Hangout Bridges 2016.
(photo credit: screenshot)
“On this day we strive for equality, to dream and to educate for peace, dialogue and the prevention of racism,” former president Shimon Peres said on Wednesday to a crowd of some 600 Jewish and Arab youth, at the closing ceremony of the Bridges to Peace project in Petah Tikva.
“In order to be great, you do not need a long sword, but unity and dialogue between us. You will be the future leaders of tomorrow – don’t be afraid to take chances, to be curious and to dream big,” he told the youth.
Bridges to Peace, a joint initiative of the Peres Center for Peace, Google and the ORT school network, aims to bridge gaps in Israeli society through technology. Using Google Hangouts, youth from different sectors of society engage in online conversations getting to know one another. In addition, each Hangout group works together on a joint project, which they develop and implement.
After a series of initial online meetings where they learn about each other’s daily lives, the youth met face-to-face at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa to fully break down barriers.
The program, which has connected thousands of students, aims to create a dialogue between youth who would otherwise not meet and help build lasting bridges between their communities.
The closing ceremony was aptly set for Unity Day, now in its second year, which aims to foster connections and promote tolerance in the memory of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah – the three Israeli teens whose kidnapping and murder by Hamas sparked the 2014 Gaza war.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett told the youth that they are the “example of coexistence. The wonderful thing that you are doing here today is our future. Let’s continue to talk about what is shared rather than what is different,” he said.
Regarding Unity Day, Bennett said: “I ask you, I ask each one of you, not to let racism rear its head.
We are all family; we are all brothers and sisters. We, in the Knesset must learn from you what is real unity.”
The education system also marked Unity Day on Wednesday as students throughout the country from all sectors of society took part in dialogues.
Zvika Peleg, head of ORT Israel, added: “Implementing the values of love and giving are the basis of education work. It is our duty to worry about the strength of Israeli society and this is done by building a bridge from one to another and this goal is fulfilled by this wonderful project.”
“We all have faith in our ability for coexistence, while maintaining one’s [sense of] self and beliefs,” he said.