Jewish, Muslim schools bridge faiths through learning
When she lived near Israel, in the predominantly Muslim country of Jordan, Katie Al-Akhras observed that much of the conflict between people of Islamic and Jewish faiths resulted from divisions “bred” into children of both faiths.
Al-Akhras, now living in Madison, said her daughter Lulu has a chance to “bridge the divide” that can be found elsewhere, because of a commitment two religious schools in Madison made to each other four years ago.
School administrators of Madinah Academy of Madison, a Muslim school Lulu attends, and Madison Jewish Community Day School decided in 2009 that they would bring their students together in ways to promote an understanding and appreciation for their different faiths, said Seema Tahir, Madinah Academy’s assistant administrator.
“I think it’s great,” said Al-Akhras. “It shows no matter where you come from, no matter what faith background you come from, that you can grow relationships.”
The Near West Side schools get together about twice a year. Their visits began with creating autobiographical pictures of themselves to share with each other. A lesson in which words are similar in Arabic and Hebrew followed. They got together with students at Edgewood Campus School, a Catholic school.
On Wednesday, students attended a field trip at Olbrich Botanical Gardens to learn about plants together.
The children have learned the song “Free to Be … You and Me” together and created books sharing what they love about their religious traditions.
“It’s (really) important to us that our kids grow up to be people who appreciate the richness of diverse religious background,” said Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon, head of the Jewish Community Day School. “It prevents you from sort of making blanket judgments about things — so we’re starting young.”
For 8-year-old Ali Adhami, a Madinah student, the experience has been a happy lesson.
“You can sort of learn and compare your religion to theirs and it’s kind of fun,” he said.
“You can make a chart about it or maybe if you grow up to become an author, you can write a story about it,” he said.
That lifelong effect Ali already anticipates is the point, said Madinah teacher Sana Rakhangi.
“They are thinking beyond their own beliefs and are able to respect and learn together,” said Rakhangi, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher who has been teaching at Madinah for three years.
They identify that they are in similar environments but in different schools, she said.
“Eventually when they grow up, and they realize they’ve been to a Jewish school or met Jewish kids, it would have an impact,” she said.
Students grasp the most visible same-but-different contrasts quickly.
Through the get-togethers, 9-year-old Zainab Yahiaoui said she learned Jewish boys usually wear something on their heads — a kippah — while 10-year-old Jonathan Greenspan said he learned the same thing about Muslim girls, who wear hijabs.
“I don’t really know why,” Jonathan said, about the girls’ hijabs, “but we wear kippahs, so it’s just a different tradition.”
Marla Becker, a parent and a K-4 teacher at the Jewish school, said the interactions help the students navigate societal stereotypes of the religions.
“It’s a good relationship,” said 9-year-old Josephine Sidney, who attends Madison Jewish Community Day School. “Our languages are really close together — many words are almost the same, and our religion also is almost the same.”
Original post: Jewish, Muslim schools bridge faiths through learning