The fourth-grader from Chicago’s Sacred Heart Schools said he was happy he got to visit a synagogue.
“I didn’t know what was in it,” said Luke Penner.
Amin Wahdam, a student at Muslim Community Center Full Time School in Morton Grove, didn’t know that Jews light candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah to commemorate the ancient story of one night’s worth of oil lasting eight nights.
And Noah Srulovitz, a student at Solomon Schechter Day School’s Northbrook campus, said he never knew that Christians are celebrating Jesus’ birthday on Christmas.
Catholic, Jewish and Muslim fourth-graders are learning all kinds of things about one another as they explore different religions and dabble in the world of poetry through Poetry Pals, an interfaith effort started by a Jewish educator who realized that her life was too homogenous.
“I worked in the Jewish community, my friends were all Jewish, and I woke up one day and said, ‘Something is wrong with this,'” said Donna Yates, now retired.
Inspired by a woman who started a program called We the Poets in Philadelphia that focuses on personal and social issues via the written word, Yates founded Poetry Pals, which brings together diverse and interfaith students.
Three times a year, the kids get together at one school’s campus. The day culminates in students’ writing a poem that incorporates something from all the religions, customs and lifestyles, but it’s really not the poetry that is so important, Yates said. It is the getting to know one another and learning about people they would not otherwise know.