“Stuck at home? Great time to meet a family different than yours.”
This Facebook message posted on Gesher’s page a couple of weeks ago inviting families to participate in one of their programs, seems to have struck a chord.
With all of Israel asked to remain secluded in their own homes, many are obviously focused on preventing a health crisis. But Gesher, an organization focused on building bridges between the different sectors in Israeli society sensed an opportunity to further its mission of creating a cohesive society even as families remain in their homes. “Our core business is in breaking down barriers and shattering stereotypes between religious and secular Israelis through facilitated face to face meetings” said JJ Sussman, Gesher’s International Director, “with quarantines and other guidelines in place, we not only were forced to get creative, but we sensed an opportunity.”
Shortly after the initial spread of Corona in Israel, Gesher’s Education Department launched an innovative initiative inviting families stuck in their homes to sign up for a session to “get to know” a family different than they are. Already by the week just prior to Pessach, every night’s slots for meetings filled up quickly. Each online Zoom meeting paired a religious family with a secular family in a ninety minute session using the tried and true methods honed through years of use and practice all facilitated by one of Gesher’s professional facilitators.
“The advantage of this format is that for the first time, instead of running our program in schools or in the IDF with just one age group, through this format, we have entire families meet one another” said Alon Ziv, Gesher’s head of education, “This creates an incredible opportunity to change preconceived notions. Just last week in one of the sessions I facilitated, we had a Haredi family from Kfar Chabad and a secular family from Jerusalem. In everyday life, these two families would never meet one another. Of course it’s only a drop in the bucket, but with more and more drops like these, we can create a revolution!”
As was evident just last week in the discussion around the prevalence of Corona in Haredi cities like Bnei Brak, the current health crisis has the chance to quickly spiral into a societal crisis between the different sectors in Israeli society and ignite tensions that would negatively impact some already fragile relationships. While many are focused on the health ramifications and supplying food to those in need, Israel can’t afford to ignore the potential societal rifts that may arise from this national crisis.