“My name is Yusuf and I’m a Muslim student at East Barnet School. Today, along with my new friend Samuel from Hasmonean Boys’ School, we are going to talk to you about Vaisakhi, the Sikh New Year…”
The pair are stood facing 20 of their classmates positioned in a semi-circle, relaxed but listening attentively.
It could be a scene from any educational interfaith event but, uniquely, these boys are sat in the Arsenal Hub, a state-of-the-art complex a stone’s throw away from the Emirates Stadium in Holloway.
The Year 11 and Year 12 students have been split into six groups, with mixed schools and faiths. They’ve been tasked with preparing a presentation on a chosen festival from either Islam, Buddhism or Judaism.
Sitting with Natan and Benji from Hasmonean, George, 15, a Christian pupil at East Barnet, explains why the initiative has been rewarding: “I don’t live in an area with many Jews, so it’s been really interesting hearing about Jewish culture and exploring the similarities and differences between our religions. I especially enjoyed learning about Chanukah- I’m jealous of all the doughnuts!”
Benji concurs: “By interacting with other faiths, we’ve learnt to respect each other’s customs. Personally, I didn’t know much about Muslim prayers but after speaking to a Muslim student I now understand how long they prayer for and the importance of modesty in the mosque.”
For East Barnet School teacher, Jay Idrees, sharing information about cultures is at the heart of the initiative: “Today has been a brilliant opportunity for all these students to better understand the importance of tolerance, respect and understanding between religions. We should be doing all we can to tackle stereotypes and misunderstandings.”
Next up, the part the boys are most looking forward to: the opportunity to play football against one another on an Arsenal training pitch. Their teamwork is impressive and goals are flying in.
Watching the boys play, Rabbi Michael Pollock, who as Secondary Schools Project Co-ordinator for Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJes) helped organise the event, says: “The students have been great, just getting on with the tasks at hand and socialising comfortably together. They just don’t see the differences which we think are such a big deal.”
With a smile, he recalls how at the start of the day one of the Hasmonean boys asked one of the East Barnet boys if he was frum.
“He’d had such little experience of the non-Jewish world that he didn’t realise the word frum isn’t an actual English word,” Michael laughs. “But by the end of the day he’d understood, and the pair were able to get on brilliantly and really help each other. Barriers were broken down and their co-operation was wonderful to see.”
Rabbi Pollock adds that his intention is for every Jewish school to undertake a similar event with a non-Jewish school every year. He’s already had interest from Yavneh, JFS and Hasmonean Girls’ School.
On Monday, the boys will team up again to present their findings to 150 primary school pupils from Rosh Pinah and Danegrove.
“I hope we’ll stay in touch long term,” says 15-year-old Zain with a grin as he run off the pitch. “At the very least we need a rematch!”