Netanel grew up in an ultra-Orthodox family and studied at religious institutions. He was always curious and enjoyed learning, and knew that he would enter academia one day. At the age of 27, he enrolled in the Magid Institute’s academic preparatory program for the ultra-Orthodox at the Hebrew University.
Erez grew up in the secular world. He went to a science-oriented high school, served in the Armored Corps, and traveled the world. He met Israelis from different backgrounds traveling and at Habad houses, but these encounters were always fleeting. Upon returning home, he decided to pursue a degree in the Hebrew University’s PPE program (political science, philosophy, and economics).
Netanel and Erez met through Beliba Homa (trans. A Wall in Its Midst), a program founded in 2011 that brings together ultra-Orthodox and secular students for mutual enrichment. The ultra-Orthodox student receives much needed academic assistance and support, while the secular student receives a stipend or academic credit, along with the opportunity to connect with someone outside their usual social circle.
For Netanel, Erez was the first student who looked beyond his external appearance and connected with him as a fellow human – free of stereotypes and prejudices. Netanel received much-needed academic help from Erez, and is now studying towards an LLB and BA in East Asian studies at the Hebrew University.
"This program has enriched me significantly, both in terms of encountering a world very different from my own, and in terms of making me examine and refine my own beliefs."
Erez came to realize how much the secular, religious, and ultra-Orthodox sectors have in common, and the degree to which the media chooses to accentuate the differences. He valued the bridge provided by Beliba Homa, a direct encounter with an ultra-Orthodox student. Erez grew to appreciate the personal and social sacrifices that Netanel made, in choosing academic studies.
"Through this program I got to know an exceptional person, Netanel, who taught me how special and simple it can be to meet a complete stranger … The most rewarding aspect of this program was meeting friends whom I otherwise wouldn’t have met"