A Social Divide? Not Here! How Neighbors Day Brings Us Closer Together / Op-ed by Uri Carmel

At the end of May (30.5.23), residents around the country will celebrate the international “Neighbors’ Day.”

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This special holiday, which has become a new Israeli tradition over the past five years, is an opportunity to revive and improve neighborly relations in our daily lives. The same neighborly relations that have recently been expressed mainly in WhatsApp groups and messages about the maintenance of the building or scheduling meetings of the homeowner’s committee but that can be so much more

We are going through a difficult year here in Israel, a year in which the social divide has increased a notch (or maybe even several notches), the rift in the nation has deepened, and all of this alongside another military operation that has recently ended. The citizens of the country need hope and inclusion, and Neighbors’ Day comes right on time.

We all know Leah Goldberg’s wonderful story, “Room for Rent,” which ends with Yona’s decision to rent the apartment in the same five-story building, even though the apartment is not to her liking. The reason Yona decides to rent the apartment after all, and which was enshrined in many of our childhood memories, is simply because the neighbors are good and wholesome in her eyes and that she will be able to live with them “together in good company, in peace and comfort.”

Although Leah Goldberg managed to create a beautiful and unforgettable plot around the idea of good neighborliness, the importance of being a good neighbor was not her innovative idea. You can find, both in Jewish sources and in other cultures, well-known sayings concerning the importance of the neighbor for humankind. Thus, in the book of Proverbs (27:10) it is said, “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not enter your brother’s house on the day of your misfortune; a close neighbor is better than a distant brother.” The intention of this verse is to point out the importance of our commitment to our neighbors, who in our day of trouble or need may be much more available and relevant than the family member who is geographically far away.

Personally, as someone who has been a member of the Kama Community for over a decade – an urban community of families in Be’er Sheva – I experience on a daily basis the importance and meaning of mutual support, friendship, and assistance. My neighbors have actually become a kind of extended family for me, my family by choice.

The modern, urban way of life brings a lot of opportunities to a person, but it sometimes also brings with it considerable loneliness. The reality of a residential building where acquaintance between neighbors is minimal or very functional (and sometimes even estranged or conflicted) is unfortunately widespread in today’s world. Without a doubt, something very elementary in the relationship between a person and their neighbor is missed, and that age-old insight about the importance of the those who live near to you does not receive the attention it deserves in today’s urban Israeli existence.

Neighbors’s Day, which will be celebrated on the initiative of the Eretz-Ir organization, the JDC, and the Community Work Department of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security will be celebrated on Tuesday, May 30th, 2023 in approximately 500 locations throughout the country. This holiday is an opportunity for an unmediated meeting between us and our neighbors in the building or on the street and can be an opening for a meaningful connection. I want to believe and hope that if we all take part in this tradition, as our fathers and mothers took part in and created past traditions, Neighbor’s Day will be celebrated throughout the country and become a true Israeli tradition. A tradition of a simple, pleasant meeting regardless of religion, race, and gender. A holiday of neighbors, a holiday of people, and a holiday of connections.

And make no mistake, good neighborliness is not a one-time celebration. Good neighborliness is a value that we strive to have in our daily lives. I hope the future shows us cities full of caring, community-minded, and connected residents who have meaningful relationships with those around them, and together, create a reality that is second to none. Amen.

The author of the article: Uri Carmel, CEO of Eretz-Ir, the organization that initiates the Israeli Neighbors’ Day which will be held on Tuesday – 30 May 2023.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post

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