Would a private Islamic elementary school hire a Jewish schoolteacher? And should a Jewish schoolteacher work for an Islamic private school? What kind of experience would this be?
Janet Goldman pondered these and other questions. She though she’d teach the Muslim parents to feel positively about Jewish people. Little did she know that she was about to be educated as well.
How was her experience? Here are four lessons she came away with, which she details in a self-published book, Salaam/Shalom:
“1. The Islamic families were very warm and welcoming
From the beginning, I felt the parents and staff to be very friendly. Daily, I received nice greetings and smiles in the hallways. Without exception, I found all of my contacts to be pleasant and often complimentary. In fact, to my delight, I was occasionally invited to family events, apart from school. Never did I feel discrimination.
“2. The Islamic and Judaic cultures have many similarities
I quickly became aware of an amazing number of cultural similarities affecting prayer, clothing, food, and language. Daily, my students joined the rest of the school, in afternoon prayer. Upon entering the musallah, a place of prayer, I recognized similarities to Jewish sanctuaries. Similar to the orthodox synagogues that I’ve attended, the men prayed in a separate section from the women. Although the people were praying with Arabic melodies, I associated the feeling with hearing people praying with Hebrew melodies.
“3. I learned to appreciate the many roles of Muslim women
As a social studies unit, my students studied jobs in our community. Hoping to make the lessons more meaningful, I invited parents to share their personal professions with the class. To my delight, the mothers frequently volunteered to explain their jobs. Their occupations included: medicine, urban planning, computer software, and learning center management. Too often, I had heard stereotypes due to the female roles limited by foreign rulers.
“4. I felt the need to share my experiences
I wanted to help people shed their negative stereotypes. From the time I considered accepting the teaching position onward, I met people who questioned my thinking. Would/could I be accepted? Through self-publishing a book, I thought I could best explain why political barriers need to be removed. The Jewish and Muslim cultures have so much in common. If only we could concentrate on the similarities and let them help us work through our differences.
“Since publishing my book, I have been arranging presentations with various organizations. Often I have been asked why Muslims use violence. People have questioned whether the Quran teaches violence. To the other extreme, I have experienced a warm and loving Muslim community.”
She doesn’t say where this Islamic school is, though I assume it is in upstate New York or someplace in the United States. The book should be a very interesting read for people of all faiths.
My thanks to Barbara Chapman Dworkin for sharing this lovely story. Barbara is an open-minded and fair woman, who is very active in interfaith events in the Capital Region and even internationally