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“In this programme we found friends”

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29 / 11 / 19

Isaac Reuben’s speech from the Faith & Belief Forum Gala Dinner 2019

Good evening. My name’s Isaac and I’ve been given the honour to speak about the School Linking programme I was a part of.

My school is JCoSS, the Jewish Community Secondary School in Barnet and we linked with Tawhid, a Muslim boys’ school in Stoke Newington. I wanted to take part in the programme to help me to leave the religious bubble so many of us find ourselves in, and to learn more about other faiths.

It was also to tackle stereotypes, so the teacher accompanying us being called Mr Rosenberg and theirs being called Mr Khan didn’t really help.

Our first encounter with the students was at the RAF Museum. At first, things were pretty awkward. When we all arrived both schools just stood in two little separate huddles. We were introduced to each other by our teachers and we all went and smiled and shook hands, before returning to our separate huddles. To be honest, we needed a fair bit of encouragement in the group activities to sit amongst the other school, but eventually we started chatting as we walked round the museum together looking at the planes.

I remember long conversations consisting of things like, “So at Purim you dress up as triangular biscuits?” and “On Yom Kippur we fast”, “For one day!? Pff – amateurs.”

The fundamental thing we all learnt that day was that we’re all pretty similar. We might look a bit different, and wear different clothes, but we’re all still teenage city kids who like looking at warplanes.

That day we also did a Q&A session – each school took turns asking the other school a question about their religion. It started with questions like “Why are there men in black hats dancing round Stamford Hill all night every March?” and “Do you wish you could eat bacon?” (from both schools).

One thing we’d been told by Mr Rosenberg in advance was that we weren’t going to bring up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because it might create unnecessary tension, but a Tawhid student brought it up, and no one stopped it. We all held our breath, but nothing happened – we had a respectful, mature conversation about the conflict, and we could all see that not a single person in the room wanted it to be happening. Everyone there wanted peace. This is a discussion I’ll remember for a long time.

This programme started out awkward. We needed encouragement to sit together. But by the last day at JCoSS we needed no encouragement. We were fully willing and keen to sit together. In fact, when we played football, we ditched the idea of playing JCoSS v Tawhid – we wanted mixed teams!

In this programme we found friends. I’m friends with several of the students on social media, and when I bumped into one of the students just a few weeks ago in the street and we stopped and had a chat. But it also gave us a great deal of knowledge about Judaism and Islam.

We learnt that we are all basically the same; putting aside how many times a day we pray or how long we fast for, we’re all just teenagers. Without this programme, I feel all our views on other faiths would be different; maybe still positive, but the experience changed how we saw each other and communicated. Faith & Belief forum gave us the gift of a really positive impact on our mindsets about other religions and faiths.

Thank you – have a lovely evening.

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