A group of Jewish public school teens in Kansas recently did their part to promote cultural understanding and tolerance, and all it took was a bagel and cream cheese lunch – and a willingness to look beyond stereotypes.
The students, members of the Jewish Student Union (JSU) club at Blue Valley West High School, held a special club meeting in February with members of the school’s Muslim Student Association. The goal of the meeting was for both groups to not only learn more about each other’s religions, but also to get to know each other outside a classroom setting.
The teens discussed many topics, including their religions’ respective holidays, languages, foods and modes of dress.
“It was a cool experience,” says Beth Gasser, a senior at Blue Valley West and president of the JSU club. “[I enjoyed] seeing what makes their lives so special and how it relates to me.”
Sherouk Abdelmoipy, also a Blue Valley West senior and president of the Muslim Students Association, agreed, saying that the meeting went “extremely well.”
“The JSU/MSA crossover provided a nice perspective for both groups on the intricacies of both religions,” she says. “[It also] illustrated some of the similarities that exist that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.”
Rachel Prero, NCSY/JSU Kansas City Director, who facilitated the discussion at the meeting, said she was pleased when MSA approached JSU with a request to meet.
“One of the challenges Jewish groups often face on college campuses is that movements that supports BDS, like Students in Justice in Palestine, will not engage in dialogue,” she says. “Here was a special opportunity to meet in a relaxed, non-confrontational setting and just talk.”
And talk the teens did. Prero says the Jewish students were eager to learn more about the hijabs the Muslim girls were wearing, while the Muslim students were curious about Shabbat and keeping kosher. Both groups were also “amazed” to find that many words –including “Rosh Hashana,” “Day of Judgment” and “Shechina,” “Divine Presence” – are the same in Hebrew and Arabic.
“Overall, it was a really positive meeting, and a chance for both groups to look beyond outer appearances and get to know each other as individuals,” she says. “We are looking forward to meeting again in the near future.”
Ari Shabat, Chairman of the Youth Commission of Midwest NCSY, which runs JSU clubs in more than 30 public schools across the region, called the meeting a “beautiful showing of peace and communication.” He said he hopes this will be the first of many such meetings at JSU clubs throughout the country.
“Meetings like these could change the [anti-Israel] view and rhetoric in our country’s high schools, before the students reach college campuses,” he says. “It’s a win for the Jewish People.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.