Disclaimer: Any likeness with real people or events is purely coincidental.
By David Forras
Almost two months passed since the end of Gesher 2016, but a Gesher team member, who chose to remain anonymous, claims that she still had problems dealing with some of her most ordinary tasks:
“Logging in to Facebook is still very stressful. When I see the little red badge over my messages icon, my stomach starts to hurt: It might as well be her!” – describes her recently developed disability before bursting into tears.
By “her”, she refers to M, who is a Junction employee, responsible for handling Gesher volunteers and other event related tasks. Plenty of our sources described her as a person, who is capable of harassing volunteers on multiple channels simultaneously with the tasks she claims that a volunteer had “took a lead on”, while remaining completely friendly and somewhat charming.
“She is just different. Active members of the Jewish community are generally aggressive and loud, so you can be really angry with them, when they start irritating you. In her case, it’s a totally different story. She’s smiling all the time and super nice with you, so when you try to be angry at her, you feel miserable. You end up being angry with yourself and that is totally uncool.” – says another anonymous Gesher volunteer.
It says a lot about the vibe and the milieu around the Gesher staff, that nobody wanted us to reveal their true identities, when interviewing for this article.
Many complained that the beginning was pretty awesome and that they didn’t foresee the actual emerging reality.
“They invited all the volunteers for a seminar in Belgrade, Serbia. I wasn’t aware at the time of the seminar that trying to convince me into approaching the place of the meeting on an 8-hour minivan trip in the company of a few Serbian guest-workers and most probably with some smuggled hard currency in the trunk, was a way for them to start getting at me. At that time, I just thought that they were cheap – not that they actually tried to destroy me and put my pieces together as an “ideal volunteer”. Not that it matters now, but I managed to tackle this attempt by covering half of my plane ticket, because I am awesome.” – describes someone we interviewed the initial efforts of the Junction staff to intimidate volunteers with a healthy amount of self-respect.
Our sources confirmed that the first few days seemed nice at first, but turned out to be part of the plan. Many volunteers described a night-out, when volunteers were taken to the outskirts of Belgrade (a city, of which downtown already resembles the war torn East-Berlin) and that they were provided with a large kitchen and an instructor to cook their own meal.
“We thought it would be fun” – says a still stranded volunteer from Romania – “You have to understand that we were extremely hungry and the prospect of fine food and a chef already brought some smiles on our faces. The trick was, everything we made was either extremely salty or extremely sweet. Our soul fell to pieces from the roller coaster of hunger and disappointment.”
The true horror, however came after the four-day seminar, when they all received their personalized task lists for each week until Gesher. Originally, the Gesher interviewer said that they needed to invest four to eight hours a week into Gesher.
“I felt like a worker who was tricked into collecting oranges for the summer. They are promised good food and proper working conditions and all they get is a serious sunburn wound on their back. They are happy if they ever get their passports back.” – a Finnish volunteer describes what she felt, after receiving her task list for the approaching weeks from the Junction staff.
And the nightmare has just begun. Volunteers complain that in spite of the physical distance from Gesher organizers sitting in Sofia, they felt like these people were everywhere.
“Right after receiving an email from P, she popped up on my facebook chat, just to confirm that she sent me an email and ask how I was, but what she really meant was, if I got her email and if I was in line with all the stuff she had written” – a volunteer from Austria says. He refers to P, who is another Junction employee, whose true weapon is her general lack of ability to understand jokes, cynicism or sarcasm.
“It drives you crazy. She’s aware that she doesn’t get these things, so every now and then she assumes that you made a joke or said something with sarcasm. Most of the time she’s wrong and you’re laughed into your face when you have just opened up. It’s damaging and scary at the same time.” – tells us another shocked volunteer.
Plenty of volunteers described us that they were promised integrity and a freedom to operate, just to find themselves stalked on each and every Skype and Zoom sessions by one or two people form the professional Junction staff.
The final pre-Gesher terror came during the preparation days of the event in Halkidiki, at the hotel, where Gesher was to be held in a few days.
“We had a waveless pool, sun beds and a proper beach. Guess how many times I got wet during the prep days!” – asks the hypothetical question a still frustrated Gesher volunteer and unsurprisingly, he mimics zero with his hand and swallows a drop of tear.
As a general conclusion, a still upset Gesher volunteer confirms, which plenty of them suggested:
“I am not sure how they did it, but they were everywhere. On my phone, in my email account, on Skype, on Zoom, they popped up on my Instagram. P and M once even intruded my dreams and not in a good way. I am just not sure how I will ever get back on track after this.”
In the meantime, most Gesher volunteers claim, that they consider their volunteer colleagues as brothers in arms.
“OK, I actually went to real wars and it’s not like this. Your commanders never nag you or harass you to such a level and with such intensity, as the Gesher guys. It’s a different paradigm, a different universe.” – says an Israeli member of the team, who served in two wars.
“Even though I cannot come up with a good ending, it is liberating to put an end to this article. I already have a reminder email in my inbox, an unread Facebook message, three comments on my Instagram and probably several unread texts in my unopened Skype account, all coming from M. All of them kindly asking how I was, but all actually meaning: I am already two weeks late with this damn blog post.” – concludes his thoughts the writer of this article with a touch of relief and sarcasm.
After the writing of this article, the writer expressed his pure and unwavering dedication to the Gesher team and intention to return for many years to come.