The sounds of kids chatting and laughing greeted me as I approached the Ulam at lunchtime last Wednesday. The room was full of fifth graders, talking and joking with each other over pizza lunch. They were doing the things that 10 and 11 year old students do when they get together. And as I looked around the room I was struck by how similar they were, even as half of the boys wore kippot and half did not, and half of the girls wore hijabs and half did not. This was a meeting of the Interfaith Living Museum program, that Schechter Manhattan fifth grade students participate in each year for over a decade.
The program, facilitated by the education department at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, brings together students and faculty from Jewish day schools, Schechter Manhattan and the Kinneret Day School, and Islamic schools, the Al Ihsan Academy and Islamic Leadership School. Over the course of three months, students at Jewish and Islamic day schools engage in a program of cooperative learning. Students then share their new knowledge with peers, teachers, and family and community members in a culminating event at the Museum where they present an exhibition of personal artifacts that represent their respective heritages.
Last week the students visited the Islamic art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art together. They worked in mixed pairs, a Jewish student and a Muslim student together, to view items in the exhibit and offer observations. This paralleled the work they did at a previous meeting of the program when they visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage and viewed Jewish artifacts. These shared learning experiences afford the students opportunities to get to learn about each other’s faith traditions and heritages, while also thinking about what makes a meaningful museum exhibit, since they will each prepare a part of the Interfaith Living Museum exhibit at the end of the project. As they work on the project students learn that for the many differences between Jewish and Muslim traditions and communities, there are as many similarities. We share common care for our families and the traditions that are passed on to us from previous generations- many of the artifacts that students choose for their exhibit project are items received from parents and grandparents. We share common beliefs in one God and our commitment to live in ways that affirm God’s holiness. And as they hang out over meals and learning activities, the students see that they share the common interests of kids growing up in New York City- the same subways and sports teams, video games and TV shows. All of this adds up to an appreciation of our shared humanity, and helps our students build their empathy and capacity to see things from other people’s perspectives.
While Schechter Manhattan has been participating in the Interfaith Living Museum project for over a decade, the meeting of the schools last week had a different and timely resonance, as Americans reacted to the executive order limiting travel from some Muslim majority countries. Having built a relationship with our colleagues at the Al Ihsan Academy and Islamic Leadership School we knew that their communities were very directly impacted by these current events. Many of the families in the Islamic schools are immigrants who are worried about what these new policies will mean for them and their future in the United States. In advance of the meeting last week Gary, Schechter Manhattan’s Principal, reached out to his counterparts at the Islamic schools, offering our understanding and asking if there is anything we could do to best support them and their students during the upcoming joint programs. They responded that the expression of empathy was appreciated and heartening.
At the same time, we took steps to help the Schechter Manhattan fifth grade students be prepared if the issue of the travel ban came up with their peers from the Islamic schools. The issue of immigration is central to the fifth grade curriculum and they are in the beginning of the unit of study in which they explore the factors that lead to immigration as well as the history of different immigrant groups to the United States and Israel. So it was natural for the fifth grade students to touch on the current immigration issues in their study. They read an article in Time for Kids that outlined the key aspects of the recent executive order, discussed their understandings and ideas about it, and then reflected on what this might mean for their Muslim peers. The students expressed that while there are various ideas about whether the new policy is good or bad, it was likely that for the Muslim students it is a source of worry. They went into the meeting prepared to be caring and respectful. As they continue their study of immigration, the students will see that their family histories all include immigration, even if for some of them it was two, three, or more generations past- something else they have in common with their new Muslim friends.
We aspire for Schechter Manhattan graduates to develop strong Jewish identities that they can bring to interactions and relationships that they will have in the diverse society in which they live. The Interfaith Living Museum affords powerful practice of the listening and communication skills needed to interact positively with all sorts of people, similar and different to them. And it nurtures the disposition of caring and respect for all human beings needed to live out the Jewish value of menschlichkeit. With these skills and dispositions Schechter Manhattan graduates are positioned to be the leaders of a more understanding community in New York City and by extension a more peaceful world.
Each week we will feature the written work of our students. We hope that you will stop by every week and see what they are writing and thinking about.
Kitah Aleph has been learning many Hebrew vocabulary words with the letter kaf! They used invented spelling with their creative writing in Hebrew.
יש כוכבים כחול כוכבים כחול סאםאח
(yesh kochaveem kachole kochaveem kachole sameach)
(There are blue stars, blue happy stars)
כואב ביד או או
(ko-ev ba-yad oh! oh!)
(It hurts my hand uh oh!)
כוכב אוכל כוכב
(kochav ochel kochav)
(a stars eats a star)
Click here to see Zeva, Avner and Nava’s writing
Kitah Gimmel students are learning different pitgamim (rabbinic phrases) each week and have discussion about how to incorporate the ideas into their own lives.
Click here to read what the students wrote this week
Kitah Heh wrote opinion essays on topics about which they feel strongly.
Click here to read opinion essays by Malka, Batya, and Daniel