Published in the Hebrew Watchman, February 28, 2020
by Michal Almalem
Michal Almalem is the Judaic Studies Principal at Bornblum Jewish Community School.
Seventh graders from Bornblum Jewish Community School recently welcomed their peers from St. Agnes Academy and St. Dominic School to learn together about American identity. Using curriculum from Facing History and Ourselves, the two classes collaborated on the unit Many Voices – One National Identity.
St. Agnes and St. Dominic students came to Bornblum to learn about Jewish identity in the United States. This visit reinforced the idea that while we have many voices, we can create one national identity when our various voices come together. During their visit to Bornblum, students from the two schools participated in a number of activities that helped them explore this idea.
Mrs. Clara Talley, the St. Agnes teacher and I, asked the students to choose three words to describe the United States. The most common words chosen were freedom, diversity, developed, intelligent, world leaders, resourceful, and independent. Students then watched a film clip interviewing people from other countries describing the United States. Students were surprised to learn that other people used words like superpower, bling, empire, ignorant, Hollywood, Romans, discipline, superior, and nice. Learning that others see us differently than we see ourselves, was not only a great tool for understanding history, but also helped students to understand their friends in class. Here were two groups of students from two different schools and different religions, yet they had so much in common.
Bornblum students showed the school to their friends from St Agnes. They explained the meaning and role of Torah and Tefillin. They explained why there is a Mezuzah in the entrance of each door of the school. They shared some details about kosher and why their eighth grade Israel trip is so important to our students. They even explained to them about Israeli snacks and about challah. The students then ate together, and each class shared their blessings before eating. As an educator it was very special to watch.
According to Bornblum Seventh Grader, Ethan VanderWalde, “The visit from St. Agnes was a very meaningful experience for me. I had the opportunity to teach other kids about my religion, and how it feels to be an American Jew, while at the same time learning more about their religion, and how being American means different things to each of us.”
The Many Voices-One National Identity unit emphasized that each person has his or her own identity. Students learned that while there is no single story that shapes a nation, they could create an identity chart for their own country which illustrated common values, issues, symbols and challenges.
At the center of their identity chart, students put the values of equality, human rights, freedom, capitalism, and history. Around these core ideas, they placed other ideas, symbols and challenges, things like racism, immigration, politics, McDonalds, Disney, sports, and more.
It was fascinating to watch their interaction as they learned together. For all of us it illustrated so clearly that there are many voices to our amazing nation!
As teachers, Mrs.Talley and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to learn together and enrich each other’s worlds.