WHITEFISH BAY – It was a multicultural land of love –– though the little inhabitants here weren’t thinking much about multiculturalism – at Milwaukee Jewish Day School on Jan. 29.
The thinking was more: That boy (who happens to be not my religion) is doing something fun and, good gracious, I’ve got to get over there and do it too for 10 seconds until I think of something else to do!
Five moms who are refugees – two Muslim and three Christian – brought their kids to bounce with MJDS kids around a basketball court. Never mind whether we’re talking about the ricocheting young kids or the basketballs, it was a fun time, grounded in total innocence.
After basketball in the gym, the visiting children – from Myanmar in Southeast Asia; Syria in the Middle East; and Eritea, an African country bordering the Red Sea – filed with their mothers into an MJDS classroom.
In the classroom, a wall map showed where these and other refugees came from. Now was the chance for MJDS junior kindergarteners to meet and play with the kids they’d been learning about, including families they’d collected baby items and children’s books for. The collections and the Jan. 29 event were the result of the school’s work with SEA Literacy, a local nonprofit founded in 2011 to assist refugees.
These may be mostly pre-kindergarteners, but they can appreciate more than you may think.
“I never underestimate little children,” said Rona Wolfe, junior kindergarten teacher with MJDS. She said she’s talked to her 4- and 5-year-old students about how these refugee families have come to be somewhere safe and that the Torah says to welcome the stranger.
“Everyone take a visitor,” said Wolfe, before releasing the excited onslaught of children onto the play-kitchen and other areas of her classroom. Surrounded by the sweet voices of children at play, Wolfe said, “It’s beautiful learning happening.”
Khatijah Syeddullah, one of the moms, was seated to the side as Jewish, Muslim and Christian kids together worked Legos, grabbed salt shakers, or at a plastic sink put dishes in and out of it, in and out of it and then, yes, in and out of it.
“It’s good,” said Syeddullah, a Muslim refugee speaking through a translator. “It’s showing love to each other. They show their love and we can show our love.”
Syeddullah came to the United States with her husband and three children, part of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program.
“The U.N. asked us if we wanted to resettle,” she said, having been here since August of 2015. “Here, there’s a chance for an education, for a livelihood, and so we took that chance.”
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Who are the Rohingya?
Two of the mothers who visited Milwaukee Jewish Day School are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. The Rohingya ethnic minority of about one million people in Myanmar has been denied citizenship there. The Myanmar military has been accused of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
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