On a breezy Friday evening, seventy guests representing various organizations, movements, cultures and religious streams in Jerusalem gathered outside for a Friday night Shabbat picnic in the JVP Media Quarter garden. Folks came from the ROI community of social entrepreneurship; from Ein Prat, the modern and pluralistic midrasha; from Ulpan Etzion for new immigrants; and hosted by us at Jerusalem Village. The dinner came at a time when many new beginnings, changes and opportunities were facing young people throughout the city: the end of an intensive four day summit held by ROI, two days before the final qualifying Hebrew exam for new immigrants and at the apex of Jerusalem Village’s summer activity season. There was a lot of excitement in the air…
“All the groups that are at this dinner tonight are here in support of helping pluralistically minded young adults to find their niche and passion in the city”, said Lisa Barkan, JV’s founder and director, and an outspoken advocate for strengthening Jerusalem by empowering its young population–natives and internationals alike–to put their talents and expertise to use. Over a delicious, gourmet and pampering dinner prepared by our chef, Avital, guests chatted and exchanged stories and ideas. Conversations about smartphone apps that facilitate independence and self-reliance for quadriplegics that are being developed in Jerusalem, about the city’s burgeoning community garden initiatives, about global Jewish leaders who practice international law of disaster relief could all be overheard at the tables. The event was a true reflection of the level of innovation, both potential and actual, that is possible in this city.
Among the guests representing the ROI community was Benny Meir (31), who in the course of his illustrious military career earned numerous medals for his service and transformed a broken unit into a key protective force in recent operations. Benny gave a warm and humble speech on leadership, in which he noted “how inspiring [it was] to see such a meeting between all the creative entrepreneurs at ROI with new olim and other Israelis coming together in once place and exchanging their stories and visions for change”.
Among the olim was Sarah Benkemoun (30), a recent olah from Paris. After working in Paris for five years as an accountant, Sarah spent the last five months learning Hebrew in Ulpan Etzion, which she will continue to do at the Hebrew University this summer. Sarah most recently hosted a Jerusalem Village Shalom al Lechem dinner, our flagship program which brings together native, international, religious and secular guests to have warm, substantive and inclusive Shabbat dinners together. “[Dinner] was very diverse, inclusive, and dynamic. I had the ‘honor’ to host people… It’s been wonderful and we really had a meaningful Shabbat dinner with people from all around the world (Canada, the States, India, France, Israel, Australia).”
Naturally, Sarah was delighted to join JV and our partners for the Shabbat picnic dinner. She says that what she loved the most were “the great people you meet and the perfect organization during the evening, from the place and the food, to the choice of the speaker; it was really inspiring and a unique experience.”
We also had several guests from our host, Ein Prat, a pluralistic and politically diverse Midrasha that takes an interdisciplinary approach to examining the state of Israel and its future. One of the graduates of the Midrasha, Maayan Sheva (26), who today works as an occupational therapist with special needs youth, says that for her, the Midrasha was nothing short of amazing. She enjoyed exploring spirituality and the old texts, but was surprised at how much she enjoyed studying modern texts in disciplines spanning from philosophy to economics (she still studies the latter). Maayan also participated in, and eventually led, Jerusalem Village’s Collage program, which brought together small intimate groups of new olim and native Israelis to for a series of discussions in easy Hebrew, on Judaism (religious, cultural) and Israel. “I loved learning about people from completely different worlds than mine”, Maayan says; “I felt renewed experiencing the city of Jerusalem through the eyes of people seeing it for the first time. And because the series was during election period, it was even more interesting”.
For Maayan, dinner at JVP was an extension of this experience: “Collage had created such a cool group of people, and I was so happy to see them at the dinner. Especially the olim, as they have a great value in Jerusalem”.
And so, with a big dinner behind us and an busy summer ahead of us, we look back on this gathering with excitement. We see that there is a spirit that connects everyone who was there, and these partnerships weren’t forged by accident. With the amount of talent and passion that was present, envisioning a Jerusalem that is a macrocosm of this dinner, and even more, seems more possible than ever.