Backgammon (“Shesh-Besh” in this part of the world) is thousands of years old and remains a popular pastime among Arabs and Jews. There is even a tournament held annually in Jerusalem’s Old City. Held for the first time in 2016, the “Jerusalem Double” event aims to “tear down walls.”
Shesh-Besh is just the right tool for this purpose, as the game has been played in the Middle East for as long as there have been humans. Neither Jews nor Arabs can claim it as the game seems to predate both cultures.
The enthusiasm of the participants, who come from all parts of Israeli society, is correspondingly high. There are walls not only between Jews and Arabs, but also between the secular and the religious, between the young and the old, and between the citizens of the capital and rural areas. All of these communities are represented at the Jerusalem Double, traveling from across the country to take home 25,000 shekels as the winner.
This game, which can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, really breaks down walls as you can’t help but exchange a few words while pondering your next move and sipping your Turkish coffee.
In Shesh-Besh, maneuvering pieces across the board is all about strategy, but since dice are involved, there’s also a good deal of luck. That doesn’t bother the players in this religious region. It may even be that there is more prayer at this tournament than in some synagogues or mosques.
A tournament where people come together and shake hands after playing is a symbolism that is urgently needed in today’s rushed world.
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