TORONTO — About 140 Jewish, Muslim and Catholic students gathered at Leo Baeck Day School’s north campus on March 31 to take part in an interfaith Passover seder, in an ongoing effort to build bridges between the faith communities.
Rabbi Noam Katz, Leo Baeck’s dean of Jewish living, explained that while this is not the first time As-Sadiq Islamic School and St. Joseph the Worker Catholic School have come together, this is the first year that visits were planned at each school “to enhance and promote the interfaith dialogue and learning.”
Last month, Grade 7 Leo Baeck students were invited to As-Sadiq in Thornhill, Ont., where they received an introduction to Islam from the school’s imam.
Students from both schools participated in a group-building activity, a tour of the school, a discussion about the similarities between the Jewish and Muslim faiths, and Rabbi Katz was invited to speak about the values of Reform Judaism.
Before Passover, Leo Baeck students hosted As-Sadiq and St. Joseph the Worker students at an interfaith seder.
“Our students are not just in the role of seder leaders, but teachers of some of the Jewish traditions, the symbols on the seder plate, the story of the exodus from Egypt,” Rabbi Katz said in advance of the March 31 event.
“But we’ll also have some activities that the kids do interactively throughout the course of the seder. So, for example, we come to the piece about the plagues that befell Egypt, and in interfaith groups, the kids will talk around the table about modern-day plagues, whether environmental or man-made.”
He said representatives from each school were also invited to speak about their own holidays, such as Easter and Ramadan.
“I think another important goal for us as a school is to make sure that students understand… the commonalities between them,” said Yvette Burke, Leo Baeck’s principal of the north campus. “And that they are just kids and they do share certain elements of growing up together that are very similar, and to sort of demystify the whole idea that they are not so different.”
Rabbi Katz said one of the driving forces behind the initiative is to help students and the rest of the Jewish community, broaden their horizons.
“We want to help our students, and by extension our school and our community, know our neighbours who often live in the same neighbourhoods, but whom they might never speak to without this kind of an experience,” Rabbi Katz said
“One of our Jewish and universal teachings is to love our neighbour as yourself, and my commentary or addendum to that is, how can you love your neighbour if you don’t even know your neighbour?”
This interfaith program expanded last year to Leo Baeck’s south campus. The Islamic Foundation School and Holy Rosary Catholic School are the other two schools involved.
Burke said the interfaith activities have been positive and eye-opening for the students. “They spoke about it quite a bit and reflected upon it.”
As-Sadiq student Zainab Saleh said it was fun to learn about the different religions and meet other students.
“We all have the same hobbies, and even though we’re different, we’re pretty much the same and we live the same lifestyle. We made many friends and it was fun,” Saleh said.
Leo Baeck student Leeor Freiman said, “I showed them my religion and they showed me theirs… It was a great experience and I learned a lot from their cultures and I hope they learned a lot from mine, and I look forward to another time that we do this together.”
Following the Pesach break, there are plans to visit the Catholic school.