what are the limits of dialogue?

what makes a community? who gets to define who's in and who's out?

every day in tel aviv, i walk through the neighborhood of shapira, on the way to the bina secular yeshiva. shapira is a working-class community, made up of mizrahi jews, some secular activist-types, foreign workers, and a recent influx of african refugees. last week, i noticed, and was bothered by this flyer posted on bulletin boards and cars:

(notice the nice silhouette of a happy nuclear family in the background).

the translation of the hebrew is:
an emergency meeting of the residents of the neighborhood shapira

we, the residents of the neighborhood of shapira have decided to call for an emergency struggle for the future of the neighborhood of shapira. during the recent time period, there has begun a massive entry of weak and accidental populations. the neighborhood of shapira is not the shelter for tel aviv and the state of israel. the social situation and demography is in danger. we are fighting for our home, and for the future of our children. if you do not come, you can not complain.
the profile of this potentially divisive community meeting (which i saw as a mix of NIMBYism, fear of the other, and the result of an overburdened poor community asked to shoulder more than their fair share of the load) was magnified by an article in both the hebrew and english editions of haaretz.

so what better to do on a tuesday night than go?

imagine a gym filled with plastic israeli chairs, all of them full. (over 200 attendees). three policemen there to keep the peace. two tv news crews. religious jews with black kippas, secular jews with dreadlocks (and apparently one activist wearing klu klux klan robes), a few african refugees, long time elderly residents with homemade signs - you name it, they were all there. it was a standing-room-only crowd.

a speaker started the meeting, asking for civility, but when he started passionately chanting his case into the microphone, israeli-style, other people's passions also awoke. i've never seen so much hand-gesturing in one room. people shouted and then came up to argue with the speakers while they were speaking -- at the same time that arguments broke out between other people in the various corners of the room (they never actually devolved into fist-fights, but sometimes came pretty close). to the credit of the meeting's facilitators, different opinions and point of views were represented by the speakers on the rostrum. too bad people weren't necessarily able to listen, especially when some of the bratzlavers started to sing and dance to drown out an opposing position.

as the issues were presented, especially by observing which attendees cheered which speakers, it became clear that the common enemy was the mayor of tel aviv, and the municipality, for not providing enough resources for schools, preschools, teachers, translators, etc., and that the more wealthy northern neighborhoods of the city should help with the care of the immigrants.

i didn't learn about the "klu klux klan activist" until reading the accounts of the meeting in israeli newspapers online. unfortunately, this seemed to have dominated the reporting in the articles.

i'm heartened by the fact that everyone was able to be in the same room together - it made for a fascinating meeting. however, there's a difference between being physically present and actually listening to others -- and unfortunately, i don't think that this goal was achieved.

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