Tablet Magazine
Israel Story

A Day at the Y

What many of us missed most during the pandemic was a sense of community. So, for our season opener, we went to a place that is all about community to find out what it feels like—and sounds like—when a diverse community tries to regroup.

September 6, 2021
Tablet Magazine

On June 7, 2021, the entire Israel Story team—nine radio producers—descended upon the Jerusalem International YMCA. Why the Y? For starters, it is a local icon. It was designed by Arthur Loomis Harmon—who simultaneously designed the Empire State Building in New York City—and was for decades one of the tallest buildings in Jerusalem. With its elegant sandstone arches, domes, and famous bell tower, the Y is one of the most recognizable, majestic, and seemingly immortal landmarks in town. It was dedicated in April 1933 with the following words: “Here is a place whose atmosphere is peace, where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten and international unity be fostered and developed.” The Y was, as many pointed out at the time and in the decades since, a “sermon in stone.”

But it’s also much more than that. In a segregated city full of invisible lines that separate groups and peoples, the YMCA is an oasis where everyone comes together: Muslims, Jews, and Christians; West Jerusalemites and East Jerusalemites; Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals; religious and secular; toddlers, teens, adults, and the elderly.

In normal times its hotel rooms are full of tourists, its sports center is buzzing with activity, its Jewish-Arab kindergarten is packed with kids, and its auditorium hosts world-class chamber music concerts. But back in June, all that seemed like a distant memory. The Y was just starting to reopen after a year-and-a-half of COVID-19, which had forced it to close many of its programs and departments and lay off much of its staff. And, as if that wasn’t enough, the region had just emerged from yet another particularly unsettling cycle of violence.

In today’s episode, all recorded during one day at one location, we’ll go back and forth between the gym, the kindergarten, the front desk, the events team, and the CEO’s office. We’ll meet Bob the Builder, a fake Argentine bride, a psychoanalytically inclined “bell boy,” a two-timing husband, and dozens and dozens of other colorful characters.

The team of producers at the YMCA was Zev Levi, Yoshi Fields, Skyler Inman, Marie Röder, Danna Harman, Adina Karpuj, Sonia Epelbaum, Laura Capelhuchnik, and Mishy Harman. Zev Levi scored and sound-designed the episode with music from Blue Dot Sessions. Sela Waisblum created the mix. Thanks to Sasha Foer, who spent his precious summer vacation in endless editing meetings, and to Aviya Yatzkan, Shaul Elkana, Esti Rose, Shalom Fadida, Raed Abu Lil, Netane’l Rapaport, Yochai Maital, Eli Bleier, Naomi Schneider, Matthew Litman, Tanya Huyard, Rotem Zin, Sharon Rapaport, Wayne Hoffman, Esther Werdiger, Sheila Lambert, Erica Frederick, Jeff Feig, Joy Levitt, Jeff Umbro, and Jesse Adler from The Podglomorate. Above all, thanks to Dorothy Harman, who has been pushing for a YMCA episode for nearly a decade.

Listen to the episode here, or download it from Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. You can hear all of Israel Story’s episodes in English here and in Hebrew here.

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