By Ben Romaner, Expansion Manager

When I lived in Jerusalem, the presence of religion and spirituality was noticeable everywhere I turned. From the biblical tour offerings on every other corner to the olive trees that pepper the hills, no other city expresses its ancient roots and modern existence so seamlessly. Jerusalem holds a special place in my heart so I wanted to share with you some resources to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim.

Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, is a modern Israeli holiday celebrating the reunification of the city of Jerusalem under the governmental authority of the modern state of Israel. Jerusalem is home to many religions and serves as a major holy site for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This creates the complex nature of Jerusalem’s existence, however, it also provides a framework for a future that is more tolerant and globally aware. There are many ways to commemorate this holiday, but I wanted to offer a program idea that explores the religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity of this ancient city. 

This year, Yom Yerushalayim begins on the evening of May 21st and ends the evening of May 22nd. The holiday coincides with the Islamic celebration of the end of Ramadan, called Eid al-Fitr, which falls on May 23rd-24th. Jerusalem will have all sorts of celebrations because of these holidays falling so close to each other, I think we should spend Yom Yerushalayim celebrating the religious diversity that permeates the identity of the city today.

Religious Diversity in Jerusalem: An Opportunity to Learn from Each Other

I’ve created a program that is geared to explore your community’s cultural, familial, and religious practices. During this program, you and your community members will have the opportunity to open up about your personal histories, practices, and interests. Take this opportunity to celebrate the differences between each other and to learn from each other’s backgrounds. Having a better understanding of the significance of Jerusalem in religious traditions allows us to have greater respect for all of the religions that call Jerusalem home.

 

Before the program:

  • Create a signup sheet for community members so that you can know how many people will be attending.
  • Do some personal outreach to encourage your community members to attend.
  • Send the information about your event to local partner organizations.
  • Review the discussion questions below and add anything that you think would be helpful for your community to discuss.
  • Create a list of guidelines to read before the start of the program. Here are some examples:
    • When stating a position, speak from the “I” – This is useful to ensure one is speaking only for themselves and expressing only their own opinion. We do not know others’ opinions and would not speak for them, so speaking from the “I” keeps opinions at the individual level.  
    • Let others finish their thoughts before responding.
    • Allow everybody the chance to give their input.
    • Assume good intent – We ask that you treat everyone with respect. If a participant makes a statement that triggers another participant, assume it was not intended to hurt, and ask them to clarify. This is an opportunity to practice respect and can be a teaching moment for everyone. 
    • Distinguish people from doctrines and practices – When speaking about religions, it is important to note that each individual is not a reflection of their entire religion. 
    • Avoid assumptions based on religious identity.

During the program:

  • Welcome each of your community members as they enter your Zoom room.
  • Set the scene by introducing Yom Yerushalayim, and then framing it around a celebration of the religious diversity of Jerusalem. 
  • Watch this video together by sharing your computer screen. This video is a great overview of the three big religions and the importance that Jerusalem has to them.
    • Pro Tip:  When you share your screen, you will also have the option to “share audio”. Be sure to share your audio so that everyone can hear the video properly. 
  • Use this article to help explain the importance of Jerusalem to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Examine the map of the Old City pictured in the article and have your attendees who have visited Jerusalem share their experiences of visiting the Old City with the following questions:
    • What did you notice about the Old City of Jerusalem when you visited?
    • What was your favorite part about visiting?
    • When you visited, what was the most spiritually moving experience you had?
    • Did your visit to Jerusalem feel like a pilgrimage to you? Why or why not?
  • After watching the video, ask your attendees these discussion questions: 
    • What does it mean when people call a place “home”?
    • How can a place feel like home to more than just one person? 
    • What role does food play in those feelings of home? 
    • When was the time you felt most “at home”? What were the factors that fostered that feeling?
    • Do you feel a strong connection to Jerusalem? Why or why not?
    • Do you feel that your connection to Jerusalem makes you feel like part of a universal community? How does this sense of community affect your identity?
    • Jerusalem is a central point for various religious pilgrimages during holy days. What is the significance of having these occasions and how do you understand the religious obligation that many people have to travel to Jerusalem? 
    • How is Jerusalem influenced by the surrounding mixture of culture and religious practices?
    • What can we learn from Jerusalem’s modern experience?
  • If you have a large number of attendees you can split them into breakout groups, and allow them to discuss these questions more in-depth. Give the breakout rooms about 10 minutes to discuss before inviting everyone back to the main room. After small group discussions, you can ask one person from each group to share their takeaways.
  • Once everyone has had time to share their personal relationship to religious diversity, offer comments of appreciation to your community for attending the program. 

After the program:

  • Send thank you messages to your community members for attending your program.

Yom Yerushalayim offers us a chance to examine the beauty of three religions that share one holy city. I hope that with this resource you are able to create a celebration that helps you feel closer to a city that is very special to me. And as we like to say at the end of the Passover Seder, “next year in Jerusalem!”