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I guess I was lucky. Between the ages of four and eight at Connaught House School in London, my classmates included Ziad Aladdin, Khalid Ismail and Yasser al-Saeed. You’re right, none of them you would consider traditional Jewish names. But we played together and went to each other’s birthday party.
And when I came home from school, who would greet me at the door of the block of flats where we lived smiling? That’s right, Mohammad Quli. His wife Ayesha was our cleaner. And whenever we had people for a dinner party, Yom Tov or Simcha, Ayesha would help with the cooking, and Mohamed – who also worked in a fancy casino and went to Mecca on Hajj – wore his tuxedo and barman. assumed the role. and waiter.
Mohammad and Ayesha were part of the family, Ziyad, Khalid and Yasir were my friends.
This is how I saw them. Yes, they were Arabs and Muslims, but the way we were connected was not influenced by any geopolitical or religious considerations.
So I was lucky. The community I grew up in also had people who didn’t have the social exposure I had, and who automatically dismissed any Arab or Muslim as an enemy.
You might want to think that after more than 40 years and thousands of miles away in a state that prides itself on multiculturalism, that kind of attitude might be confined to the history books, but sadly, isn’t. It persists for a few quarters.
But it’s not just about how we see them. It is also about how they perceive us.
What would those who have never met a Jew or, for that matter, know nothing of Israel, think of us?
Well, if they only had media coverage of Jews and Israel last year, chances are not too high.
The Jews were the ones who were clearly breaking lockdown rules not once but twice on the front pages of newspapers and on TV screens. And the country of Israel was portrayed as turning the homes of poor Palestinians into ruins. Hardly the best first impression.
And that’s where the Jacob Frenkiel Connecting Culture service, operated by Zionism Victoria, comes in.
In short, it is a free service that complements the Victorian curriculum that brings students from non-Jewish schools across the state to the center of the Jewish community. The experience is tailored to the age of the participants and what they are studying. They can visit a Jewish school, a shool, the Melbourne Holocaust Museum and the Jewish Museum of Australia. They can hear from rabbis, Shoah survivors, sectarian leaders and volunteers. Add in a falafel lunch and a short film about Israel, and the impact cannot be underestimated.
For young students whose only impression of the Jewish state comes from highly biased news reports, this is a vibrant, multicultural modern democracy, a chance to see all religions respected and a world leader in so many fields from science to start-ups. Is. And from high tech to haute cuisine.
And given that we have been reading recently about anti-Semitic bullying in government schools and swastika dubbing, the importance of reaching out to young members of the wider Victorian community and educating them about who we are and our History is important.
Earlier this month at Beth Weisman, we had the privilege of hosting 50 students from Melton Christian College. It was as much an education for me as it was for him. As he sat in a room in the Lamm Library between his visits to the Holocaust Museum and St. Kilda Schule, he bowed his head and said grace, before tucking into his falafel and pita. From Christian Children. Who knew?
One came very politely and, after saying what an eye-opening experience it was, asked if he could walk around the library and display the books and Judica. A little while later, Ruth from the library called me to her office to say how nice it was to see all 50 students now reading the bookshelf.
From Melton to Mildura and from Wallen to Vonthagi, hundreds of students converge on the Caulfield each year for a connecting culture. And their schools in country Victoria are mutually happy. For example, Leibler Yvneh Elementary student became penpal with children from schools in South Gippsland and went on to experience a little of his lifestyle while learning about subjects such as dairy farming and coal mining.
Cultural educator Rob Robertson, who hailed Connecting Cultures as “one of the most rewarding and educational programs Wonthagi North Primary School has been part of”, enthused that it “promotes a culture of peace and acceptance of others”. is”, adding to that long lasting friendship not only between students from different schools but also between teachers.
Importantly, he said, it “plays a vital role in sowing the seeds of tolerance, compassion and understanding that will contribute to building a more harmonious society for the foreseeable future”.
Certainly no one can question whether this goal is worth achieving.
As far as Ziyad, Khalid and Yasir are concerned, to be honest, it has been many years since I saw my Muslim comrades. But I can only hope that they remember their Jewish friends at Connaught House School with the same warmth with which I remember them. And seriously our shared childhood means they grew up without the prejudiced eyelids towards a different religion or ethnicity that afflicts so much in our society.
Ultimately, when cultures connect, barriers are broken. And in today’s world we all should try our best to fulfill it.
JD Lawrence is the executive director of Zionism Victoria.
For more information about the Jakob Frenkiel Connecting Cultures service, visit zionismvictoria.org.au/connecting-cultures or email [email protected]
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