It’s a bit like overhearing a typical conversation university students might have anywhere on campus. You’ll hear stories and opinions on the latest bands, the hottest shows to binge watch and more.
But these conversations are between strangers – Western students and individuals in Israel, more than 10,000 kilometres away – shared over the airwaves.
“It’s sort of like having a pen pal over the radio,” said Shai Wallach, co-producer of CHRW’s Radio Gesher, a new show focusing on lighter topics of conversation in order to find connections and discuss cultural differences among youth in Israel and Canada.
“We like to keep it light and fun,” said Wallach, a second-year Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies student. “‘Gesher’ means ‘bridge’ in Hebrew, so essentially, the whole theme of the show is to bridge that gap between Israel and Canada, even for non-Jewish students. You see it on the news, and don’t understand what this place (Israel) is, or who the people are, but by having this kind of medium, you can see they are regular students, just like us, who have similar experiences, just like us.”
The idea for the show came from Matan Boni, Israel Fellow to Hillel Ontario, who works for Western Hillel.
When he came to Western a couple of years ago, he decided to volunteer at CHRW because it was similar to what he did while studying Communications and Radio at Sapir College in Israel, said Boni, who co-produces Radio Gesher with Wallach.
Located in the northwestern Negev desert, near Sderot, Sapir is the largest public college in Israel, with an enrolment of more than 8,000 students.
While visiting Israel last summer, Boni had an idea. Western and Sapir could partner on bridging the cultural divide by both producing a radio show and sharing it with one another. Students at Sapir were “very excited about the idea and wanted to do it,” Boni said, adding CHRW – and Wallach – quickly came on board, as well.
“I’m naturally a talkative kind of person, so I knew it would transition well for me,” said Israeli-born Wallach, who moved to Canada when she was two. “I saw the post on Facebook about (Western) thinking of starting this project, and how they were looking for students to be part of it. It was definitely something I wanted to do. I want to be involved as much as I can.
“Being Israeli is definitely an integral part of my life, but so is being Canadian. This is why I love this even more, because I can relate to both sides.”
Wallach and Boni, along with other volunteers, record their monthly show at CHRW and send a portion of the show to their radio colleagues at Sapir who, in turn, do the same, allowing each side to share its thoughts about any topic deemed interesting.
Lina Givoni, student coordinator of the radio show Parashim Balaya at Sapir College, said the collaboration with Western is a great way to show there’s more than simply political turmoil in Israel that is portrayed in the media.
“The fact we are students doesn’t mean we need to represent something, or someone. We just share our culture and moments with each other,” said Givoni, adding the students won’t shy away from talking about serious topics as well.
“I’ve learned even though there is a major distance between us, we are interested in the same things,” she said. “I’m curious about life after college, how people manage to build their career after graduating, how people get along with other students that are different and what kind of conflicts they deal with.”
While the conversation can turn political, it rarely touches on any sort of controversial topics.
“We feel if you want to hear about the conflict, and other things like that, you can turn on CNN,” said Boni. “We want to share to the other aspects of Israel you may not know about. We only have so much time and we want to talk about the things you don’t normally hear about.”
“Sometimes, when there are bigger issues, we do have to mention them and discuss them, but not in depth – we’re not news broadcasters,” said Wallach. “It’s more lighthearted opinions; we’re not talking settlements or any of those things.”
Wallach added the show also presents an opportunity to educate her non-Jewish friends and others on campus.
“A common mistake I get is, ‘What language do you speak besides English?’ I’m fluent in Hebrew, but I’ve gotten Jewish, Israeli, and someone even asked if I spoke ‘Jerusalem’ once,” she said.
With three shows in the can, and a summer hiatus underway, Boni said everyone is becoming more comfortable, the conversation is much looser and the laughter is increasing.
“We want to see (Radio Gesher) grow and expect the conversation to get more in depth and, as our relationship gets tighter, we’ll create other ideas that are fun and engage more with each campus. I feel like I have a lot of new friends over there.”
Wallach will be travelling to Israel this summer and looks forward to meeting her new ‘pen pals,’ who have also become new friends.
“We’ve been making friends with them this whole time,” she said. “It will be great to put a face to the voices and be able to meet up with them.”
To learn more about Radio Gesher, visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/radiogesher.