Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin hosted the winners of the third annual Jerusalem Unity Prize at the President’s Residence Wednesday as part of the annual Unity Day commemorations held around the world.
The Jerusalem Unity Prize and the global Unity Day idea was developed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, together with the Fraenkel, Shaer, and Yifrach families and GESHER, in memory of Naftali, Gil-ad and Eyal, the three teens who were kidnapped and subsequently murdered in the summer of 2014. Now in its third year, the 2017 Unity Prize was awarded to initiatives and recipients in three categories: local, national and global.
Winning in the Global category of the prize was Limmud, the international network of Jewish learning communities. The national prize winner has been awarded to Tzav Pius, which “works to develop an Israeli society in which Jews of differing perceptions along the secular-orthodox spectrum, share a strong commitment to Jewish and democratic values, thus encouraging social and educational changes.”
The award in the local category was presented to two recipients. The first non-Jewish candidate for the prize, award recipient Dr. Jana’an Frajj Falah, has worked to advanced initiatives that bridge social gaps between women of diverse backgrounds in Israel’s north. The second winner is Kehilat Hadar, based in Haifa, which works to promote social and cultural harmony between local groups of various religions and ethnic groups.
“During that summer of tragedy three years ago, we were repeatedly exposed to the ideals of mutual responsibility, of volunteerism, of empathy and solidarity alongside the evil and hatred which brought us into that time,” said President Rivlin at the ceremony.
“We must remind ourselves that unity requires constant dialogue. And while today we commemorate Unity Day, it is imperative that every day be marked by this concept. Through the actions of the recipients of this Prize we call upon all society to recognize the good within us and to offer tribute to all those whose work inspires us to be a better and more united people.’
“Thank you for this prize, which honors Limmud’s 4,000 volunteers, who are strengthening Jewish life and creating unity through diversity,” said Limmud Chair David Hoffman. “Limmud communities bring together people of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate all things Jewish and dialogue in an inclusive, non-judgmental atmosphere. The Limmud model is also helping to unify Israelis.”
Since the first Global Unity Day was celebrated in 2015, more than 30 nations, 150 cities and 200 organizations across the globe participated in programming and events scheduled for schools, synagogues and community centers.
While Israel remains the epicenter of the Unity Day activities with close to one million participating through the Ministry of Education and partnerships with the IDF and the local councils, an expected 900,000 global participants from communities as far away as Finland, Hong Kong, Russia and even Jamaica were involved as well.
“Participating in Unity Day coming from a small community in Poland is very meaningful to us. Being together helps our community grow and feel unified while we are also are all part of one big global Jewish world,” said Jan Kirschenbaum, Co-Founder of the Cukunft Jewish Heritage Association in Wroclaw, Poland.
“Remembering Naftali, Eyal and Gilad is to remember the enormous outpouring of unity from across the Jewish world in a moment of tragedy,” said Daniel Goldman, Chairman of GESHER. ‘The connection with the entire Jewish Diaspora through Unity Day and the prizes not only allows us to build real partnership, but also to discover who we truly are as Israelis and Jews.”
“I don’t need the world to remember my son Naftali,” said Racheli Fraenkel. “That will be the job of his family and friends. But what I do want is for the world to remember how the global community behaved during those eighteen days of uncertainty and to always remember the power we have as a people when we choose unity over division.”