NINE years ago, a Jewish girl was walking home from school on Sydney’s north shore when a busload of students from a neighbouring school roared past her and began shouting racist slurs.
Rather than insist on harsh punishments against the students involved, the state’s Jewish leadership proposed a novel solution of bringing the distraught girl face-to-face with her anti-Semitic attackers.
“We started out with 20 Catholic students, 20 Jewish and 20 Muslim students and got them talking to each other,” Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, said.
“The students were able to ask direct questions about why people with different cultures or faiths or backgrounds engage in their different cultural practices. It was an enormous benefit and an opportunity for the students.”
Almost a decade later the program - now labelled Respect, Understanding, Acceptance - involves more than 1500 Sydney school students each year, brought together in groups of 100 or 200 to learn about each other and to discuss issues of racism.
The program is touted as a way of helping young Australians break the cycles of racism demonstrated by recent incidents involving ABC presenter Jeremy Fernandez — abused with his daughter on a bus in February — and AFL star Adam Goodes, who was branded an “ape” by a 13-year-old female spectator in Melbourne at the weekend.
“Clearly, some racism which one encounters is coming from the home, and that is where the real challenge is. We must counter negative messages, the bigoted messages coming from the home,” Mr Alhadeff said. “There is no such thing as a bystander. If you’re a bystander, you’re part of the problem.”
Yesterday’s RUA gathering at the University of NSW allowed students from Granville Boys High - a public school in Sydney’s strongly-Islamic west - to come face-to-face with pupils from Brigidine College and Masada College, a Catholic girls school and Jewish school on the city’s affluent north shore.
Brigidine student Maddi Breen, 16, said the meeting gave her an opportunity to meet and mingle with the city’s Muslims, who are a rare sight in St Ives, where her school and Masada are located.
“I don’t think we have any Islamic people at my school. We learn about Islam when we study religion, but this is giving us a chance to meet and understand each other,” she said.
Granville’s Mahmoud Skef, 15, said he had learned that Jews prayed three times a day.
Muslims make up 18.5 per cent of the population in Granville, compared with 0.6 per cent in St Ives. Jews account for 13 per cent of St Ives residents, compared with 0.3 per cent in Granville.
From Archives of Racismnoway comes this undated article.
Respect, Understanding and Acceptance
150 students come together for intercultural experience
ABOUT 150 Jewish, Muslim, Armenian, Aboriginal and Christian students from four north shore schools came together at the Galstaun College in Ingleside last week for the first event of an innovative three-part intercultural program titled “Respect, Understanding and Acceptance”. Devised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Education Secretariat, the program brings together students from the Galstaun Armenian College, Masada College (a Jewish school), the Australian Islamic College of Sydney and St Paul’s Catholic College, Manly.
The students met for a day of discussion and multimedia performances.
Guest speaker Dai Le, Community Relations Manager for the NSW Liberal Party, told the students of her treacherous journey to Australia on a tiny boat escaping Vietnam. She stressed the importance of building bridges between the diverse cultures which call this country home. NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said the program encourages the students “to respect each others’ differences and to have the guts to speak out when you see someone being isolated, marginalised or discriminated against.”
The second event of the program will be held at the Sydney Jewish Museum on Harmony Day in May and the third at Masada College in October. Both will feature interactive sessions with Jewish, Muslim, Armenian, Aboriginal and Catholic speakers.
Clusters of the RUA program involving other cultural and faith groups will also run in the east and south west of Sydney in 2010.
For more information : or to join a cluster: email firstname.lastname@example.org