Conflict between mainstream and ultra-Orthodox (Hareidi) communities remains one of the greatest sources of social and religious tension in Israel, and has caused concern around the world. Once a peripheral group, the ultra-Orthodox sector has grown rapidly in recent years and there are no signs of this growth slowing.
In response to the recent discord in Beit Shemesh, Gesher initiated a series of round-table conversations between leaders of the city's diverse communities. Together, they were able to get to the heart of their differences and begin a plan to resolve issues peacefully and sustainably. While this initiative began confidentially, it is now a publicly recognized project and has drawn attention well beyond Beit Shemesh, using the city as an illustrative microcosm of Israel’s challenges and the solutions that can be truly effective.
A group of ultra-Orthodox Israelis, eager to overcome common stereotypes and biases against them, created an online forum introducing themselves and opening discussion on issues of importance. They have since enlisted Gesher's assistance to advance to in-person conversations with their counterparts of various religious and secular affiliations.
Gesher is developing one-day seminars in secular high schools which introduce students to leaders of various streams of Judaism and familiarize them with the plurality that exists within the religion. Of particular focus is the ultra-Orthodox approach, allowing teens a view into an otherwise inaccessible world and serving as a healthy, facilitated forum for discussion of issues pertaining to the ultra-Orthodox sector.