Girls from Hasmonean High School in Mill Hill walk past their peers from Copthall School, a non-denominational academy with an ethnically diverse student body, every day. But neither knows much about the other.
Pupils from both schools confess to avoiding eye contact when they see each other, feeling scared or uncomfortable about the unknown.
But five pupils from each school decided it was time to change that. In a bid to break down the barriers keeping them apart, 80 pupils from the two schools came together this week for a morning of joint activities.
For Hasmonean’s Sophie Blankleder, 13, it was the only chance she would get to talk to girls from different cultural and religious backgrounds to her own.
“I feel it is a big privilege to organise this,” she said. “We are only a few minutes’ away from them but we don’t know much about them. Because we’re a Jewish school, we don’t often meet people from different backgrounds and we thought it was important that we did.”
She and her peers got together with staff and pupils from Copthall, where a large proportion of pupils are Muslim, to discuss the best way to co-operate.
The girls learned about each other as they played rounders, took part in quizzes and made new friends. “It shows we can all get on together,” she said, “and now we know them, we can say hi to them when we see them.”
Khadijah Akbar, from Copthall, said that as a young Muslim, it was “very unlikely” she would have the opportunity to make friends with Jewish girls her age. “I see the girls walk past me every day and they look quite nice, but I would never get to talk to them.
“When you are outside the school, it’s an uncomfortable environment, you don’t feel comfortable to talk to each other but being here is different.
“We are playing games and talking about what we like. We are a very multicultural school, but we don’t have any Jewish girls here so this way we get to learn about Jewish people and make new friends.”
Julia Blackman, chair of governors of Cophtall, who is a former Jewish pupil of the school,, said,“I went here in the 1980s when there were more Jewish students who went to the local mainstream school. I think a really important part of education is to open young people’s eyes to what is around them, to get them to interact and see they are just like each other.”
Evelyn Forde, Headteacher at Copthall added: "We were delighted to welcome Hasmonean girls today. It is an amazing opportunity to begin some great partnership between the schools and work to promote interfaith relationships."
Adina Abecasis, assistant director of Jewish studies at Hasmonean, said it was making a concerted effort to give pupils better access to the outside world. “Because we’re such a community school and the girls only really mix with each other, they don’t know what is on the outside world,” she said.
“In society today there is a lot of animosity between different cultures and the girls wanted to organise something to counter that. It teaches our girls about tolerance and breaks down the fear of the other.”