4 Life Lessons I Learned as a Jewish Teacher at an Islamic School
Would a private Islamic elementary school hire a Jewish schoolteacher? And should a Jewish schoolteacher work for an Islamic private school? What kind of experience would this be?
I accepted the position with mixed feelings. Nervous about religious prejudices, I wondered if I’d be accepted into the school community. Through applying good teaching skills, and putting forth my best efforts, I thought I’d teach the parents to feel positively about Jewish people. Little did I know that I was about to be educated as well.
1) The Islamic families were very warm and welcoming
From the beginning, I felt the parents and staff to be very friendly. Daily, I received nice greetings and smiles in the hallways. Throughout the school year, I communicated nicely with my students’ parents with newsletters, e-mails, phone and in-person conversations. Without exception, I found all of my contacts to be pleasant and often complimentary. Similarly, I enjoyed regularly speaking with my colleagues. In fact, to my delight, I was occasionally invited to family events, apart from school. Never did I feel discrimination.
2) The Islamic and Judaic cultures have many similarities
Through my first school days, I quickly became aware of an amazing number of cultural similarities affecting prayer, clothing, food, and language. Daily, my students joined the rest of the school, in afternoon prayer. Upon entering the musallah, a place of prayer, I recognized similarities to Jewish sanctuaries. More specifically, similar to the orthodox synagogues that I’ve attended, the men prayed in a separate section from the women. They prayed on the lower level with the imam, spiritual leader, while the women prayed from the balcony. Similarly the boys sat separate from the girls. Exceptions were made for the younger children which included my first graders. They sat on the balcony but in separate rows from the girls. In addition to the physical spacing, the sound was similar. Although the people were praying with Arabic melodies, I associated the feeling with hearing people praying with Hebrew melodies.
3) I learned to appreciate the many roles of Muslim women
As a social studies unit, my students studied jobs in our community. Hoping to make the lessons more meaningful, I invited parents to share their personal professions with the class. To my delight, the mothers frequently volunteered to explain their jobs. Their occupations included: medicine, urban planning, computer software, and learning center management. Some of the mothers were attending college. This became another one of my many positive learning experiences. Too often, I had heard stereotypes due to the female roles limited by foreign rulers.
4) I felt the need to share my experiences
At this unstable time of worldwide terrorism, I felt the need to share my positive experiences. I wanted to help people shed their negative stereotypes. From the time I considered accepting the teaching position onward, I met people who questioned my thinking. Would/could I be accepted? Through self-publishing a book, I thought I could best explain why political barriers need to be removed. The Jewish and Muslim cultures have so much in common. If only we could concentrate on the similarities and let them help us work through our differences.
Since publishing my book, I have been arranging presentations with various organizations. My purpose is, again, to spread the word. The need for this sharing has repeatedly surfaced through my own conversations and awareness of news events. Often I have been asked why Muslims use violence. People have questioned whether the Quran teaches violence? To the other extreme, I have experienced a warm and loving Muslim community.
About The Author
Janet Goldman is a writer, research analyst, and project assistant. You can connect with her via her website at: www.janetcgoldman.com