Pupils pass over their wisdom

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Reva Klein visits an exhibition where Jewish students teach other children about their faith

Not more than 15 miles from where Brookside Close would be if it really existed, children attending Catholic schools are meeting Jewish young people for the first time. It's not so much a meeting as a revelatory event for many of the Catholic primary and secondary pupils.

Over the period of a month, sixth-formers from King David High School, Liverpool, are showing key stage 2, 3 and 4 pupils from a third of all Sefton schools around the Jewish Way of Life Exhibition. Devised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the exhibition is touring nationally and is being hosted in the Merseyside area by St Ambrose Barlow RC School in Bootle.

For the Catholic children, it's a chance to meet "real live" Jews. For the Jewish sixth-formers, it's an opportunity to explain their religion and answer sometimes surprising questions.

For instance, one child asked Ben Rosen, one of the Jewish sixth-formers, if the glasses he was wearing were special ones that you needed to read Hebrew. Another King David student, Lucienne Abrams, was slightly puzzled when one of the Catholic children asked if it had been difficult for her to learn English.

The occasion is part of the curriculum, in fact several bits of it, including spiritual, moral, social and cultural education and history. But primarily, it has been designed as a peer education project in religious education.

A joint initiative between Sefton's RE adviser Jackie Emery and Laurie Rosenberg, the education officer at the Jewish Board of Deputies, it has confirmed the need for young people from these two communities to meet and talk.

The exhibition, which offers highlights of Jewish history as well as explanations of some traditions and rituals, is an effective way of generating discussion. The young peer educators who take children around the exhibition allow them to see connections between the religion they're being introduced to and their own, pointing out similarities between rituals.

Andrew Trainer, headteacher at St Ambrose Barlow, says: "The children have been impressed by the faith commitment of these sixth-formers, who have so many different laws to follow. It's made them question their own faith commitment and beliefs."

When they do, they see that they, too, have rules and traditions they follow. The Sabbath meal, for instance, which is represented by a mock-up of a white tableclothed table featuring a Kiddush cup of wine, candles and cholla, the Sabbath bread, has prompted some children to compare it with the Sacrament and others to Sunday lunch.

But for Andrew Trainer, it goes far beyond the curricular, religious education angle. "It's the understanding of other religious groups that makes this such a valuable idea. As a Catholic school following the Weaving the Web scheme of learning, which brings a pluralist element into every subject we study, this fits in perfectly with what we're doing."

For Daniel Geey, captain (head boy) of King David High and one of the peer educators, the project provides something more than a day away from school. "It reinforces what we're taught and allows us to give some of that learning back to the community."

Gemma Deacon, aged 16, enjoys the teaching side of it. "I like giving people an insight into my life and my religion. I know that a lot of people stereotype Jewish people. It's fulfilling to see their reactions when they see and hear what we're really like."

To book the Jewish Way of Lifeexhibition, ring the education department of the Board of Deputies of British Jews: 0171 543 5400

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