Students from the Ottawa Jewish Community School (OJCS) journeyed across the city, June 21, to spend a day with their predominately Muslim counterparts at Charles H. Hulse Public School at the 14th annual Day of Cultural Understanding for Grade 6 students from the two schools.
The students had spent the year as pen pals – writing letters to establish personal connections with each other.
The program was launched, and is still run, by Hulse teacher Patrick Mascoe who explained that he heard students expressing anti-Semitic views after 9/11.
“When I asked my students if they’d ever met a Jewish person, many said that they hadn’t,” he said. “So I came up with this program in order to create personal connections between these different societies, to show that we’re all very similar.”
The Hulse and OJCS students played ball games, went on scavenger hunts, and shared their views and experiences about hatred, tolerance and personal responsibility.
The students also heard from Holocaust survivor Elly Bollegraaf who added a solemn, yet empowering message to the day as she shared her personal story of surviving the Holocaust as a child thanks to people who took action to help her.
“They didn’t see anything wrong with Jews, only that we are human beings,” she said.
At the end of the day, eating popsicles, the students from OJCS and Hulse parted with hugs, saying “shalom” and “todah rabah.”
On the bus back to OJCS, students Daniel Vered, Theo Checroune, Sam Shaffer and Lazar Secter spoke enthusiastically about the program.
“We felt that we were really being embraced by the students of Charles H. Hulse,” said Daniel.
“It’s so cool that there are students [at Hulse] from Somalia, Kenya, Egypt, and other different countries around the world,” added Theo.
Lazar and Sam said they were thrilled to meet their pen pals in person.
“All year I’ve tried to paint pictures in my head of what he looks like, how tall he is or the colour of his hair,” said Lazar, while Sam added, “It was an instant click with my buddy, after all the times we’ve written each other.”
All four said they had fun and are happy that OJCS takes part in the program.