social capital noun. the value of our social networks & relationships

Fostering Diverse Connections through Shared Experiences at The Jar

Published by Leah Mulrenan on

In this Cultivating Connections podcast episode, guest Guy Ben-Aharon joins host David Crowley to discuss the mission and unique approach of “The Jar,” an organization fostering connections among diverse Bostonians through shared cultural experiences. The jar’s unique Convener Model™ model, encourages participants to bring diverse groups together to share art, food, and conversation. 

Guy emphasizes the importance of intentional relationship-building and creating inclusive spaces, aiming to combat segregation often found in cultural institutions. He shares stories of transformative experiences and invites listeners to engage in upcoming events to take personal actions toward positive change in their communities.

About the Guest

Guy Ben-Aharon

A dynamic stage director and cultural entrepreneur, Guy Ben-Aharon is the Founder and Executive Director of The Jar, where he developed a unique Convener ModelTM that creates some of the most diverse and vibrant audiences in the US cultural landscape. Under Guy’s leadership, The Jar has doubled its impact year-to-year since its founding in 2019, brought programming to over a dozen neighborhoods across Boston, and secured a $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to scale the organization’s impact.

As a theater director, Guy will be making his European stage debut in 2024 with Anat Gov’s “Oh God” at the Landestheater Linz in Austria. Through his work at his previous organization, Israeli Stage, as well as the Goethe-Institut, Austrian Cultural Forum, swisssnex, and Alliance Française, Guy has worked on over 50 premieres of plays in translation since 2010. 

Guy has been featured in The Boston Globe, The Times of Israel, The Washington Post, WBUR, and other media outlets for his work to promote meaningful connection through the arts.


Read more about The Jar.

Upcoming spring 2024 events from The Jar

For more on how arts can bring people together, check out our episode with Jean Dolin.

This episode was produced by Leah Mulrenan and Sierra Dearns.

About SCI Social Capital Inc.

Our story at SCI centers on strengthening communities by intentionally cultivating connections through inclusive community programs, partnerships, and leadership development.

In June of 2002, SCI was founded by David Crowley. Returning to his hometown of Woburn, he created an organization focused on bringing people together. For two decades, we have taken action, big and small, to respond to what our community needs, in our hometown, and beyond.

The concept of social capital is about the importance of our social networks, and the value of the trust in relationships and communities. SCI addresses the need to increase the social capital of a community and the individuals in it.

SCI’s mission is to strengthen communities by connecting diverse individuals and organizations through civic engagement initiatives.

Episode Transcript

DAVID: Good morning Guy. Welcome to the podcast.

GUY:  Thanks so much for having me.

DAVID:  Looking forward to this conversation. I had a chance when we visited to get a little preview to learning about your work, but I’m looking forward to diving deeper and hearing more about the jar. I know you’ve gotten some good press and attention lately, but some people might not have seen or seen that or heard that. So if you could start as a launching point by just giving us a high-level kind of short intro to what the Jar’s mission is and how it works?

GUY: “Sure. The jar is helping inspire people to build relationships with people like them and not like them using cultural experiences. So what we do is we gather on culture, sort of the campfire in which we gather, and folks get to connect with people who are like some and not like them through art, through food, and through drinks. The thing that I think makes sense are unique is that we gather using something called the convener model. So folks who come to the jar can’t come alone. You are either a convener or a guest. And a convener brings their plus one. They bring two people who they normally experience culture with. So they’re two users, whoever they would go to the movies with on a Friday night. And then two, I use two people who they wouldn’t normally experience culture with, two people who don’t look like them, don’t pray like them, don’t love like them, and they go to the jar together. And I think that model ensures a certain diversity that is rarely seen around the city or around the nation. And the combination of folks extending their kindness, right? To invite someone to something is an act of kindness to people who are like them and not like them, not only ensures diversity but ensures that there is a sense of community in the room because every single person is connected to five other people. So it’s a unique model in that the convener model is the impetus for starting this thing.

DAVID:  Yeah. So I love the intentionality behind that because if you just let things happen as they would without that intentionality, we see the result right around the city, whether it’s cultural or other institutions, with a real lack of diversity on many levels.

GUY: Before many times we are asked by folks. Well, why can’t I just come alone? And I always laugh and say, you know, I hear you. At the same time, if you and everyone else came alone, then we can’t ensure the diversity that we enjoy. And we would just be repeating the same rooms that we see elsewhere around the city, which, you know, some may like, but I think the reason we started is to try and change that. So we don’t like the kind of homology, the alarmingly homogenous rooms. And you know, this is one way to solve for that.

DAVID:  And I like the way you are kind of pushing the responsibility of making that diversity happen to folks that are participating. Right. It’s not just all on you as the one organizing the whole thing did that. Was that always part of the plan?

GUY: Yeah, I mean, look, there’s institutions don’t make changes. People make changes, right? I mean, and that change in the landscape can’t come from, you know, it’s like Reaganomics. That doesn’t work. I mean, this sort of asks people to live by the values by which they say they want to live by. And you can’t do that by outsourcing that to someone else. You have to do it yourself. Yes, this is the reason we started the Jar to experiment with a model that empowers people and inspires them to be in a relationship with folks who are like them and not like them and not expect that, you know, we know it doesn’t happen on its own. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a segregated society.

DAVID:  Right? We wouldn’t be doing this work.

 GUY: Right, We wouldn’t be doing The Jar!

DAVID: Before you dig more into some of the lessons, and other aspects of the jar, I want to hear more about your background. You’re not somebody. You’re not like me. I’ve been in nonprofit space kind of running organizations like this for a long time. I know your background really is in theater and the arts. And tell us more about, you know, what you were doing, what you’re up to before The Jar, and sort of what made you make that leap into doing this?

GUY: You know, it’s funny. I don’t see it as a, for me, it’s actually an evolution of what I was doing before. Before The Jar, I ran a theater company. So I was in culture. And a theater company that was producing works by Israeli playwrights in English translation. And one of the things that was very unique about that organization is that we always had dialogue reflections after every show, and 90% of the audience would stay to talk to one another, and learn from one another. 


GUY:  And, I think it is actually exactly that work that inspired the evolution towards the now The Jar. You know, has this very built-in element of diversity and equity. The other thing that we didn’t get to say yet is that The Jar tickets are only $10 a head no matter what. So there’s no VIP ticket. There’s no ticket you can buy it that’ll get you something more. For $10 a head, you get a show and food and drinks. And that came from my work in the theater as well. You know, when I was running a theater company, it was very important for me that the most expensive ticket was $25 so that people who could afford the $25 ticket could afford to go to the theater. And, you know, $25 isn’t far off from what a movie costs. But yeah, my background is in theater and directing and producing, and I, you know, it evolved into this mission of helping people build connections using the arts, you know, whereas I would say before, I was really focused on the arts part of it, and the secondary part was the connections that were made. And it’s just sort of a flip on the emphasis.

DAVID: Yeah, I get it because I, you know, I often say, the arts and culture. We’ve done some cooking programs at SCI that have been fun ways to bring people together. But, you know, I think one thing your approach really hits upon is that while arts and culture can be a nice bridge builder, it’s not automatic at all. So, I mean, I think you’ve kind of touched on, but if you want to drill down a little bit more on how your process leads to a kind of a different experience than what one typically experiences or a cultural scene. 

GUY: I mean, you know, on the cultural scene, right? You go to see a show, and then the curtain comes down, and you go home. That’s that, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have a talk afterward or some kind of a Q&A with the artists, but most likely, you’re not going to turn to the people sitting next to you and talk to them, right? There’s nothing built into that. At The Jar what we said is because we’re here to inspire people to build connections, and we’re just going to be spending the majority of our time building connections. So when we gather, it’s less than 50% of our time together that is spent on the art. It’s actually spent mostly on connection. And the art is kind of a spark. But when you’re bringing people together from such different backgrounds, you need to find a way for them to find what is the thing in common. So that way, when the art is sort of used as a shared cultural experience, now you’re experiencing a piece of art, and my experience of a piece of art will be vastly different depending on who we are, depending on our professional background, on our ethnicity, on all these different things. But we will have an emotional response to this piece of art, and I think it takes us out of the kind of heady, you know, Boston can often be a city that lives in its head.

DAVID:That’s right.

GUY: This kind of makes it a heart-centered arena where everyone can have a personal experience of this thing. And it’s not about sounding smart or criticism of the art, but rather a response to the art and an emotional response to the art that is a reflection of your own experience in the world. And I think, you know, to answer your question. When we gather, we have 30 minutes of drinks before we see the art is an opportunity for people to kind of get to know each other a little bit. And then after that, after the arts, we spent an hour mixing the room in three different groups in the group that you came with. And then you grab someone from their group, and you meet two strangers, and then you grab another stranger, and you meet two strangers. And the questions that you’re asked to think about and reflect and share are ones that are thematic to the piece of art but are ones that get you to share vulnerably from your own experience and I think that part is what allows you to start building social cohesion and start sort of sparking conversations you wouldn’t normally get to have when you met a stranger.”

DAVID: Yeah. So I’m hearing those questions really have to get people out of that, being an art critic kind of thing to sharing.

GUY: Yeah, We don’t ask them what they thought about the art that comes last. The first question, you know, if we see a play about parenthood, one of the questions I remember was, what’s something that was surprising to you about your own parent figures, so not something you would normally share? And then something that was disappointing to you about your parent figures. Okay. That’s something you would normally share. And only at the end, when we gather, we say having heard what you heard tonight and all these different stories, how are you seeing or experiencing the art in a new way. And that way, it’s much less about did you like it. I don’t really care. You know how I’m seeing it in a new way. It’s actually creating access to experiencing art.

DAVID: Nice. And that also strikes me as a way. I mean, I know this maybe isn’t your primary goal, but making art more accessible, not financially. I mean, that’s a huge piece as well. But I think a lot of folks maybe are culturally intimidated to go to the theater or what have you if they haven’t had that quote-unquote proper, you know, background education and especially in a place like Boston.

GUY: Totally. It’s both those things. It’s access, as you said, from a monetary point of view because it’s unboxed ahead. So, that’s a price you can’t get anywhere else, even for a movie. And also, in terms of arts literacy, if you will, and expanding the sense of who gets to experience it and who gets to talk about it. And one of the things that we haven’t heard and actually, we’re just starting an impact study, but anecdotally, we’ve heard from folks that they don’t normally go to arts institutions. The Jar is a place they go to experience art. And it’s for some people, it has inspired them to go experience art elsewhere. Well, I think that’s a service to the industry. And what can I tell you? I’m a theater director by practice, and I don’t think I’ll run The Jar for the rest of my life. And at some point, I’ll go back to directing theater and, yeah, it’s, I’m ensuring longevity for my career.”

DAVID: That’s all good. Hey, so tell us you kind of hinted at a little bit. Could you elaborate on how folks are responding to participating in these  programs?

GUY: Yeah. You know, one of the things that’s built into each program is a volunteer gets up and shares their experience of why they’re in the room and why they’re involved with The Jar. And essentially, we hear the same story from different types of people, but basically, they share, you know, Boston is segregated. It’s the 18th most segregated city in the country. It ain’t the 18th largest. So it’s hard to meet people who are not like you. And two, it’s really hard to make friends as an adult. You know, we don’t have those third spaces, right? And that are not sort of networking or work-related. And so this provides that opportunity for folks. And, and one of the things, you know, most recently, someone just said at an event that was very sweet.Young, he’s in his 30s. And a young man, a young Southeast Asian man, got up and said, you know, people have asked me whether I, you know, how I’m liking Boston. He moved to Boston three years ago, and he said, when I first moved to Boston, I was afraid because of the kind of reputation it has for being racist, for being segregated. And I didn’t know how to answer that. So I would just say, I don’t know. Then he said, but actually, the reason I come back to The Jar is I’m really getting to know Boston. I’ve met librarians, I’ve met social workers, I’ve met business owners, I’ve met all these different types of people who I’m getting to break bread with whom I would not normally get to break bread with, and it’s happening because of The Jar. And he said, you know, that he had hosted a dinner recently. When he looked around the table, he realized that three-quarters of the room were people he met at The Jar or were now his friends. And I think that type of story is what we’re hearing over and over again.

DAVID: That’s a good one. Yeah, it’s it’s very true. I mean, there’s a lot of data out there that says it’s not easy making those connections. It’s the way our society has evolved. So that’s that’s a great outcome. So one thing I realized, I don’t know, I didn’t come up when I connected with you prior to this interview. So the name of The Jar is interesting. Where did that come from?

GUY: Well, I have two different answers. One is, which is the one I like, the name. I like the way it sounds. So I like the idea of when you ask someone, where are you going Friday night? I’m going to The Jar. 

DAVID: That’s true. 

GUY: I want to go there. That sounds fun. The other answer is, you know, it’s a container for the world that can be, it can be a little jarring, but it doesn’t have to be. You can hold the door ajar to someone, it’s transparent, and you put things in, you shake it up. But it comes out a little differently than the way you came in. So I think it has all these wonderful different meanings. And when you join us for your first event, David, you’ll see that there’s actually a ritual that we practice together around a jar, but that I will hold off from describing and invite you and your listeners to experience firsthand.

DAVID: Excellent. Some things are definitely better experienced, so I look forward to that for sure. So one thing I’d love to hear your reflections on is obviously you’re in deep in the work of The Jar, but, you know, there are a lot of folks, as you know, that are concerned about the segregation in our city and looking for how do we build more bridges beyond, you know, participating in The Jar, some transferable lessons that we might take from your experience? You know, if people want to be more intentional about building bridges across relationships, across differences of race, religion, or other divides.”

GUY: “I think one of the things is that often people start looking for those things when there’s an issue, right? Right, like going to the doctor only when there’s an issue as opposed to preventative care. Yeah. And so they think, well, I gotta build a coalition for housing, or for this. And, you know, people can see right through you. I think those things are wonderful. But at the same time, if you’re knocking on somebody’s door and your first question is, can you do something for me? That doesn’t sound so appealing. You probably should be spending a lot more time on actually learning who this person is, and what is important to them in their lives. And I think that’s a transferable lesson that relationships get to be more transformational rather than transactional. You know, I always have my Jar hat on. This is the issue of being a founder. But I know that our model is scalable and can go way beyond what we do, but this convener model. So I think the idea that you can steadily reach a pluralistic, cross-generational, cross-ethnic, cross-religion, cross-class society without doing the work is, is crazy. I think the only way you can do that is to start a locus of practice, practice that helps you move toward that goal. And I think that’s a transferable lesson. Yeah. If diversity is something you value, then, start a the locus of practice that moves you towards diversity of equity in something, evaluate and start a kocus of practice that leads you towards that.

DAVID: Great. And then circling back to the Jar, what is your vision for the long-term impact of your work?

 GUY: “I think it’s twofold. I think there’s the long-term vision of the work, which is to help people walk away with more diversity in their networks. We believe when we gather, we are making the city less segregated and more connected, and we’re making the world just a little bit more joyful. And I think the hope in terms of scaling is at the moment, this year we will reach more than 2,000 participants, and that can very easily grow to 25,000 participants or 500,000 participants. And the model itself can scale nationally, in hopes of helping other cities and other institutions become and inspire an ever more diverse, vibrant, and joyful world.”

DAVID: “It’s great. That’s an exciting long-term vision. As you can see, I like to bounce around themes here. Bring it back to the immediate action steps, folks have listened along this far, clearly engaged. And if they haven’t been to the jar yet, they probably would like to. So tell us, give us this is your little commercial. Do you know what’s coming up? You know, this will be airing in late March. So, you know, people want to get involved. 

GUY: Go to and look for the upcoming events this spring. The Jar is producing a series of events that will engage more than 800 Bostonians in building connections, folks who are like them or not like them, through music events, through theater, through stand-up, through a pairing of two different personalities who you wouldn’t normally get to see on stage together. They’ll talk about what makes them laugh, what makes them angry, what makes them hopeful. And through salons all across the city, across six different neighborhoods where they’ll be invited to someone’s house, experience a piece of art that’s meaningful to them, and be nourished both by food and by thought. by connection. So that’ll be, happening between April 25th and May 23rd via over a dozen opportunities to engage – at

DAVID: That’s great. I look forward to participating. We’ll put a link to that to your site in our show notes. And to wrap up, I always like to ask, you know, you’ve dropped a lot of great wisdom and insight about your work and in ways we can take away from it. If you had to sum up, you know that that little sound bite of five words or so; things that we can learn from your work, be inspired. What would you send us out on?

GUY: I would send us out on, focusing on taking personal actions to change your immediate circle I think that’s what I would say. 

DAVID: Awesome. And you’re giving people a chance to do that regularly. So that’s exciting. And it’s been great, Guy,  is getting a chance to learn more about the jar. And I look forward to staying connected and checking it out.