2014-12-03 21.22.00

Communities Minister Stephen Williams talks about the lessons we can learn from two Hackney schools joined by their shared values.

Last week I met a school in Hackney who have forged a close relationship with one of its near neighbours.

Stephen Williams

The two schools are just a stone’s throw from one another in Cazenove and regularly come together to work on joint community projects.

What makes these schools special is that they perfectly demonstrate how people from different backgrounds and different faiths can be united by their shared interests.

Both schools reflect the diversity of modern Britain.

At the school I visited, Talmud Torah Yetev Lev Boys School, nearly all the boys speak Yiddish as their first language.

And at the neighbourhood school who they work so closely with, Tawhid Boys School, everyone is either bilingual or at different stages of learning English as an additional language.

But when these boys come together, it doesn’t matter where they come from, or what language they speak at home.

They talk, play and work together like young boys do – joined by their shared British values.

2014-12-03 21.31.50

British boys from different backgrounds together. Like how it should be.

In our country today you are treated fairly regardless of what you believe in. And that faith does not exclude you from your country.

One of the boys at Talmud Torah Yetev Lev Boys School, Berish Friedman, said it best: “We are proud to be Jewish and proud to be British”.

In this country we have a long and proud tradition of religious tolerance – it being one of the foundations of the our modern Parliamentary democracy. 350 years on, we now live in a society where everyone is free to express their religious identity and to live without fear of harassment.

Faith is of fundamental importance to many British people and our role as government is not to intrude on those beliefs but rather to firmly assert the right of each person to hold them. And our tolerance of one another comes from understanding each other’s ideals and values.

From acknowledging the differences but also, crucially, building on the common ground. Communities come together when the barriers that divide them are removed.

Local political leader scan play a key role – as has happened in Cazenove. In the case of these two Hackney schools the barrier was simply the fact that they went to different schools.

By the teachers taking an interest in their local community and proactively getting the children together in the same place – human nature did the rest.

2014-12-03 21.22.44In Britain we now see more and more locally-led initiatives to bring people of different faiths together – helped in part by the government’s investments in programmes like Near Neighbours and Together in Service.

Mitzvah day, the Big Iftar and Our Big Gig are all now set pieces in the calendar and clearly demonstrate what can happened when multi-faith groups work together.

When different streets, families and people unite, Britain can only become stronger. As these children show, it doesn’t take much.

If you want to contribute to the JN Interfaith section, then contact the Jewish News: jackm@thejngroup.com