In a time when we need it most, two schools have joined together to promote tolerance and interfaith connections. Weizmann Day School is a non-profit, independent, co-educational school for students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Established in 1983 and named after Chaim Weizmann, noted scientist and Israel’s first President, the school offers an outstanding academic education enriched by Jewish principles and practice. New Horizon School seeks to develop in each student a positive identity as an American Muslim. New Horizon students are expected to integrate academic skills, Qur’anic principles, and ethical behavior in order to make positive contributions to the global community.
Last month, nine students from the small Jewish day school took part in a unique opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., with eight 8th grade students from New Horizon to have an interfaith trip of a lifetime. In addition to visiting the historical landmarks, the students attended a special tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a day trip to Philadelphia. This is such an inspiring opportunity for Jewish and Muslim students to learn together about their shared and unique histories and foster connections and friendships!
In advance of this amazing joint-excursion, the students have interacted throughout the years visiting each other’s schools and going on related field trips together. The two schools have joined together before for music and art projects, and they took a similar trip in 2016. The results have been inspiring. Now, they hope to further foster interfaith connections as students from very different backgrounds join together for flights, meals, lodging at a hotel and sightseeing!
I recently had the great fortune of speaking to Lisa Feldman, Weizmann Head of School, and she told me how this idea came to fruition. “In 2003 I was the new head of school and I met with the principal of the lower school at New Horizon, Kim Budge; we were colleagues in town. Kim later introduced me to Amira al-Saaraf, and we developed a very nice friendship over the years. We started to realize that there are so many similarities between Judaism and Islam. Everything from the language to the customs of hospitality and Tzedakah.”
In March of 2005 the City of Pasadena Human Relations Committee recognized their efforts in organizing a local, multi-cultural concert with the presentation of their 2005 Models of Unity Award. Weizmann (Jewish) Day School, hosted and joined voices with the students from St. Mark’s (Episcopal) School, New Horizon (Muslim) School, and B’nai Simcha (Jewish) Preschool. All faith-based elementary and middle schools involved in the concert have continued to work together throughout the years, and throughout the grades, on special projects and programs. Some activities include: kindergarten pen-pals and literacy parties; a unique origami program after which the children’s pieces were proudly displayed in the main branch of the Pasadena Library; joint field trip for the upper grades to the International Printing Museum; get-togethers during the mutual season of winter holidays; and visits to each other’s schools, experiencing their unique religious observances. As you can see, the concert and the trips to D.C. are just a few of the projects these women are undertaking to spread the message of hope, peace and solidarity. In D.C., the students enjoyed fun days of learning and participated in workshops where they learned what it takes for an idea to go from bill to law, while making friends with students from all over the area. They also had the incredible opportunity to visit some of our national monuments—The Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam War, Korean War and MLK Memorials. In addition, they went to Capitol Hill, the House office buildings, and the House of Representatives’ Gallery, as well as the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court building, and the National Air & Space Museum. The special tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had a profound effect on the students:
Adam, an 8th grade student, stated: “I was especially interested in the testimony of US soldiers liberating Nazi camps. It showed a perspective that I hadn’t seen before.” I send this message to you while having sincere appreciation for your work raising awareness of and fighting genocide and discrimination. To quote MLK Jr. “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” You took this ideal and ran with it, joining a global community fighting the unfair bias that sadly still exists. That is a hard fight, and you are willing to fight for equality. That is sincere bravery.
Maya, a 7th grader, noted: “Going to the museum was an unbelievable experience. As a whole class we went to ‘Americans in the Holocaust’ exhibit. It was very educational to see how the country we live in reacted to the Nazi regime. We saw many pictures of the innocent victims of the Holocaust and heard stories of those who were affected by the Holocaust.”
Maxx, an 8th grader, wrote: “Thank you for giving us the opportunity to visit this powerful museum. It’s an honor to know that we have a source for people to learn about the atrocities during theHolocaust. It was just heartbreaking to see the pile of shoes of the children who were killed, and I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like in one of the rail cars.”
When Lisa speaks of the students and these experiences, it is with great passion and commitment. She loves what she does and it shows! She believes that making a difference in these students’ lives not only affects them but can have a significant impact on the greater community. “We are a small school in a small Jewish community so we want to be known for community service, social justice, and Tikkun Olam. I have been involved in interfaith dialogue since I was a kid. I’m extremely proud of what we’re doing here.”
To learn more about Weizmann School please visit www.weizmann.net and for any questions you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Florence L. Dann, Beit Sefer Director of Temple Beth Israel of Pomona, has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.