Saturday 17 November 2012

Working For Peace and Understanding - Jerusalem International YMCA

With news of the situation in Israel, this candle of hope continues to burn brightly:

In 1993, the organisation housed in the above unique building in Jerusalem, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, eventually losing out to Nelson Mandela and F.W de Klerk. So what is this organisation? Answer - the Jerusalem International YMCA.

Think of the YMCA and what is the vision that comes into your head? Well, once you've put aside images of men with big moustaches singing about the fun to be had staying there, you're probably imagining a pretty bland building with basic rooms comprising multiple bunk beds. Add to that wholesome, although not too inspiring, food and a general mucking in with housekeeping, along with sporting, religious and recreational activities and the picture would be, more or less, painted. 

Mosaic containing dedication by General Allenby

It is safe to say that, internationally, the movement has moved on and become much more encompassing and inclusive. Sport is still a major feature and there is a far more structured and successful emphasis on providing academic learning and skills training, as well as the underlying promotion of Christian principles and ethos to boys and girls, men and women.

But, in Jerusalem, there are other challenges.

The Jerusalem International YMCA (JIY) was established in 1878 and has been operated by the YMCA of the USA since 1920. During WW2, it supported prisoners of war, providing them with anything from eating utensils to art materials and musical instruments, under the War Prisoners Aid scheme it established.

For many years now, it has been its mission to provide a safe haven for the Jewish, Moslem and Christian people of Jerusalem, and people of all ages 'enjoy the atmosphere of understanding and unity'. Its grand facade houses 56 rooms, air conditioning, and a superb onsite restaurant (I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken schnitzel and salad). The distinctive tower is 152 feet high and overlooks the Old City, providing a famous landmark visible for miles around. Noteworthy on the outside, the work inside is even more remarkable.

JIY - entrance

The JIY is widely acknowledged as a centre for cultural, athletic, social and intelectual life and is visited by more than half a million people annually. Distinguished guests have included Hillary Clinton, Madaline Allbright and Warren Christopher and it even houses a kindergarten where Moslem, Christian and Jewish children play and learn together. The message is one of hope, unity and reconciliation and this extends to the Committee who run the JIY. 

Its work and 'efforts in promoting the dignity of humankind and peace in the region' led to its nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. What a shame it had to be the same year as Nelson Mandela!

Forsan Hussein

Comprised of representatives of organisations and companies, drawn from the local and wider community, its current CEO is Forsan Hussein, who says, 'I am a Palestinian - a Palestinian Israeli, a Muslim CEO of a Christian institution in a Jewish country. It doesn't get any better than that!'

On one wall of the boardroom, hang many photographs of previous Chairmen of the Board, including one of my husband, Colin, who was Chairman from 1988-89. A few weeks ago, he returned and is pictured here with Jodie Asaraf (Executive Office Manager). If you look above Jodie's head on the top row, you will see a much younger Colin!
Former JIY Chairman, Colin Nibbs, with Jodie Asaraf, Executive Office Manager

The influence, scope and activity of the JIY continues to grow and you can find out more about them here:

Surely their mission and work has never been more relevant or needed.