by Ruby Kellman
In my 6th grade year, there was an incredibly stupid and offensive joke that went a little something like “is it because I’m Jewish?” Say you cut someone in the lunch line, they would say, “is it ‘cause I’m Jewish?”, or bumped into them in the hallway, “is it ‘cause I’m Jewish?” Mind you none of these kids were Jewish. This ‘joke’ continued and mutated through all kinds of things, like Muslim or atheist, or even black at one point. Most people didn’t say a word about it.
Fast forward to 7th grade where people would just call somebody Jewish as an insult. In the middle of all this, our wonderful social studies teachers offered up an opportunity for 12 Abbott Middle School students to participate in an interfaith experience. Some, like myself saw it for the great program it is, others as a way to skip school and get free food 6 times. I signed up because it sounded really interesting.
This program was called Religious Diversity Journeys. The program centered on teaching kids not to be biased about religion and teach them to be accepting of all faiths. We went to houses of worship. We ate food tied to the faiths. And we listened to religious leaders teach us about them.
Our first journey was on, you guessed it, Judaism. On this journey the 12 of us learned all about this religion. Most of the kids, even the ones who started out in it just for the free food, really felt like they got something out of it. After that a few people started to actually speak up when they heard the Jew remarks, and that started to spread. These people’s friends not only stopped, but a few of them started to call out people on how completely inappropriate the ‘joke’ was.
As it turns out, many of the people who made these jokes didn’t even realize that they could be offensive to somebody at our school. A few weeks later we had our second journey, and then the third. I could say that these remarks had completely died, but it’d be a lie. But they were much rarer and often greeted with foul looks or somebody telling them to grow up.
After the 4th journey, you could actually tell that our school had changed, and not only about religion; there were almost no comments on race, or religion or almost anything at all. At this point, our student council also started having social justice meetings for everyone in the school to come and share ideas about how we could make our school a safer place for everyone. And I love to say, I do think it was because of Religious Diversity Journeys.
Through Religious Diversity Journeys, I was enlightened about a lot of things I didn’t know about most of the faiths. And I could help educate others, which was nice. Several of the students involved with the program were on student council, and just by a select few in our grade setting the example of being accepting and kind, our whole grade caught on.
Ruby participated in RDJ during the 2014/2015 school year, and will be continuing with RDJ as a student volunteer this year.