In Jerusalem, Double Yerushalmi is a local organization attempting to build closer relationships between Arabs and Jews through cultural activities, and in the past six months, have been doing this through shesh besh – the local name for backgammon.
Backgammon dates back 5,000 years to the ancient Iraqi city of Ur, and is a mainstay in the Middle East. Along with Cairo, Istanbul, Casablanca and Damascus, Jerusalem has been a central city for playing the beloved game for centuries.
Double Yerushalmi has recently organized six backgammon gatherings — half in Arab neighborhoods, half in Jewish ones — with the popularity growing. Zaki Djemal, an Israeli of Syrian Jewish descent, is one of the organizers and says that “[Jerusalem] is segregated in many ways, so we wanted to create some crossover between neighborhoods. Politics is not at the center of this, but it’s around.”
“You want to win, but it’s friendly too,” says Karem Joubran, a 27-year-old from Shuafat camp, a Palestinian refugee neighborhood in north Jerusalem. Despite having to go through checkpoints to get to the event, Kareem says that it’s worth it. “It’s good, to bring people together.” Binny Zupnick, 22, who moved to Israel from New York adds: “There aren’t many mediums to meet people from the other side of the fence.”