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Program Aims to Bring Jewish & Black Teens Together

By Kevin Lavery, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – A group of African-American and Jewish teens are beginning a year-long cultural studies program that seeks to teach each group about the other's heritage and eliminate racism.

In all, 22 area high school students will attend workshops and travel to several U.S. sites significant to both the black and Jewish experiences. There will also be a series of public speakers to help facilitate discussions with their peers about racism and discrimination.

"I have had experiences in public places and in my school community, and I have faced them the best I could, and one of the reasons I want to do this program is so I can learn how to better handle them," said Maayan Simckes, one of a dozen Jewish students. ""I think everybody should be able to say that they are proud of who they are, and should have no fear behind it."

The program is modeled after a similar one started in Washington, D.C. in 1994. Founder Karen Kalish says the program turns even negative experiences in teaching opportunities.

"We went to a plantation where slavery was never even mentioned," Kalish said Sunday. "The black kids were so upset and crying, and the Jewish kids immediately empathized. What if we had gone to Hitler's place, and they never mentioned the Holocaust? There are constantly times, and we turn them all into learning moments."

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