For many of us, the Corona virus and the governmental measures that have been taken, have led to radical changes and challenges on various political, social and economic levels, as well as on a deeply personal level. Things we took for granted are no longer permitted or socially accepted. Traveling, meeting, handshakes, hugging, and going to cultural or political events have been called off or restricted. In many countries, restrictions of movements and infringements of human rights were often justified and legitimized in the name of “social distancing”. In the context of these developments, Cordula Reimann published her book titled Das Alleinsein-Einsamkeit-Paradox: Persönliche und gesellschaftskritische Beobachtungen”. In it, Reiman takes a closer look ay different aspects of loneliness and the ways in which the current situation impacts individuals and societies. For us, that’s enough reason to come together and discuss some of these developments in greater detail.
Together with Cordula Reimann, Wiebke Warkentin from the Willy Brandt Center Jerusalem initiated a series of online exchanges on “lockdown, isolation and loneliness” in October-November 2020. The seminars focused on three thematic areas: loneliness as a personal and socio-political challenge and phenomena before and after Corona; political activism in times of lockdown and isolation; and the role of social media and its impact on loneliness.
This seminar series attracted a very diverse group of participants, coming from different walks of life and countries: They ranged from staff and volunteers from international and national non-governmental organizations involved in peacebuilding, development and human rights, thorugh academics and political activists, to interested and curious citizens.
Throughout all three seminars, two arguments were especially prominent : The idea of Covid-19 as a catalyst for social ill-developments, and Covid-19 as an opportunity for personal and social change.
Covid-19 as catalyst for social ill-developments
It seems safe to say that the Corona crisis exposed existing social inequalities, and further exacerbated them. Covid-19 worked as a catalyst for social divisions and conflicts in all of the countries and regions from which the participants came from: those who belonged to the least socially privileged, have suffered most – worldwide and in every country; those who were struggling financially, socially or mentally before the crisis, now suffer even more so; those who were lonely before the Corona crisis, now feel even lonelier – many are struggling with the new routine of home office, the reality of “social distancing”, and the 24/7 virtual world.
Early data suggests that loneliness, alongside serious mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, has increased dramatically in this period. Other – equally worrisome – data suggests that domestic violence has increased as well. Irrespective of the size of living space or wider social-political contexts, it was clear well before the pandemic that if people or families are forced to spend all of their time at home together, there is a risk that things may escalate to physical violence. Some participants suggested that intra-family tensions and violence will continue to increase for as long as we live under these conditions.
Apart from domestic violence, we can witness in many countries – and particularly in Germany – an increased social and political polarization along the lines of two political camps; these are reflected in the public debate and (social and traditional) media: the anti-Corona demonstrators on the one hand, and the citizens dutifully supporting the governmental Corona measures on the other hand. Participants shared their feeling, that fear and anxiety are driving the current public debate around Corona in many European countries. While “conspiracy theories” are on the rise and in some countries more popular than others, all participants shared the worrying effects of the lockdown-restrictions on political activism in their countries. In some participants’ countries of origin, civil society has been struggling with shrinking spaces for political opposition and critical voices even before the Corona crisis. Some participants, especially from the Middle East and South Asia, described how these spaces have decreased even more, and political activism become even more dangerous during and after the first lockdown.
Covid-19 as an opportunity for personal and social change
Covid-19 functioned not only as a catalyst for social ill-developments. Some participants considered Covid-19 as an opportunity for personal and social change. Some people – particularly the more extrovert ones, who love socializing and mingling with others – may have not felt lonely before the epidemic, but are now confronted with a new social and emotional reality: No more sharing meals or celebrating with friends, no spontaneous trips to the cinema or weekend outings with the family. Most, if not all, social and business contacts have been maintained and cultivated virtually, and social media has become a loyal but demanding friend.
The seminar’s participants discussed how they were able to gain something new and positive from the Corona experience of isolation and loneliness, embracing the Corona crisis as a great opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and as a society. Many participants shared how they arranged virtual evening meals with family members, how lovers met for a virtual drink and friends for a daily online coffee catch-up. Participants stressed that creating these daily rituals and consciously nurturing friendships online helps people feel less alone and lonely. Some participants mentioned that these social distancing measures, home-office and lockdown led to increased hours on social media, and to strong emotions of annoyance, boredom and anxiety – but sometimes also invoked a critical self-reflection about life and work priorities.
Participants shared the ways in which they embraced the Corona crisis as a unique opportunity for personal and social change. They illustrated how they accepted and understood the Corona crisis as a welcomed – albeit imposed – break from the hectic hustle-and-bustle of their daily work and life routine. They recognized this time as a time for self-reflection and self-care, spending more quality time with their family members, learning new skills or new things about themselves. A handful of participants described how they dealt resiliently and constructively – and often with a great sense of humor – with being alone: Practicing mindfulness rituals and self-care, nurturing their social contacts online and using social media mindfully.
Although these seminars took place during the relatively-early days of the pandemic, it will be interesting to see how we – as a society – have further developed our inner capacities of resilience and defiance during the Corona crisis. This resilience might also foreshadow our ability to destigmatize loneliness and understand it as a complex, personal and social phenomena that affects all of us in one way or the other.
“We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat”’?
The seminar highlighted the differences and similarities in handling the Corona crisis, and raised questions regarding isolation, loneliness and lockdown. It also showed that our own privileges, solidarity and empathy have a great impact on how we experience the ongoing Corona crisis and its aftermath. Metaphorically speaking, being aware of one’s own privilege and sharing one’s own vulnerability will not change the direction and intensity of the storm, but it may offer an opportunity to build a bigger and safer boat – or to stay on land together.
(Dr. Cordula Reimann is a political scientist and conflict and peace researcher, as well as a facilitator, coach, trainer, activist and author [see www.corechange.ch and www.corechange-coaching.ch]. She has recently published her book about loneliness, titled “Das Alleinsein-Einsamkeit-Paradox”. This book brings interviews with over 150 people from around the world, alongside autobiographical reflections and underpinning international and interdisciplinary research. The book raises socio-critical and philosophical questions on how the issue of loneliness is currently being dealt with, and whose interests are thereby served.)
In an online workshop, we will create a safe space for professional staff of civil society organizations, volunteers, peacebuilding and human rights activists to discuss coping mechanisms and strategies on how to deal in these times of uncertainties, isolation and separation. Those challenges and implications include our professional and political work but also the mental health, well-being and safety of our staff and partners.
“Shrinking spaces for civil society in times of Corona”
Wednesday, February 3rd, 18:00 – 19:30 hours CET | 19:00 – 20:30 hours Palestine/Israel
“How to deal with uncertainty & isolation? Implications for political activism”
Wednesday, February 24th, 16:00 – 18:00 hours CET | 17:00 – 19:00 hours Palestine/Israel
Please register for the sessions via this form https://forms.gle/wHohEcxkag9Kzyz39. We are happy to have you for both the seminar and the workshop on zoom. You can also participate in one of the events as they will be independent of each other. If you have any questions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The political ideology of “Jewish diasporism”, as an intellectual tradition and a contemporary social movement, takes the form of a reclamation of diasporic cultural heritage, against the backdrop of Zionism’s “negation of exile” and the systematic erosion of diasporic Jewish cultures through the homogenization of Jewish national identity in Israel. One case of contemporary diasporism is the post-war Yiddish revival movement, which sought to revitalize secular Yiddish culture after the Holocaust and the assimilation of Ashkenazi Jews in North America and Israel. Especially today, Yiddish language, music and culture is witnessing a revival among younger generations of the diaspora, which has been characterized as “postvernacular” – a linguistic mode in which the secondary, symbolic meaning of a language is privileged over its primary usage as a vernacular language (Shandler, 2013). In this mode, art, poetry, instrumental music and song acquire a particular importance to express diasporic Jewish cultural identity. Moreover, the Yiddish revival movement should be considered in the larger context of the complex political dynamics of the Jewish diaspora: While the Yiddish culture movement is not explicitly driven by an opposition to Zionism, Yiddish language and culture has often taken on the function of the alter-ego to Zionist Jewish identity and the linguistic hegemony of modern Hebrew.
In her lecture, Isabel Frey investigated the links between Jewish diasporism and the contemporary Yiddish culture movement, and gave an overview of the academic debate over Jewish diasporism, as well as the use of the term in Jewish media and in social movements. She then examined the history of the Yiddish language and music revival, mapped contemporary “Yiddishland“, and ended with some open questions concerning the relationship between Israel and the diaspora, as well as the past and the future of Yiddish in Israel.
Isabel Frey is a PhD candidate in the structured doctoral program “Music matters”, and a Yiddish singer and cultural activist. She studied social sciences at Amsterdam University College and Medical Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. After returning to her hometown of Vienna, she began performing Yiddish revolutionary songs both in concerts and at political protests, continuing the tradition of Jewish activism for social justice.
Frey regularly writes essays on issues of Jewish identity and Yiddish music. In her research project, she combines her passion for Yiddish music with her background in new-materialist and material-semiotic theory and methodology.
The Willy Brandt Center is looking forward to welcome Isabel Frey for a series of concerts of Revolutionary Yiddish Music in 2021.
Facing the daily challenges of lockdowns and distancing, which forced us all to spend much more time at home than ever before, we wondered how to bring a bit of joy to our audience and to ourselves. One of the things that certainly unite us all is the curiosity to discover and enjoy new dishes. Recipes and cooking traditions are also a wonderful and most pleasant way to teach us about a region and its culture, unknown ingredients and about the people that create these dainty dishes. As we introduces this new project in the middle of the advent season, we decided to feature some local seasonal specials – and what could be a better start than to sneak into a bakery in Bethlehem in Christmas time, and to watch the making of some delicious colorful Christmas cookies.
Young Palestinian pâtissier Francis Abu Akleh was trained in Germany, Turkey, Palestine and Jordan, and opened his own baking studio in Bethlehem just recently. Despite all the obstacles of the Corona pandemic, his spectacular and tasty cake creations have already won a reputation in the region. For Saint Nicholas Day he invited the Willy Brandt Center for a sweet advent season special, and shared his recipe for savoury Christmas cookies.
Christians in the Holy Land traditionally celebrate the legend of Saint Barabara with a special dish. Muna Khleifi, a cultural manager living in Ramallah, invited us and our audience into her cozy kitchen and introduced us to the history of “Burbara”. We were also allowed to watch her produce this delicious vegan dessert.
Both cooking videos can be found on our Facebook page. Good luck and enjoy the wonderful flavours of the season!
‘But in the last resort, every shadow is also the child of light, and only those who have known the light and the dark, have seen war and peace, rise and fall, have truly lived their lives.’
― Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday
Through his masterwork The World of Yesterday, Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), a visionary and one of the first to identify as ‘European’, bequeathed to us the manifesto of a dream of the peaceful unification of different cultures. It was he who inspired us this year to undertake a contemporary literature project, a collection of texts by European, Israeli and Palestinian authors on the subject of ‘A World of Tomorrow’.
On November 28th, it was time to say: Happy Birthday Mr. Zweig! Stefan Zweig was one of the world’s most famous and introspective writers. We celebrated his birthday in an eight-hour online event with participants from Addis Ababa, Berlin, Jerusalem, Hohenems, London, Paris, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Vienna and Zurich. The event included dramatic readings of his texts, recitations of selected texts and reflections by writers that were inspired by Zweig, as well as musical performances. .
Where could have been a better place to celebrate Stefan Zweig than in his favorite place – a café? Due to the Corona guidelines, the only chance to open our café was to do it online. We were overwhelmed by the fact that so many guests from different countries and continents joined us, some staying with us for the whole time, from 2pm to 10.30pm. We chose the title “Café Europe” not only because Zweig was considered one of the “first Europeans”: In the early 1960’s there was once a legendary Café Europe in Al Zahra street in East Jerusalem, a cosmopolitan meeting place where people would meet at ‘tea time’, debate, read the news, hear live music, dance or listen to a storyteller. On the Israeli side too there was once a Café Europa that served in the 1920s and 1930s as a social and cultural meeting place for people of different backgrounds. It was situated on Kikar Zion which, to this today, is a bustling square in the center of West Jerusalem. Hence, this project was an attempt at a new, literary ‘Café Europa’ – a meeting place, an intellectual point of contact, a place of longing to which the words of our authors lead us.
We would like to thank all our online guests from near and far for their presence and curiosity, and to our wonderful actors, directors, musicians and writers who brought the spirit of Stefan Zweig to our Café Europe: Marwan Abado, Alex Ansky, Terhas Berhe, Guy Bracca, Timna Brauer, Avraham Burg, Joanna Castelli, Anna Goldenberg, Iman Hirbawi, Chris Laurence, Hanno Loewy, Rita Manning, Dimitrina Milenova, Hagar Mizrachi Dudinski, Peter Münch, Christian Manuel Oliveira, Mohammad Qutati, Julya Rabinowich, Doron Rabinovici, Nadine Sayegh, Michael Schiemer, Emmanuel Strosser and Sergio Wagner. Many thanks also to those who helped realizing this immense international project on a rather short notice: Mona Aipperspach, Ahmad Bakri, Christiane Boesiger, Markus Bugnyar, André Cazalet, Jonas Lamprecht, Olivier Tambosi, Astrid Wein, and the Austrian Cultural Forum Tel Aviv and the Jewish Museum Hohenems, as well as the inspirational locations of Café Mano Berlin, Café Triest Jerusalem, Garage Coffee Bar Ramallah, Café Korb Vienna and the Grand Café Odeon Zurich.
In days of nationwide lockdowns, when everybody has to face stagnation and distance, the Willy Brandt Center wanted to invite its friends and social media followers to be more aware of their body and to trigger health activities by connecting and moving together from a distance. We therefore organized two free online movement sessions for women with no previous movement experience required, on November 25th and December 16th. Every woman was able to participate in her own home, in a space of her choice. The sessions’ program recalled the moving body and examined new areas of movement through the prism of movement and dance therapy. Both sessions were facilitated by the Dance Movement Therapists Lior Darshan and Shaked Sabag.
On December 12th, Willy Brandt Center’s Social Art Program invited its participants to an online Red Lounge titled “Images, Projections and Media”. We set up three different sessions with speakers from the field of media, images and photography, who shared their work, mission and vision.
The event began with a session on New Social Online Journalism. Jala Abu Arab, a young dynamic editor in chief of Dooz –a new and highly popular media institution and training center located in the West Bank – introduced the innovative social multimedia news and exchange platform that focuses mainly on local topics. Abu Arab explained about Dooz’s fight for ethical reporting and against fake news, and presented their initiatives with the aim to give a strong and courageous voice to civil society and to focus on helping people, making positive changes and developing public spaces for debates and information.
In our second session, featuring Bauhaus architecture in Palestine, we welcomed Australian architectural photographer Mikaela Burstow, who has been based in Israel/Palestine for the past 11 years but regularly presents her work internationally in Berlin, Dubai, Tel Aviv, London and Sidney, as well as at festivals in Istanbul, Rotterdam, Nuremberg and Milano. Burstow gave insights into her work in the region and her artistic participation in several exhibitions, books and other political and historical projects. During her presentation, Burstow led us to discover impressive unknown architecture of the International Style in Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah and Tulkarem, and showed examples of contemporary architecture in Palestine that was inspired by it.
The event concluded with an online vernissage and talk with Hani Amra, an artist from the Palestinian diaspora who was born in French West Indies, grew up in Jerusalem and studied both literature and art in France. Guests of the vernissage had the chance to view pieces of his series titled “Under the Bird’s Wing”, including collages of historic and contemporary newspaper cuttings, and to learn about the philosophy and multilayered background of Amra’s artistic work.
Covid-19 made us creative once again: in order to show the sketches made by Florence Plissart, a painter and traveler born in Belgium, we came up with the first Pop-Up Exhibition in Abu Tor. With the support of Holy Local Aliens, we exhibited sketches from the Holy Land for two days at the front of our center, and invited visitors to participate in a workshop and get sketched.
Florence Plissart uses her drawings and paintings as a bridge connecting with others. Encounter, discovery and travel are the common thread in her artistic projects. Here she describes herself: “I’m not a Christian, not a Jew, not a Muslim. Neither an exchange student, NGO worker, theologist or archeologist… However, I lived mostly in Jerusalem for the past 21 months. We were brought here by my husband’s work, and felt strongly attracted by the intensity of the Holy City. Finding my place here has often been a struggle, since I belonged to no community. Two things eventually helped me to find my place: sketching the beauty of the city and its people, and meeting the Holy Local Aliens, an amazing community that brings people together beyond walls.”
The first pop-up exhibition in Abu Tor showed seven sets of sketches from Jerusalem, Acre, and the activities of Holy Local Aliens. Due to the current restrictions, the drawings were displayed on the wall along the street in front of the Willy Brandt Center. Around 100 visitors passed by during the two days, many of them from the neighborhood.
During both days, Plissart also sketched children from the neighborhood and the participants of the workshop that was organized by Holy Local Aliens.
The International Political Symposium “The World after American Presidential Elections 2020“ by our partners Seeds for Development and Culture took place on November 18th 2020 as a hybrid event. Approximately thirty participants gathered in Nablus, and over 125 additional participants joined online from all over the world. In three sessions, members of European Parliament, diplomats and academics discussed topics such as “The new US Administration and the Middle East“, “Challenges facing the international system after the elections“, and “The Palestinian question between two administrations“.
All inputs and discussions were translated to English and Arabic, thus allowing discussions between Palestinian and international participants. The second session, on challenges concerning the International System after the US Elections, that was held with Ambassador Majed Bamya, MEP Evin Incir, MEP Margrete Auken and Professor Jan Selby, was hosted and moderated by WBC’s project manager Tobias Pietsch.
Desperate times require creative measures: As we currently cannot invite artists to perform inside our center, we invited them to perform on our roof!
On October 29th, we proudly presented Sabrass, a newly founded chamber ensemble, formed by five of Israel’s leading brass musicians who are also members of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra: Itai Agmon (tuba), Tal Ben Rei (trombone), Itamar Leshem (french horn), Yigal Meltzer (trumpet) and Yuval Shapiro (trumpet). The artists proved a great sportive spirit and climbed up on our roof with their instruments to perform a unique classical music concert. Even though we weren’t able to welcome guests directly at our premises, music lovers had the chance to take a stroll while listening to the musicians on Ein Rogel Street or from one of the neighboring squares and streets surrounding our center. Our neighbors were also able to simply open their windows or take a seat on their balcony to enjoy pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Enrique Crespo, and George Gershwin, as well a selection of jazz songs. It was heartwarming for both musicians and organizers, to see children dancing on the roofs and to hear the sound of cheers and clapping that reached us from the houses and the streets around our center.
On the occasion of the International Artists Day on October 25th, the Willy Brandt Center wanted to highlight culture’s contributions to society in challenging times, and to celebrate all the ways in which artists bring their own special view to life.
We introduced the project “Jerusalem and Europe – Visions for a World of Tomorrow”, a collection of essays and short stories by writers and scholars from Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Europe, inspired by Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. Hanno Loewy, scolar, writer and director of the Jewish Museum in Hohenems, read his text “The Tale of the ‘Christian-Jewish Occident’”, which was part of this project. He also gave insights into an exhibition that has recently opened at the Jewish Museum Hohenems, titled “The Last Europeans” which.
Israeli bassoon player Nadav Cohen presented a premier broadcast of the piece “Four Character Pieces’ for bassoon solo, by the Jerusalem-based composer Sergiu Shapira. A prominent contributor to the local contemporary music scene, Cohen is a founding member and producer of the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet, and a member of the award-winning Meitar Ensemble, in which he also serves as a faculty member of the “Tedarim” program for contemporary music at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Cohen spoke to the audience about the challenging situation artists are facing during the Corona pandemic, and the many creative ways artists try to cope with it and reach out to their audience.
Following Cohen’s presentation, Johanna Lonsky, an Austrian cinema and theatre actress working for the BBC and ORF, read the text “Almost Staying” by Julya Rabinowich, which was also a part of the “Jerusalem and Europe – Visions for the World of Tomorrow” project, commissioned in cooperation with the Austrian Cultural Forum Tel Aviv. Lonsky called for solidarity among fellow artists, in order to support each other and to always be aware that we are in this situation together.
We were delighted to welcome an international audience to this event, among them the journalist Pamela Hickman who wrote on her concert critique blog: “Viewing the Willy Brandt Center’s event, one was reassured that the creative spirit is not easily repressed!”