A day to connect

Come as you are to events around Jerusalem for this year’s Unity Day on June 1.

Mayor Nir Barkat (second from right) with the parents of the three murdered yeshiva students (photo credit: PR)
Mayor Nir Barkat (second from right) with the parents of the three murdered yeshiva students
(photo credit: PR)
"I’m looking forward to watching my social media feed fill up with pictures from Jewish communities around the world making the statement that unity is important,” says Gila Brill, director of international initiatives of the Jerusalem Unity Prize organization.
Jerusalem Unity Prize is hosting the second annual Unity Day “To earmark one day to consciously consider deriving strength from our wholeness, our uniting across labels, across compartments and across communities. Unity of the Jewish people depends upon a daily, practiced, behavioral investment,” according to the mission statement.
The Jerusalem Unity Prize was created in June 2014 when yeshiva students Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, were kidnapped, a tragic event that became the catalyst for Operation Protective Edge. For 18 days since the boys’ disappearance, the Jewish world held its breath and waited for them to be returned. On June 30, the IDF discovered the boys’ bodies in a field northwest of Hebron. Members of Hamas had murdered them shortly after the abduction.
The entire Jewish world worried together; and after the tragic news, it grieved together. The boys’ families received letters, messages, videos, calls and cards of solidarity and condolence from Jews from every part of the globe. For 18 days, the Jewish world was united.
“Those 18 days were filled with the darkest hours but also amazing hours. I spoke to people in Cape Town, Kathmandu, Australia, North America and Europe. People all over were saying, ‘These are not just your boys; these are our children.’ This unity is no illusion.
This is who we are. We are part of a people. One family. We went out searching for the boys, and we discovered ourselves,” said Racheli Fraenkel, mother of Naftali.
Inspired by the sense of unity that engulfed the Jewish world at the time of the kidnapping, the Unity Prize was created by Mayor Nir Barkat and awarded to those who inspire mutual respect and tolerance throughout the Jewish world and dedicate their lives to maintaining the feeling of unity in their own communities.
“When Mayor Barkat visited each of the three families during the shiva, he came up with the idea to create the Jerusalem Unity Prize, an award of NIS 300,000 to Jews that work to forward Jewish unity in Israel and abroad. The goal of the prize is to inspire action,” says Brill.
Barkat reached out to the Gesher Organizational Nonprofit to combine efforts for the international prize. The organization works to bridge the religious gaps of the Israeli Jewish community, thus it is the natural home for the prize. Since then, the prize has evolved from an award that inspires action to a whole day of taking action.
This year, Unity Day is taking place on June 1 in Israel and throughout the Jewish world in the form of a parade, dialogue tent and school curricula. More than 600 partners will participate in Israel, such as the Education Ministry, the Social Equality Ministry and the IDF, as well as numerous community centers and schools.
Some 800,000 people will participate here.
Abroad, communities will hold events to bring Unity curricula to Hebrew schools. Cities are hosting fun happenings that foster Jewish and Israeli culture appreciation and pride to the communities.
In Melbourne there will be a night market, and in Johannesburg a unity tent. In New York on June 5, there will be a parade and a day of festivities. The Fraenkel and Shaer families will go to New York to take part in the parade and the Jewish Unity Festival.
In the global community, the most anticipated event, in Brill’s words, is “an event in Florida under the auspices of the South Palm Beach Jewish Federation, created by Rabbi Josh Broide. Last year when were recruiting partners for the first Unity Day, he got together 800 people in 10 days. This year he’s getting together 2,500.
Throughout the year, everything he does brings all the denominations of the community in Florida together. They acknowledge the differences in religion and how they live their lives. But everyone comes together, works together, and that makes a strong community. Everyone is able to unite over their shared core values.”
Broide has netted a free event for the community, including a stage graced by representatives from the different synagogues in Palm Beach. There will also be music, and the Shaer family will be the guests of honor.
In Israel, the pinnacle of Unity Day will be the award ceremony at the President’s residence.
To be eligible for the prize, a candidate must influence unity on three levels of community: local, national and global. There must be evidence of change in each candidate’s programs, and no new programs are considered for the award due to lack of evidence. On the docket this year are several programs. Some involve sports as a medium to bring people together, and some involve inter-school dialogue.
Two youth movements with ideological differences – Bnei Akiva and Hanoar Haoved V’Halomed – do activities together to foster understanding between the two communities of schoolchildren.
There are also schools that reach across not only Jewish divides but also country divides. The Global School Twinning Network, a partnership unit of the Jewish Agency, pairs schools in Israel with schools in the Diaspora. They bridge gaps via Skype and have a year-long curriculum.
As the Unity Prize Day website states, “The Jewish People are multicolored, multifaceted and come in every shape, size, language, nationality, political leaning and temperament. That diversity is our strength, and a strength that we actualize only when we respect and accept that we are not the same – and that we are all the better for it.”

For more information on events near you: unityprize.org