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In the Merit of Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali Hy”d

Shira Yehudit Djalilmand

“If programs like Kesher Yehudi were operating in secondary schools, there would be far fewer problems in Israeli society today.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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This coming month marks the second yahrtzeit of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel Hy”d, the three teens who were murdered in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists. But aside from the painful memories that their yahrtzeit brings, their parents made sure to bring some light into the world in their merit.

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The Jerusalem Unity Prize, established in honor of the three boys, will this year be awarded to Kesher Yehudi, a nonprofit organization dedicated to drawing different sectors of Am Yisrael closer together. The award, which is accompanied by a 100,000 NIS prize, will be awarded to the organization’s founder, Tzila Schneider, in a ceremony at the president’s house on June 1.

Kesher Yehudi was founded in 2009 by Mrs. Schneider, a 48-year-old religious mother of 11 who saw the need to bring secular and religious Jews closer together.

Yermiyahu Rock and Ron Peleg are a perfect example of what Kesher Yehudi does. Rabbi Rock, from Beitar, is an avreich learning in the kollel of Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, while Ron, 19, is enrolled in Nachshon Pre-Military Academy at Kibbutz Shoval in the Negev. The pair began learning together last Succos as part of the Mechinah Program, which gives students attending pre-military academies an injection of Jewish learning and assigns each student a personal chavrusa. Since then they have developed a close relationship. They meet regularly to learn, stay in touch by telephone, and have visited each other on their “home ground.”

“I’m frum from birth and didn’t have much contact with secular Jews,” explains Rabbi Rock. “I was shocked to see how little they knew about Judaism — they have been taught almost nothing. But now I see that they are just normal, good people, and they really want to know more.”

Ron is equally enthusiastic about the experience. “It’s totally changed the way I think,” he says. “Yermi and I discuss controversial issues in the news, like chareidi army service, and, although I don’t necessarily agree, now I understand why chareidim feel the way they do.”

He says if programs like Kesher Yehudi were operating in secondary schools, there would be far fewer problems in Israeli society today.

Aside from the Mechinah chavrusa learning program, Kesher Yehudi runs various other initiatives including arranging Shabbos hosting for secular guests in chareidi neighborhoods, and shabbatons at hotels for secular and religious guests.

The Neighborhood Program, launched to bring about closer relations between the religious and secular residents of mixed neighborhoods, now operates in Kiryat Yovel, Nachlaot, and Gilo. And, Tzila Schneider told Mishpacha, Kesher Yehudi is now planning its latest project, Chareidim L’Avodah, in which chareidi and secular work colleagues will learn together.

“We have to remember that the Torah wasn’t given in Meah Shearim or Bnei Brak, but at Har Sinai,” Tzila says. “At Har Sinai, Am Yisrael were as one. I’m trying with Kesher Yehudi to bring Am Yisrael back to that state. And the Torah is the glue that brings us together.”

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