Friendship and Faith focuses on building compassionate cross-cultural friendships and project co-founder Gail Katz is a long-time professional in this special field of education.
Gail wrote this about a recent Face to Faith program with high school students …
From the time I was a child, I have been aware of being different. I spent my early childhood and elementary years in a non-Jewish neighborhood, and I was one of the only Jews in my Maryland public school classrooms through the sixth grade. I was always considered “the other.” Because of this, I was drawn to a career of teaching English as a Second Language in the Berkley, Michigan, Public Schools for many years to elementary and middle school children of immigrants who are also considered the “other.” I also sponsored many of my district’s diversity initiatives—teaching students to take a right stand, to stop being bystanders, to advocate for the “other,” and to stop the bullying that was taking place because of differences in ethnic background, religion, size, sexual orientation, and economic status. I also ran a program for 7th graders in Oakland County called the Religious Diversity Journeys, a project sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, where middle school students had the chance to visit local houses of worship and study different faith traditions.
So it was only natural for me to respond with great enthusiasm when the Michigan Region BBYO (an organization for Jewish teens) contacted me in 2011 to help set up an interfaith initiative for high school teens. As the Co-Founder of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit), the Co-Chair of the Education Committee for the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, and the Chair of the World Sabbath (an annual youth based interfaith peace event), it is my deepest belief that interfaith interaction is a vital way to reduce myths and stereotypes about the “other” and enhance respect and understanding.
Although I do a lot of my work with bringing adults together, my real passion is to get our youth to focus on unity, peace, community building, and mutual understanding as their mission. When we get diverse youth together to talk and break bread together, they find out what they have in common, and our community becomes a better place to live. Face to Faith is a wonderful interfaith high school teen program that gives youth an opportunity to discover how their religion has shaped their high school years, to discuss the misunderstandings and stereotypes they have personally experienced or witnessed about their faith, and to create opportunities for teens to cross boundaries and interact with students of other faiths. In my mind there is nothing more important than helping our children, our teens, and our young adults to build a future of justice, equality, respect and peace—a calling that I hope we all share.
Here is Gail’s report on the Face to Faith gathering this spring …
Face to Faith was the brainstorm of Andover High School Senior Josh Morof, who, after participating on a Chaldean and Jewish Teen Panel at Temple Israel a year ago, decided to form a broader-based interfaith teen initiative. On the evening of March 24th, 2011 about 70 Muslim, Jewish, and Christian teens met for the first time at the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center to learn about each other’s faiths, to talk with each other and to break down myths and stereotypes. The teens continued to meet at the Presbyterian Church of Birmingham in September, 2011, the Muslim Unity Center in November, 2011, Adat Shalom Synagogue in January, 2012 and finally at Andover High School in Bloomfield Hills on March 15, 2012, for the grand finale of this school year’s program.
When the diverse teens arrived at Andover High School, they broke the ice by participating in a “Find Someone Who” mixer. They then enjoyed Middle Eastern food purchased from the Muslim Unity Center’s cafe, and had fun breaking bread together.
The teens then divided up into two groups. The first group played a game called “Name That Faith.” Verses from the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament were called out and teams of teens had to identify their sources. It quickly became evident that many of the verses were quite similar across the three faith traditions.
Contributing to this group game were Imam Mohammed Al-Masmari from the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills, the Rev. James Hamilton from the Trinity Episcopal Church of Farmington Hills, the Rev. Amy Morgan, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, and Marc Silberstein, instructor at the Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield.
The second group engaged in a Team Building Activity, led by Andover teen Josh Morof and Frankel Jewish Academy teen Ilana Woronoff. Teens had to build a structure that only selected members of their team were allowed to see. It was clear that team cooperation and accurate verbal instructions were what was needed to win this game.
At the end of the evening the teens shared what they had learned about each other and the value of Face to Faith in breaking down barriers and stereotypes. Some of the teens who have been very active in this initiative will be going off to college next fall, and will not be part of the program next year. We asked the teens who will be returning next fall what they might like to include in next year’s Face to Faith programming. Some responses included learning how to deal with misconceptions and conflict, and perhaps participating as an interfaith group in doing community service. We look forward to some of our Muslim, Christian, and Jewish teens re-joining us next school year, and to attracting teens of other faith traditions and cultures (such as Chaldean, Sikh, Hindu, Unitarian, Buddhist, and others) who have not yet been part of Face to Faith.
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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)