Community Papers

Jewish and Muslim students embrace on Highway to Heaven

As tension remains high amidst a cease-fire in the Middle East, half a world away, Jewish and Muslim preschoolers from Richmond’s Highway to Heaven are developing friendships that may just last a lifetime.

Last month, Ofra Sixto, from iCare Child Care Centre on No. 5 Road, helped organize a gathering between her students, and those from Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy.

And the kids, ages three to five, did what children do.

They smiled, played, ate and learned together, with no talk of politics or territorial disputes. It almost seemed like the children were long lost friends rekindling relationships, Sixto said.

The students at Az-Zahraa visited iCare, and were welcomed with songs and hugs, said Sixto.

The children created art together, shared snacks, and one of the teachers from Az-Zahraa demonstrated how they pray before eating, while Richmond Jewish Day School principal Abba Brodt showed how Jews pray before eating.

It was a fun two-hour visit, and in the near future, students from iCare will be visiting Az-Zahraa.

Ofra Sixto has family in Israel, and always worries about their welfare, so seeing these two groups gather was heartwarming.

“I am in a world of children,” she said. “And what matters to me is the children communicate. I think we created a wonderful thing, and hopefully we will continue it.”

Fatima Sheriff, directress at Az-Zahraa, agreed.

“Part of our faith is being a good neighbour,” Sheriff said. “We’re thrilled that at a very young and impressionable age, children from both the Jewish and Muslim pre-schools are learning that their respective faiths do in fact promote goodwill and harmony with others. We want them to embrace their own faith while at the same time respecting others.”

To locals, the stretch of No. 5 Road from Blundell south to Steveston Highway might not seem out of the ordinary.

But the gathering of Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faith groups, next to one another, is remarkable.

While there are examples of conflict between religious groups and nations all over the globe, all of those differences and disputes are set aside by those who call Richmond home, Sixto said.

“This is a country of peace, not a country of war...I love seeing children playing. It’s such a wonderful thing to see.”

Growing up in the Middle East, Sixto said some of her best friends were Arabs, not Jews, she said.

Despite ethnic differences, people are the same at their core, wanting freedom, safety, to be loved and respected, she said.

Sixto has come to learn that in the decades of violent and often-deadly clashes in the Middle East, the average person on the street does not want to perpetuate that.

So to see what’s happening on the Highway to Heaven is refreshing.

“It’s something I think we all want to see in Richmond. It’s diverse, yet it’s together,” she said.

With all colours of the ethnic rainbow represented in Richmond, that’s brought with it all manner of cultures, traditions and foods to sample.

“I know here, people are at peace.”

Sheriff said her children “came back with lots of excitement and happy chatter.”

She added: “We all come from different backgrounds and different cultures. Our approach is to identify common bonds and live in peace and cooperation with each other. This is the basic human right and one of the main teachings in most religions...Young children don’t have prejudice or animosity unless the adults in their lives taint them...

“We will be organizing the visit from iCare in the coming term. This is just the start.”

The start of a strong bond forged on the Highway to Heaven.

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