringing them together for backgammon games in a friendly atmosphere, and introducing Jerusalemites to neighbors and neighborhoods they felt uneasy or lacked reason to interact with previously. The tournaments are accompanied by live music to attract a wide audience and create a festive feeling. Because of backgammon’s popularity, the program attracts a wide array of people, including those who are not committed coexistence activists, but are there merely to have fun. There is evidence that in the Ottoman Empire Jews and Arabs would listen to music, smoke hookah, and play backgammon (shesh-besh) together. Though much has changed since the 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. Jerusalem Double taps into this history to create a new Jerusalem cultural experience where everyone is welcome: a backgammon league for Jews and Arabs. As the games carry on and attract repeat attenders, what starts out as a one-time encounter becomes a series of long-term connections that creates a new community of people who are changing the city, one roll of the dice at a time.

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Demonstrated Need

Jerusalem is Israel’s most diverse city, encompassing Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, secular and ultra-Orthodox. The city’s rich human tapestry is one of her greatest treasures. But too often, Jerusalem residents lack opportunities to meaningfully encounter one another and interact with each other in friendly spaces, in an apolitical atmosphere. To be sure, they meet in hospitals and on the train, but these encounters are usually transactional. This situation is made more severe by the opportunity gap between eastern and western neighborhoods; residents of East Jerusalem lack access to many of the educational, economic, cultural, and governmental resources available in the western half of the city.  For years, the Jerusalem Municipality been neglecting East Jerusalem, and very few city-sponsored cultural events, if any, take place there. Often, residents of West Jerusalem don’t feel comfortable visiting East Jerusalem, and vice versa; forming another obstacle to creating encounters between Jerusalem’s different populations and to engaging the Municipality and other stakeholders to address the challenges facing the city's Arab residents.

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Program Accomplishments


  • 2000 backgammon players and over 6000 other participants from across the Jerusalem Jewish-Arab divide
  • Tournaments in 12 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 two international backgammon champions who flew to Jerusalem to compete at our local championship
  • Broadcast the grand final of the Jerusalem backgammon championship on the Old City walls
  • Were mentioned in a tweet by the Israeli Prime Minster who called us "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 then-deputy mayor of Jerusalem Ofer Berkowitz who visited East Jerusalem and heard about the problem at our tournament
  • Featured in hundreds of publications in the region and around the world
  • Hosted a Labour UK delegation, who were impressed with the casual coexistence on display; Jasmin Becket, part of the delegation, tweeted about the game, saying, "Last night we went to a backgammon tournament in Jerusalem where Muslim and Jewish neighbours come together to play a game. Both sides who understand that boycotting dialogue leaves no room for peace in the Middle East."
  • Featured in a viral Nas Daily video: https://www.facebook.com/nasdaily/videos/850320395120114/

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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, 8,000 people have participated in Jerusalem Double, of which about 60% are repeat attenders. Participants span the city's cultural, political, religious, and economic spectrum. We also measure our impact beyond the events themselves: media publications, social media engagement, and the engagement of multiple city influencers and municipal stakeholders; for us, the measure of Jerusalem Double is also the social activism that takes place once the games have ended. For example, a 2017 game brought a Municipality member to the Beit Hanina neighborhood for the first time, starting a conversation with local residents that resulted in special parking dispensations in East Jerusalem on Muslim holidays, just as there are in West Jerusalem during Jewish holidays, and in 2018, a Municipality member came to one of the games and spent much of the time listening to and engaging with residents of East Jerusalem.

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Jerusalem Double

About

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.

Back to Top

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.

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Program Description

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.


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Demonstrated Need

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.

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Program Accomplishments

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

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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.

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