Israeli Religious and Secular Leaders Travel Abroad with Gesher to Reconcile Differences

A new project gathering Israeli leaders from ultra-Orthodox, secular and religious communities headed by Gesher is making headway in healing Israel’s religious divide.

The Gesher Leadership Course, which selects 20 up-and-coming Israeli influencers in their 30’s and 40’s, has just returned from 5 days in London, England where their delegates confronted many of Israel’s internal challenges, learned from Diaspora models of community and leadership, and strengthened ties between Israel and the Diaspora.

“We are seeing partnerships forming before our eyes that were inconceivable only a few months ago.” Remarked Ilan Geal-Dor, Gesher’s CEO, who traveled with the group. “We have a mix ranging from ultra-Orthodox rabbis to IDF leaders, national media professionals and everything in between. The group has overcome stereotypes to form meaningful relationships and are now working practically to change the situation around them.”

Gesher, which means bridge in Hebrew, brings secular and religious Israelis together for educational seminars, conflict resolution and leadership training to close the gaps between different segments of Israeli society, strengthen Jewish identity, and promote Jewish unity.

“A recent poll found that 64% of Israelis view tension between the ultra-Orthodox and secular as one of their greatest domestic threats. Creating leaders who will change the facts on the ground and build positive relationships is essential to a stable Israel and strong Jewish future.” commented Yoni Sherizen, who helped design the program.

The Course began with a six month program gathering a diverse range of community leaders, during which participants engage in active dialogue, sharpen their leadership skills and gain knowledge about the populations represented within the group. After the initial six months, participants create practical projects that bridge communities – transforming these lessons into projects within their own areas of specialty and increasing tolerance and understanding among different factions of Israeli society.

Results from the initiative are so successful that Gesher is now creating another course specifically geared for media professionals and is raising capital for an incubator fund that will invest in shared ideas from graduates of its leadership courses and help them create practical projects to change on the ground.

Hope is in the air, and it is followed by determination. Yael Kimche, a member of the course, stated emphatically upon her return from London: “I’ve come away with a great sense of personal responsibility. If I do not advance dialogue and partnership between sectors of the Jewish People, it simply won’t happen. This course is a powerful way of making that happen – of uniting people with real ability and desire to create change.”