/BY LEAH BRAUNSTEIN LEVY/ //AJT CONTRIBUTOR//

 

In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Greenfield Hebrew Academy Middle School students participated in an Acceptance Summit with their counterparts from St. Jude Catholic School just before Martin Luther King Day.

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The program was facilitated by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has certified GHA as a “No Place For Hate” school for their culture of respect and their creation of a safe environment where bullying is not tolerated.

The program was originally conceived in the mind of Interim Lower School Principal and School Counselor Sylvia Miller; she contacted Holli Levinson, the Education Director at the ADL.

“I had just received a similar request from the administration at St. Jude, so all I did was match them up,” said Ms. Levinson.

“We are so excited to host the Acceptance Summit at our school,” Ms. Miller said. “As a ‘No Place For Hate’ school, I think it’s so important that our kids are exposed to other people beyond our walls. A program like this teaches them acceptance and appreciation of others.”

The summit began when 30 students from St. Jude arrived at GHA, where the 30 nervous and excited GHA middle schoolers welcomed them.

Ms. Levinson introduced the ice-breaking game of “Stand Up,” in which various groupings stood if, for example, they were born in Atlanta, or if they had ever fallen asleep in a movie, or if they spoke more than one language.

Rabbi Adam Starr of the Young Israel of Toco Hills, who serves as the rabbinic decisor for GHA, addressed the students with a short explanation of the basics of Judaism and also explained the significance of Israel as the Holy Land for the Jewish people.

Reverend Bill Hao, Parochial Vicar for St. Jude Parish Church, covered the foundations and basic beliefs of Catholicism.

Reverend Hao and Rabbi Starr took questions from the group, answering some very thoughtful students about subjects like the origin of Santa Claus and Christmas and what Jewish beliefs about heaven might be.

The questioners discovered some things in common; some students were surprised to learn that both Jews and Catholics observe a Sabbath day.

The group broke up into workshops, where ADL facilitators Dana Smith and Leesa Kellam used games and activities to help students to ponder religious identity, commonalities and differences, tolerance, and understanding.

At lunch, both GHA and St. Jude Middle Schoolers discovered that each group recited blessings before their meals.

After more workshops, Ms. Miller addressed the group. She explained that they were holding the Acceptance Summit on Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees. Students planted seeds in a joint flowerpot, decorated with all of their names and an inspirational quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We thought that this was a wonderful way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day,” Reverend Hao said. “It’s important to be tolerant and accepting of people with different religious traditions and customs, and also learn that we’re not really very different—we have so much in common…Love of God and love of one’s neighbor are two things that we incorporate into our own lives.”

Rabbi Starr agreed, “They learned so much about one another; it’s important to respect one another despite our differences, or even because of our differences. They also learned that there’s so much they share: similar interests, a similar sense of community. I was delighted to see our students take such pride in their Judaism as they beautifully articulated and shared what Judaism means to their lives.”

“Coming as it did on Tu B’Shevat, and immediately before we commemorate the impactful life of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday,” GHA’s Interim Head of School Leah Summers said, “it seems fitting that our students were given this opportunity to expose prejudices and break down stereotypes, and plant the seeds of tolerance.”

 Leah Braunstein Levy is a paraprofessional at GHA and the author of The Waiting Wall, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2010. Her work appears in a new collection of essays, Kaddish, Women’s Voices, winner of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award.

 

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