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Rolling Dice for Coexistence: Jerusalem Backgammon Tourney Brings Arabs, Jews Together

A Jerusalem backgammon tournament that brought hundreds of Jews and Arabs together was hailed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “a beautiful symbol of coexistence.”

David Horovitz, founder editor of The Times of Israel, described what happened leading up to Thursday’s finale for 25,000 NIS (nearly $7,000) in prize money.

For much of the past year, at a range of venues across this strained mosaic of a city, about 500 Jews, Christians, Muslims and who knows who else have been playing in qualifying tournaments — in the garages of Talpiot, in the YMCA, all over the Old City, in Jewish and Arab neighborhoods — bidding to secure a place in Thursday night’s final event.

The tournament was the idea of a group called Double Yerushalmi, which is working to develop closer ties between Jerusalem’s Jews and Arabs through cultural events. Funding for the tournament was provided by the Jerusalem Foundation, the government’s Jerusalem Development Authority, City Hall, and others.

On Thursday there were 32 finalists including Jerusalem Arabs, and a garage owner from Ramle. There were also two former champions, a Russian-born Israeli-raised player called “Felafel” who was once the top-ranked backgammon player in the world, and other was Masayuki “Mochy” Mochizuki, the 2009 World Backgammon Champion.

Horovitz described the crowd rooting on the contenders:

The 32 finalists were an overwhelmingly male, Sephardi and Arab bunch. The crowds were more diverse — lots of spouses and kids, shouting in Arabic and Hebrew for their loved ones or for the underdogs, and hundreds of fans and curious onlookers. Adi Suchovolsky, the only woman to make the later stages, was cheered all the way to quarter-final victory. And there were near universal groans when she was defeated by Gadi Carmeli in the semi-finals.

While the qualifying rounds were decided by the results of best-of-three play, after three hours, the championship between Gadi Carmeli and Itzik Yakobovitch was determined by a single game. Though the two finalists had discussed splitting the prize, the organizers insisted that the prize would go only to the winner.

Carmeli eked out a narrow win to take the prize and the title.

“I love the motive behind this event,” Mochi, the Japanese champion commented. “It’s using backgammon to bring people together, which is wonderful. It’s very good for backgammon. And I get to see all my friends in Tel Aviv” — some of whom, he observed, he had met when he previously visited Israel.

Zaki Djemel, one of the organizers of Double Yerushalmi, explained earlier this year that the goal of the tournament was “to create some crossover between neighborhoods” that don’t normally interact. Djemal also expressed hope that the Jerusalem tournament could lead to a regional Mediterranean tournament later this year and include participants from Europe, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan.

[Photo: סרטים דוקומנטריים חברתיים – dostories365 / YouTube ]