'Abraham' Project Brings Jewish, Muslim Kids Together

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Christians, Jews, and Muslims all look to Jerusalem as a holy city.

Yet Jerusalem is also a city separated by nationality and religion, where children grow up in their Muslim or Jewish neighborhoods without ever interacting with one another.

Now the Bible Lands Museum is using a common ancestor to bring these youngsters together.

Half of these fourth graders pounding on drums come from a Jewish school in Jerusalem. The rest are from the Israeli Arab village of Umm Tuba on the eastern side of the city.

It's hard to tell the children apart, though they belong to separate ethnic groups and rarely meet each other even though they live in the same city.

That's why the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem invites children from both sides of the city to come and learn about who they consider to be their common ancestor, Abraham, known as Avraham in Hebrew and Ibrahim in Arabic.

For the past 15 years, the museum has used its Image of Abraham project as a way to promote understanding between Muslims and Jews.

"I had a good experience although I was scared at first," a student named Shoham said. "I realized they are kids just like us."

Ibrahim had never been to the West side of the city before.

"It was good," he said. "I met them and learned about a new culture."

Museum director Amanda Weiss founded the Image of Abraham project to focus on the shared roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

"It offers young people, children especially, their teachers and their parents an opportunity to come together in an environment that has none of the political overtones, works to develop a sense of mutual respect and understanding," Weiss said.

"That is our focus and our goal while teaching about our shared common heritage," she said.

The course includes workshops in which children recreate biblical era objects.

But the process does take time. Museum counselors begin working with each group of children at their schools months before the first museum visit.

"This is very important to comfort the children so that they feel at ease," Museum Education Coordinator Rarida Kashkoosh said. "Later at the meeting, they speak about their fears and other matters, and it helps a lot."

Some parents initially refused to allow their children to take part in the coexistence seminars, but that changed once the course began.

"When the kids who did not come to the first or the second meeting, they heard from their classmates about what's going on in the museum, they asked their parents to come," Director of Education Yehuda Kaplan said.

And the parents who came saw the benefits of their children's encounter.

"I congratulate this initiative. I think it's very important," parent Hila Eliashar said. "I think all the kids are growing up in the same city and sometimes they don't get to know each other at all."

"Three of my children have taken part. And it's good," another parent named Ichlas said. "I encourage these events between Arab and Jewish schools."

"It breaks barriers between us and the Jewish kids, and we get to know each other," she said.

One mother suggested that leaders of all groups in this region would benefit from attending the Image of Abraham project.

Source: Israel Up Close Productions

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