Jack, a sixth-grader from Chicago’s Bernard Zell Jewish Day School, threw himself like a rag doll onto the rubber gym floor of the Muslim Community Center Academy in Morton Grove Thursday, pantomiming a Christmas tree being felled by a gang of Irish-dancing squirrels.
The 11-year-old’s theatrics drew giggles from the dozen other pre-teens in his group — some wearing hijabs, others plaid skirts — who were brought together by the Olive Tree Arts Network and tasked with combining their imaginations into a single, wacky story.
Jack’s group was among 150 students brought together by the network’s Poetry Pals program, which every year has students from Catholic, Muslim and Jewish Day schools participate in a shared curriculum focused on creative expression and cultural learning.
Getting the students to act out fantastical stories based on their religious customs is a subtle way of building tighter bonds across faiths, according to Ilene Siemer, director of the arts network.
“This is a really important stage in kids’ lives, because they don’t really have pre-seeded notions of each other yet,” Siemer said. “So we’re able to effectively convey how much we all have in common without having to deal with any of the baggage that many adults may carry.”
Earlier this year, students from Bernard Zell and the Muslim academy visited St. John Fisher School in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, where students led presentations on Catholic rituals and beliefs.
On Thursday, it was the Muslim students’ turn to educate their peers.