Twinned college radio shows get Israelis and Canadians on the same wavelength
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'If you want to know what’s going on in the news, you can go on CNN. That’s not what we’re here for'

Twinned college radio shows get Israelis and Canadians on the same wavelength

Through Radio Gesher, students at Western Ontario University and Sapir University in Sderot become on-air pen pals, sharing personal stories and pop culture

Shai Wallach (left) and Elie Fenyes chat about their studies and interests on Radio Gesher. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)
Shai Wallach (left) and Elie Fenyes chat about their studies and interests on Radio Gesher. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)

LONDON, Ontario — Maybe it’s a matter of the grass being greener on the other side, but university students in Canada and Israel seem to disagree on which country has the hotter guys.

In a recording from students at Sapir College in Sderot, one student radio host tells students from the University of Western Ontario that she visited Canada once, and she was struck by the beautiful men she saw in the grocery store.

“They are so tall and they have blue eyes and they look really good,” said the Israeli student host, Ofir Hershkovitz.

Begging to differ, Shai Wallach, co-producer of Radio Gesher at Western, emphatically disagreed.

‘A lot of people are not necessarily ignorant about Israel, but don’t necessarily know a lot about Israel aside from the conflict’

“There is nothing like seeing a solid Israeli soldier,” said Wallach. “There is every single girl who goes on Taglit [a free trip to Israel for 18-26 year-olds in the Diaspora] — they come back to Canada, and they’re like, ‘That’s it, I’m ready. I’m going to find my Israeli husband; I’m done.’”

Not meant for hard hitting news commentary, Radio Gesher is a new radio program and podcast at the University of Western Ontario that’s focused on Canadian and Israeli culture. Gesher, meaning “bridge,” in Hebrew, indicates the connection students are trying to create between Canadians and Israelis in the English-language program.

“I find that especially with people here, a lot of people are not necessarily ignorant about Israel, but don’t necessarily know a lot about Israel aside from the conflict,” Wallach said.

University of Western Ontario students listen to the Israeli's radio recording so they can respond to questions and comments for their own recording. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)
University of Western Ontario students listen to the Israeli’s radio recording so they can respond to questions and comments for their own recording. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)

The second year business student was born in Israel to Israeli parents, but she grew up in Calgary, Alberta. Wallach loves introducing her non-Jewish friends to aspects of Israel that aren’t only political.

“If you want to know what’s going on in the news, you can go on ABC, you can go on CNN. That’s not what we’re here for,” said Wallach. “We’re here for trying to show the humanistic side of our connection.”

In Sderot, Lina Givoni is the student coordinator of their university radio show, “Parashim Balaya,” which she describes as a new concept and the only one like it. It runs on their college station, Radio Kol Hanegev, which is public, airing in and around Sderot.

Givoni and her classmates are all students at Sapir, around 25 years old, who come from different places in Israel after serving in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Canadian students record their radio show at the University Community Center (UCC) at the University of Western Ontario. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)
Canadian students record their radio show at the University Community Center (UCC) at the University of Western Ontario. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)

“It’s important for Jewish people around the world to connect to each other and to get to know other people and talk about their habits and their connection to Judaism,” said Givoni.

Wallach saw Radio Gesher as another avenue for advocacy after Western’s Jewish Agency Israel Fellow, Matan Boni, approached her with the idea. He studied communications and had a background in radio, studying at Sapir College, so he helped establish the connection with the radio station in Israel.

‘Pen pals’ across the airwaves

Boni, along with Yochai Kayat, who is the Hillel director at Sapir University, came up with the idea for each show to record once a month and talk about and ask questions about life in Canada versus Israel.

A sort of pen pal situation over the airwaves, 10-15 students at Western get together monthly to talk about their lives — what they’re studying, which TV shows they’re watching, and how they grew up. Some topics are their own, but most spawn from questions asked by the Israeli students.

“I don’t know anything about Canadians that I didn’t learn on South Park [the television show]. I know it’s cold there and they are polite. I think they don’t belong in Israel because we’re very, very rude,” said Brenda Azaretzky, one of the Israeli students, expressing how little knowledge many Israelis have about Canada.

‘I don’t know anything about Canadians that I didn’t learn on South Park’

The Sapir students talked about Canadian musicians they knew, and shocked each other with the knowledge that their five degree Celsius nights were nothing compared with winter in Canada, where Wallach said she skied in -34 degrees Celsius. Givoni explained that the Israeli students were preparing for a beautiful Darom Adom (Red South), where red Anemone flowers bloom en masse. A couple of the Israelis described how they live on a Kibbutz and feel so safe they don’t even lock their doors.

(Left to right) Matan Boni, Benjamin Gottesman, Corey Kamen, Shai Wallach, Elie Fenyes, record their second installment of Radio Gesher. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)
(Left to right) Matan Boni, Benjamin Gottesman, Corey Kamen, Shai Wallach, Elie Fenyes, record their second installment of Radio Gesher. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)

Israelis admitted that their country doesn’t have the same wild animals that Canadians may see, ones the Israelis have only heard about, like moose, bears or even squirrels.

‘In my own life, I always find that I’m trying to bridge the connection and find out my own identity’

The Canadian students learned why so many cats walk the streets in Israel when Boni explained the cats got there thanks to British colonists trying to mitigate a rat problem during the Jewish state’s inception. These are concepts that most university students may not think about, but to describe them to others across the globe, a certain level of pride in their “home” is expressed.

“For me, what I found super interesting about the project is because I’m Israeli and Canadian, it appealed directly to me as a person to be a host on this program, to contribute something. In my own life, I always find that I’m trying to bridge the connection and find out my own identity — am I Canadian, am Israeli? What kind of background do I have? With this show, it is translating as my life,” said Wallach.

Finding cultural similarities

Through global entertainment, students get a glimpse into each other’s lives, but to these students, hearing their questions answered directly seems to make it all more real.

CHRW 94.9 is University of Western Ontario's local radio station where Radio Gesher records. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)
CHRW 94.9 is University of Western Ontario’s local radio station where Radio Gesher records. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)

Even topics as simple as language bridge a gap. The Canadians asked how Sapir student Noam Hambursky spoke with such a fluent English accent. Laughing and joking that no, he wasn’t born in Pennsylvania, Hambursky said he practiced English as a kid watching Cartoon Network.

Wallach understood that completely.

“We used to watch ‘Chaverim’ instead of ‘Friends,’ and that’s how we learned English moving here [to Calgary],” she said.

Corey Kamen enjoyed the Israeli show “Fauda,” but they all asked the Sapir students to share other TV shows they could enjoy in Canada.

Playing a popular new song has been a way to share culture and interests. The Canadians remind Israelis that Sean Mendez is from Canada, and the Israelis introduced the Canadians to Balkan Beat Box. The songs play on the radio shows for their respective communities to hear, too.

Co-producer Shai Wallach (left) and Elie Fenyes watch on as Israel Fellow, Matan Boni, begins the radio show with an introduction. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)
Co-producer Shai Wallach (left) and Elie Fenyes watch on as Israel Fellow, Matan Boni, begins the radio show with an introduction. (Dana Wachter/Times of Israel)

They also discuss more serious topics in regard to culture, with Israelis wanting to know from the Canadians about whether it is difficult to be Jewish in the Diaspora. Wallach has found that being a minority makes it easier to connect to her Jewish background, though her family had been secular in Israel. She and her classmates seek community in their Jewish networks, and find so much happening that they are always participating in activities together.

“What are some things that we said that make you guys laugh?” Western third-year business student, Elie Fenyes, asked the Israelis.

‘What are some things that we said that make you guys laugh?’

He realized that when the Sapir students spoke, he and his classmates laughed at various points, assuming some of their conversation must have sounded funny to the Israelis if there were any cultural discrepancies.

While the focus is not political, the Canadian students are eager to know how Israeli students their age see world events. Instead of only hearing how politicians view the new president in the United States, they want to know how college students just like them view global affairs affecting their lives personally, and they want to share the “regular” Israeli perspective with their Canadian classmates and colleagues.

Givoni said she likes to hear the different accents and gain new perspective from the Canadian students.

She hoped that they would learn a bit about her country, “that it’s very advanced and not like the media shows us. We [have] everything in Israel. It’s a great place to live in, not as dangerous as people think.”

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