PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (third and fourth from left) pose with winners of the second annual Jerusalem Unity Prize awards at the President’s Residence last night..
(photo credit: GPO)
Two years ago, after teenage yeshiva students Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah were kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists, the nation held its breath in hope and fear.
For 18 days, the families of the boys and the nation as a whole lived in uncertainty. The boys became not only the sons of their parents, but the sons of the nation. Unfortunately, the prayers were to no avail.
When Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat paid condolence calls and talked about memorializing the three, what came to mind was a unity prize. He had never experienced such powerful and positive unity and compassion as that which engulfed the nation, he said on Wednesday at the second annual Unity Prize awards ceremony at the President’s Residence.
It was something he wanted to preserve and enhance, he said, because it was vital to the existence of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
The families agreed, and the Gesher Movement, which encourages dialogue and bridges gaps between the secular and religious sectors of Israeli society, willingly became a partner.
Recalling those 18 days, President Reuven Rivlin said Israel had one common heart beat.
Later, there was the challenge of how to ensure that unity was maintained. The Unity Prize was in his view a perfect solution, and Rivlin urged that while Unity Day has become a high point in the calendar for many, “it should not be left to stand alone, disconnected from the rest of the year.”
The president said he wants to see it as part of everyday life in which people will make an effort to understand and accept each other and work together for the common good.
It was the common denominator for this year’s winners: • The Hapoel Jerusalem soccer team, which practices community outreach on a daily basis, brings boys and girls, Jewish and Arab children as well as children with special needs together on the soccer field. Hapoel also helps to teach immigrant children Hebrew and encourages children to think of themselves as “the other” which will make them more tolerant of people of other faiths, nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
• The global schools twinning project, an initiative of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Together, connects students in Israeli schools with their peers abroad, so much so that one boy who was part of the project abroad came to Israel, joined the IDF, and was wounded fighting in Operation Protective Edge. When he woke up in the hospital, he was surrounded by well wishers, including his adoptive family and all the students with whom he had corresponded.
• Kesher Yehudi (The Jewish Connection), which brings secular and religious Jews together to dialogue and study and to bridge gaps through mutual understanding.
• Bnei Akiva and Hanoar Ha’oved Vehalomed (Working and Student Youth) and Dror.
Bnei Akiva is a religious, rightof- center youth movement, whereas the other two are secular, left-of-center movements.
But in searching for common ground they have learned to enter each other’s worlds while still preserving their own world views.
Bat Galim Shaer, the mother of Gil-Ad, speaking on behalf of the three families, said when she closed her eyes, she could imagine Gil-Ad looking down from heaven and smiling at what he and the other two boys had generated. Emphasizing the value of unity, she said she looked forward the day when one and one would not make two, but would make one big one.
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