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JCoSS pupils like to keep the interfaith

    Standing together: JCoSS and Ayesha Muslim Community School pupils
    Standing together: JCoSS and Ayesha Muslim Community School pupils

    Visit any Jewish school and you will expect to find calendars packed with important dates and holy festivals, from Rosh Hashanah to Shavuot.

    But Ramadan is unlikely to feature on the roster.

    This year, however, JCoSS decided to change that and put together a two-week interfaith programme to coincide with the Muslim festival - all of which took place inside a "multifaith tent".

    More than 500 students across Years Seven to Nine took part in the fortnight of activities, which included storytelling, creative writing sessions, painting, and visits from interfaith educators.

    In the second week, students from other faith schools - Ayesha Muslim Community School, St Michael's Church of England School, St Andrew the Apostle's Greek Orthodox School, Unity Muslim School, Eden Girls Muslim School and Ursuline High - came to visit.

    "Learning about other religions is all very nice, but we really wanted our kids to interact with people of different faiths," said deputy headteacher Elaine Robinson. "The next step is helping them to make real, lasting friendships."

    According to Ms Robinson, the school's interfaith work is a "top priority.

    "We exist in a beautiful JCoSS bubble," she said, "but we also live in the UK, and it is important that our pupils meet all cultures, and that they meet us too. We want to break down the barrier of 'other'.

    "We're still a young school and are constantly asking for feedback from pupils. They told us they wanted more interfaith, so we listened."

    Helping to oversee events was Raheed Salam, development officer for the interfaith charity All Faiths and None, who said that the multi-faith tent provided "the perfect space to set the foundations for discussion.

    "It's not just about learning about another religion from a textbook," he said. "The whole concept here is to bring students together to ask and answer challenging questions.

    "Ramadan is appropriate because, during this time, God wants us to be self-respecting and neighbourly. What better way is there to be a good Muslim during this period than by creating these connections?"

    On Monday, it was Ayesha Muslim Community School's turn to stop by. Questions posed by students ranged from "What is a barmitzvah?" to "How long do you fast for Ramadan?"

    "It's interesting to learn about other cultures," said 13-year-old Georgia McGurk from JCoSS. "The girls were telling us how they have to wake up at 2am during Ramadan to eat, and then can't eat anything else for the rest of the day. It sounds so difficult."

    "We told them that Yom Kippur wasn't as bad as that, as we only do it for one day a year," added her classmate, Jasmine Mann, 13.

    "It's really fun to chat to the other students and find out the things we have in common, like the fact that neither of us eats pork."

    Saba Said, 12, from Ayesha, agreed. "I knew a bit about Judaism, but I've learnt a lot more today."

    Her classmate, Noya Avniel, 13, added: "It's good to mix with other faiths, because we don't often do it. Everyone is interested in learning what we do."

    According to JCoSS's informal Jewish educator Ben Abram, the programme's success means it will now be a permanent fixture in the school diary.

    "Students need to be prepared for life beyond the Jewish community," he said. "It's vital for them to be open and outward-looking."

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