I have a kid who’s in a school in an upper middle class neighborhood, and (it’s) mostly white kids. And we live only 10 miles away from Newark, where there are schools with kids that are mostly Black kids or kids of color. Wouldn’t it be great if we actually built bridges between these two sets of kids?
That’s Ariel Nelson of Livingston in Essex County, the son of a Holocaust survivor, who came up with an unusual idea: What if students at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, which his own son attends, and students at Newark’s St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, learned as a group about anti-Semitism and racism?
From the Star-Ledger:
In the weekly virtual seminar, students dive into historical texts and firsthand accounts of oppression — touching on events from the past like the “Tuskegee syphilis experiments” and the Nuremberg Code, to current events like the deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre of 2018. Students also share their own personal experiences with discrimination and prejudice. Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., has even sat in on a lesson.
This month-long seminar has been enlightening for all participants. Kayla Soto, a Black student at St. Benedict’s, explained, “I didn’t know there are still some anti-Semitic groups in New Jersey until I was in the class. And I feel like the Kushner students also learned a different perspective from the Black students actually having to go through…racial insensitivity firsthand. But we all really gained a lot of different perspectives from the class.” Maurice Korish, a Jewish student from Rae Kushner added, “The one thing that I’ve learned the most from the seminar is really having an opportunity to hear personal experiences from the students at St. Benedict’s who have experienced firsthand racism and discrimination by law enforcement officials.”
One goal of the program, say leaders from both schools, is for the students to consider solutions for those who confront systemic racism and anti-Semitism. And, in so doing, learn about similarities between two groups who rarely interact on a level playing field. If the pandemic allows, the students will travel to Washington D.C. to visit the Holocaust Museum and the Museum for African-American History and Culture.
Another goal: continue the collaboration between St. Benedict’s and Rae Kushner and urge other schools to create similar programs that build bridges between groups of students who just may have more in common than they thought.