By Ayala Young
In the 18 days between the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Sha’ar, and Naftali Fraenkel and the revelation of their untimely deaths, an unprecedented wave of heightened solidarity overtook Jews in Israel and around the world.
The #BringBackOurBoys campaign, the leading social media and activism campaign behind the solidarity efforts, took on a life of its own and generated numerous rallies, charities and learning initiatives aimed at easing the pain of the boys’ families and the nation at large.
Upon hearing that the boys had been murdered, the ongoing “rescue” efforts came to a screeching halt. There was a sense of emptiness and helplessness that left Jews everywhere wanting to “do something” to help.
“We realized that despite the harrowing events of those first few weeks, we were witnessing something special and unprecedented in terms of Jewish unity, the boys gave us an incredible gift,” said Yoni Sherizen, the Director of Resource and Program Development at Gesher. “We didn’t want that to disappear. We had to provide an outlet for that energy.”
In the days that followed, Gesher (www.gesherusa.org), a nonprofit organization that works to bridge the gaps between different segments of Israeli society, launched the #StrongerTogether campaign, a social media-based effort that aimed to transform those feelings of unity into a lasting reality.
“This is the mission that Gesher has been pursuing for the last forty years, because the greatest challenge that our generation faces today are feelings of divisions between Jews. We wanted to create something simple and easy to share that would harness the feelings of unity and outlast this crisis,” Yoni explained.
As the war in Gaza intensified, the #StrongerTogether Facebook page became the perfect platform to rally support from Jews around the world for IDF soldiers on the front lines and Israeli families living under fire from Gaza. And from there, #StrongerTogether took off. Thousands of Facebook users turned to #StrongerTogether for informative and comprehensive lists of initiatives and projects to give back both in Israel and abroad.
“Every two or three days we would update our ‘How You Can Help’ list which would be viewed and shared by thousands of people all over the world. It was clear that people ascribed to the #StrongerTogether ideology and really wanted to do their share,” said Sherizen.
The page also became a place to share English- and Hebrew-language posts about successful initiatives and positive stories of unity during the war. “There were pictures of thousands of people attending the funerals of lone soldiers and articles about Haredim canceling their summer plans to study in the merit of the war effort. Each post was more inspiring than the last,” added Sherizen.
Gesher is uniquely positioned to carry this message of unity forward following the war, with the ability to influence Jews of all backgrounds in Israel and around the world. Their innovative programs impact communities and the public at large with Jewish values and culture and by advancing an inclusive vision of Judaism.
Over the next five years, Gesher’s activities will focus on numerous community building and gap-bridging initiatives, including enlisting ultra-Orthodox, secular and religious community leaders to mediate local conflicts, building lasting trust and creating long-term partnerships between key communities in Israel; recruiting promising leaders in their 30s and 40s to promote Jewish identity and unity programming in their communities; and training every one of the 6,000 soldiers chosen for the Officer’s Training Course each year to ensure they develop shared values and the skills to serve as role models for their troops and as future civilian leaders.
Additionally, Gesher Secular-Religious Seminars and Jewish Identity Study Days will remain a mainstay of the organization’s high-impact programming. These 2-4 day seminars motivate over 5,000 young Israelis of different backgrounds each year to confront their differences and sharpen their identities, inspiring activism to build a strong and shared future for Israel.
“As highlighted by our #StrongerTogether campaign, there is nothing quite like the ‘power of together.’ Gesher will continue to promote the vision of setting aside our differences to focus on building a bright Jewish future for all of us, in Israel and beyond,” said Sherizen. “It’s the lasting legacy that Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali deserve. It’s the future we have always pined for – and it is within reach.”