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Featuring Gesher Alum. Ronit Cohen-Gluzberg

ronit cohen gluzberg


Ronit Cohen-Gluzberg was a participant on a Gesher Leadership course in 2015. Ronit is the director of Connect Jerusalem and is also a resident of the French Hill community in Jerusalem. In recent years, Haredim have been rapidly moving into the French Hill, creating a very diverse community. Unfortunately, neighborhood residents were not agreeing on many communal issues, making it extremely difficult to coexist.

Inspired by the Gesher Leadership Course, Ronit decided that she can implement change in her community. She created a forum for community dialogue between the secular, religious and Haredi residents with the goal of changing the community dialogue from one of power struggle to one of dialogue, understanding and compromise.  The steering committee of Haredi, religious and secular community leaders meet once a month to continue the positive dialogue and to discuss any issues that might come up.

Ronit’s program has been such a success in the French Hill, that the Jerusalem municipality is hoping to expand the program to other diverse communities in the city. Kol hakavod, Ronit!

Featuring Gesher Alumni: Bitia Malach and Shoshana Becker

Bitia Malach   Shoshana Becker

Shoshana Becker and Bitia Malach met each other on a Gesher Leadership training course in 2015. Shoshana worked for a tourism agency and specialized in creating organized trips to Israel for teens, university students, and adults from all over the globe. Bitia was the principal of a large ultra-Orthodox elementary community school for girls in Jerusalem.

While Shoshana is secular and Bitia is Haredi, the two connected immediately while on the Gesher course. As they were sitting one day during the delegation to New York, they realized that if they can develop a bond despite their differences, why couldn’t other females from different backgrounds do the same?

Shoshana and Bitia were immediately drawn to action. In conjunction with “Queen of the Desert” Tour company, Shoshana and Bitia planned an adventurous, international trip for 28 secular, religious and Haredi women to Georgia. For a week, the diverse group of women went hiking, rafting, biking and rock climbing and explored the beautiful Georgian landscapes. The shared adventure created a natural environment for the women from dramatically different backgrounds to engage in meaningful dialogue with each other. Strong relationships were made and many of the women are still in-touch!

This type of trip was so rare that when Channel 10 News caught wind, they asked to come along with a video camera and created a documentary. Aired on prime time television, the documentary was watched by 161,800 households!

Featuring Gesher Alumni: Raz Tamari and Yael Elimelech

raz tamariyael elimelech

Raz Tamari and Yael Elimelech met on a Gesher Leadership Institute course in 2014. Raz at the time was the director of the “Golden Care—Mediterranean” Medical Center for rehabilitation of chronic care and geriatric patients. Among other positions, Yael had served as a national training supervisor for Tzemech, an organization that promotes the employment of Haredi women.

It just so happened to be that while they were on the course, Raz was looking to fill a number of positions in his company and Yael was looking to find employment for some Haredi women. Raz and Yael decided to pool their areas of expertise and became the solutions to each other problems. They designed a program that successfully integrated 17 ultra-Orthodox women at the service and sales centers for the largest private health care provider in Israel! The shared work environment provided the employees an opportunity to relate to each other not as “Haredi” or “secular” but simply as co-workers. If it were not for the Gesher Leadership course, Raz and Yael would not have met and they would not have designed such a great program!

Featuring Gesher Alum. Dr. Hila David

hila david

Dr. Hila David is the director of Cultural Affairs for the Rishon LeTzion municipality. She is responsible for the arts education of the entire Rishon LeTzion municipal educational system.  She creates programming for kindergarten through 12th grade students who attend government, religious, and special education schools.

Inspired by the ideals of Jewish unity and dialogue espoused by the Gesher Leadership Institute course in 2014, Hila decided to use the arts as a means to create shared cultural experiences, dialogue, and positive interactions among school age kids from across the religious spectrum. She galvanized the principals, teachers, and program directors of approximately 70 religious and secular schools in the Rishon LeTzion municipality to bring their students to joint programming. For three years now, Hila has planned and executed a variety of cultural and artistic events that have reached over 30,000 students per year! One of these programs include a pre-Yom Kippur song and poem event that 3,000 students attended. These kinds of joint programs help kids understand that, despite their differences, they share a fundamental national bond. If it were not for Hila, these students would be consuming cultural events separately, with no exposure to other types of Jews. Kol Hakavod, Hila!

Gesher Alumnus, Mayor Gil Livne, Gives Speech on Yom Hashoah

By: Gil Livne, Mayor of Shoham

April 24, 2017


gil livne

The journey of our people – the Jewish people – has been long and tortuous, fraught with challenges and difficulties, a long journey that has passed through years of slavery to freedom, from holocaust to rebirth, from wandering to settling a home and country.

Almost eighty years have passed since the Holocaust of the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, which came shortly after, will soon mark its 70th anniversary.

On these days, between the Festival of Freedom, the Memorial Day for the Fallen of the Holocaust, the Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers, and until Independence Day, I ask myself – and in fact all of us – difficult questions.

After after six million Jews were murdered in World War II the Jews were on the brink of distinction. Yet out of the inferno and the shock arose the State of Israel, which continues to grow and develop from year to year.

Diaspora Jewry, on the other hand, has been struggling for years with assimilation, a threat that endangers its very existence. Within two or three generations, the Jews of the world, including the Jews of the US (ironically six million) are expected to shrink in half, not because of adversity or by the hands of an enemy, but out of choice.

Each year we repeat with astonishment stories of how during the Holocaust the Jews fought not only for a slice of bread or for places to hide, but also for lighting Shabbat candles; They guarded not only their children but also Torah scrolls; They struggled to live and to preserve their Jewishness.

The late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, spoke about his family during the ceremony “Every man has a name” on Holocaust Martyrs ‘and Heroes’ Remembrance Day in 2011:

“In memory of the members of my family who were massacred with their 2,060 community members in the town of Vishneiba in August 1942 by the Nazis and their local henchmen who rounded up the inhabitants of a synagogue made of wood and brutally burned them to their deaths. My grandmother Rivka Melzer, and my grandfather Zvi Melzer – my teacher and rabbi, as we were saying our goodbyes at the train station on my way to Eretz Israel, said three words to me: ‘Be a Jew!’ ”

And now, seventy years later, the future generation of the Jewish people, not out of persecution or manifestations of anti-Semitism, but out of choice, are disengaging from their roots, heritage and history.

We frequently say that there will never be a second holocaust because we have a strong and independent state with resources and a powerful army that can save any Jew at any time and any place.

But even an army, strong as ours may be, cannot save a young Jew who does not remember nor is not aware of his heritage.

How do you save someone who might not want to be saved?

And perhaps this is the most penetrating question of all – how much do we care to be Jews in this millennium, when only eighty years ago Jews did everything in their power to preserve their lives and their Jewish identity?

Judaism is not just a religion. It’s a historical narrative, a national diary with roots planted thousands of years ago. Its foundations in our time are the Holocaust and the Zionist enterprise, and to this, I hope, we all connect.

Israeli Jewish Zionist identity is the basis of our strong relationship with Diaspora Jewry. They are there for us, and we have to be there for them.

Our role as a nation living in the State of Israel, in the home of the Jewish people, is to bring Diaspora Jewry closer, to embrace, to connect, to bridge the gaps – and, above all, to be a model of moral esteem and national pride.

I believe that in memory of the six million who perished in the Holocaust, as well as the memory of the tens of thousands of martyrs who have since been killed in the wars to ensure Israel’s independence, we have a moral duty- a personal and national responsibility to the continuity of the Jewish chain.

And in two words – be Jews!

May the memory of the victims of the Holocaust be blessed.

Gesher Helps Soldiers Deal With Sunday’s Attack

By: Asaf Adler

January 12, 2017

As Gesher’s Director of Education, I would like to share a little about this tragic week in Israel, which in turn led to a humbling week for us at Gesher. As you likely know, there was a horrible terrorist attack this past Sunday at the Tayelet Promenade. An Arab truck driver ran over a group of soldiers, killing four and injuring many more.

The group of soldiers at the attack are in the midst of their sixteen-week training course to become commanders. That day, they were beginning their “Education Week” a crucial part of every commander’s training. The soldiers were planning to continue onto a base near Jerusalem, where they would spend the rest of the week with Gesher facilitators, partaking in Gesher’s IDF Commander’s Course.

Our coordinator for the Commanders course, Shlomit, spent Sunday morning and the rest of the day texting Yael, our logistics contact for the platoon.  When Yael did not answer any of Shlomit’s texts, we knew something went terribly wrong.

Yael Yekutiel was one of the four soldiers killed on Sunday. She was a soldier serving in the IDF’s Education Corps and was Gesher’s interface for our Commanders Course.  Yehi zichra baruch; may her memory be a blessing.

On Monday, the Gesher programming for the group was cancelled so that the soldiers could attend the funerals of their comrades. That night, I received a phone call from a high-level soldier in the Education Corps. He shared their urgent need for Gesher, this week more than ever, to help these teens recover from the trauma. We were in a unique position to fill this role while helping the platoon to continue their everyday routine (crucial for moral). We spent Monday gathering our best and most experienced facilitators while preparing our programming for the following day.

On Tuesday, we met with the entire platoon of 220 cadets, sixty percent of whom were at the scene of the attack just two days earlier. This specific group of soldiers are from non-combat units. For most of them, this was their first experience with blood. On Thursday, our facilitators went to their base near Mitzpeh Ramon in order to continue the Gesher programming. Our meaningful activities and dialogue gave a framework for the soldiers to mourn on the one hand, while on the other hand, continue their everyday lives. We hope that we helped the soldiers through the trauma and encouraged them to continue with their training course.

We are truly humbled to have played a role in the unit’s recovery. This week, our IDF officer’s training course took on a whole new meaning.


They are Making a Grave Mistake

By Rabbi Menachem Bombach

November 12, 2016

menachem bombach

During our thousands of years of exile, the secret to the magic of Judaism stemmed from one thing — differences of opinion. Jews first and foremost disagree. It is only due to this collective trait, that we have survived multiple challenges through the ages. Ironically, disputes and disagreements are what enabled us, even in the toughest of times, to retain our inner vigor and vivaciousness and to be absolutely clear as to the path we should take. Disagreement is the lifeblood of the Jewish people.

How is that possible? We never settled at disagreement alone. We always argued our positions, we put down on paper our diverse opinions and we strove to clarify them getting closer to the truth. For time immemorial, Jews argued amongst themselves about how they understand and interpret the Torah. It’s because of this that we today have merited such a wide network of beautiful and elaborate halakhic traditions and different commentaries and explanations of the Torah that broaden our intellect. Jews also argued with the ideas and cultures surrounding them. This is how our predecessors of the Middle Ages bequeathed us dozens of sefarim on Jewish philosophy and thought. One can also contend that the initial and painful struggle between the Hasidim and Mitnagdim caused each group to deepen and sharpen their own philosophy and find sources for many of their minhagim.

Last night, Jews resorted to violence and threats directed at my family and me for the sole reason that they disagree with my methods of education. Last night, at precisely 3:27AM, two Jews who were dressed as very religious looking Jews chose methods of intimidation and threats just because I serve Hashem in a slightly different way to them. I still do not know their identities and whether they were acting on behalf of someone else and therefore I can only address them in public:

First, I want to tell you – I deeply respect that you may think differently than me. I am constantly trying to navigate Hashem’s world and regularly thank Him for the great diversity that He bestowed upon us, for the landscape, for the wonderful world of nature and for all the different types of human beings and their many faces and diverse opinions. In addition, I am a firm believer that precisely to serve our Creator, we must each walk in the way in which our conscience guides us as this is the role for which we were destined.

Secondly, I urge you not to abandon your beliefs, but rather the opposite, allow them space and room for expression. I would more than welcome the opportunity to engage in a serious and substantive discussion on the topic of how best to educate our children – about the challenges facing the teachers of our forefather’s tradition, about the obstacles we all constantly encounter and the most successful ways to deal with them. On the contrary, I would be happy if you challenge me, to make me work harder to prove my ways, to try to elucidate them even more clearly.

Both my points above require me to tell you very pointedly that according to the way I understand our holy Torah, you are committing a grave mistake. Even if your intentions are for Heaven’s sake (l’shem shamayim), your actions are wrong and bad. I urge you to open up your eyes and pay attention to the fact that you are disgracing and embarrassing the name of God, are sinning when it comes to biblical mitzvoth between man and his fellow man, but more importantly, there is zero chance that by following this path, you will achieve your goals. Because even if every single morning I must wake up to my locks being glued shut or to puddles of tar thrown on my floor, I can only relate to these as tests that I am forced to pass in order fulfill my task in this world.

Even if I will not have the opportunity to carry out a debate for Heaven’s sake with those who think differently than me, I will continue to remember that the faces of the G-d fearing Haredi community to which I belong, are multifaceted and diverse and comprised of many, many different people. I will continue with even more resolve to expand the educational projects to which I dedicate my time and attention. I will do all in my power to realize our vision for our graduates to become talmidei chachamim, full of yirat shamayim and men of knowledge and intellect. I will charge my students wherever they are, to exhibit responsibility to all parts of the Haredi community, to identify with it and to contribute to it with all their might.

In conclusion, I owe thanks and blessings to all those who offered their support, encouragement and desire to strengthen the institutions of Torah and service of Hashem through their words, deeds and financial resources. Those circles of supporters, whose numbers grow daily, of quiet yet determined individuals who enable us to continue to adhere to the holy work of educating Jewish children. I know that we are all brothers. There is more that unites us than divides us. And I hope that there will come a day that we abandon the ways of brute force, fear mongering and intimidation to return to the tradition of our ancestors of using the power of disagreement and argument to help spread the word of Torah and make it great.

Rabbi Menachem Bombach, a graduate of the Gesher Leadership Institute and a member of its steering committee, is the Founder and Director of the “Hasidic Midarsha for Boys” in Beitar Illit. He is also a member of the faculty at the Mandel Program for Leadership Development in the Haredi community. He has an M.Ed. in Public Policy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Following the Suicide of Esty Weinstein

By Michal Prince, Gesher Leadership Course 2015

June 30, 2016

michal prince

In the past week we have dealt with analyzing every detail in the life of a woman who was anonymous until a week ago.  We scrutinized the personal, family, and social causes that caused her to take the most awful step.  We go back and forth, at one point accusing the society in which she was raised, her daughters who cut off contact with her and then we immediately turn to the woman herself who did not find the strength to cope and took her own life.

Then we moved to a broader discussion of Haredi society, all aspects of freedom of choice, loss, and community responsibility.  No one is free from criticism.  Everyone is to blame. Those who did not enable and those who did not see.

Enough already.

Enough with investigating the stories in general terms.  Stop speaking about them and us.  And it makes no difference which side ‘we’ are on.  Here is a tragedy that we all have to learn from, to listen to it, to give it some space. It touches upon matters that we all understand and can identify with—motherhood, family, community, religion, and choice.  There is no one who is responsible for what happened and but at the same time we all have the responsibility to stop and think about our part.

The time has come to learn how to listen to the individual.  To give him a place.  To listen to his story and read between the lines.  Living in the society in which she was raised was difficult for this woman, she chose how to live and she chose how to die. We have to listen and ask tough questions but we cannot forget the other who found this place to be a home, protection, and faith. Let us listen to her as well.

When we can listen to everyone’s story, then something will happen, something will touch us and change.

Unfortunately we live in an imaginary world where someone else tells others our story.  We have one perception of a Haredi woman, a settler woman, and a secular woman and this story falls into this world of preconceptions and fulfills all the hackneyed media stereotypes.

Our responsibility is to transform the imaginary woman into a real one.  To clean and do away with the mask of smoke and alienation and let a person pierce our armor.  We do not have the ability to change Haredi society or secular society for that matter (and I for one want to change neither of them) but, we do have the power to turn individuals into people who are seen and heard, and maybe even into friends to whom we can extend a hand before the worst occurs…