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ADL Pilots New Initiative Bringing Together Muslim and Jewish Educators

Date: June 21, 2013

Building Bridges

Teachers and principals from Islamic and Jewish Day Schools came together on June 17 as a part of a new program designed to break down stereotypes and explore best practices for teaching both faiths.

“Our objective in creating this exciting new initiative was to ensure that students in both Jewish and Muslims schools were being taught accurate information about the other faith. The hope is that the seminar will give educators the knowledge and classroom tools to break down established prejudices,” said Etzion Neuer, ADL Interim New York Regional Director.  “There was a genuine thirst for knowledge and mutual understanding and respect between the educators and religious leaders at our first program.  By creating a positive environment of interfaith understanding, we hope that this will pave the way for an ongoing foundation of positive Muslim-Jewish relations.”

Schools represented by participants included the Abraham Joshua Heschel High School, Al-Ihsan Academy, the Al-Noor School, the Islamic Cultural School, Islamic Leadership School, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, MDQ Academy, Muslim Center Junior High School, and SAR High School.

“Building Bridges, Connecting Classrooms” was designed by the ADL’s New York Region in consultation with the Islamic Schools Association of New York and various religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim communities.  The program was designed to provide a forum for challenging misconceptions about Islam and Judaism so that each faith is presented accurately in a classroom setting.

The seminar is slated to occur annually in the New York Region, with the opportunity to train and provide the experience to multiple teachers.

The educators explored the main tenets of Judaism and Islam through conversations with their peers and presentations by faith leaders, including Imam Shamsi Ali, Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, Rabbi Eric Greenberg, ADL director of interfaith affairs, principals of area schools, and representatives of the Jewish-Muslim Volunteer Alliance.  Participants also had opportunities to explain their faiths to each other and address difficult questions that may arise in the classroom and to engage in informal conversation and discussion, including ways to bring students together to encourage direct interaction.

“This initiative has already proven to deepen relationships and trust – even right from the start of the program,” said John B. Harris, ADL New York Regional Board Chair.  “We saw that once we provide a forum to facilitate meaningful dialogue, the educators and community leaders become empowered and we hope this will lead to accurately teaching about both faiths.”

Modeled after the Bearing Witness Summer Institute, an award winning ADL program that teaches Catholic educators about Judaism, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Jewish Catholic relations, “Building Bridges, Connecting Classrooms” was created to foster positive dialogue.

“I feel I can teach with more confidence about Islam, and I can vouch for the good intentions of most Muslims out of personal knowledge rather than mere theoretical understanding,” noted one participating teacher, with another adding, “It opened a dialogue between Muslim and Jewish educators. I have been teaching in Islamic school for 20 years and this is the first time I ever had this opportunity…. I realized we have much in common. I think it’s beneficial to focus on the similarities not the differences (between) us.”

In an effort to ensure that the program and its lessons will continue and expand, teachers were provided with each other’s contact information and encouraged to begin brainstorming programs that might bring their students together.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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