Experiencing diversity at the Jewish Museum in London
by Maïra Kaye, Learning Team Intern
Maïra joined the Learning Team on our internship placement scheme in October 2014. Volunteering one or two days a week for two months, Maïra wanted to develop her teaching skills and learn more about Jewish history and art. Maïra has volunteered nearly 50 hours, working mainly in our school workshops with students aged between primary Year 2 to university level, and has been an amazing addition to our team over the last couple of months. Below is Maïra’s own blog about her experiences and observations from interning within our team. – Frances Jeens (London Links Learning Programme Manager)
Maïra in the museum’s stores with curator Joanne Rosenthal
Being a relative newcomer to British society, I was not expecting the diversity of nationalities and religions I encountered during my internship with the Learning Team at the Jewish Museum. I decided to start a two-month internship here in order to reconnect with my Jewish cultural heritage in a non-religious way – a tie that has felt broken ever since the only Jewish member of my family, my grandmother, passed away. What I most enjoyed during my time here was not what I had in mind at all: it was discovering how ‘Jewishness’ can be shared with children of very different cultural and religious backgrounds.
“Miss, this looks like Arabic!” many children would say to me, pointing at a Torah scroll or a Jewish marriage contract displayed in the galleries. When I explained to them the historical links between Arab and Hebrew script – maybe getting a bit too carried away with detail for primary school kids – and the similarities between the two languages, I could see the surprise excitement in their eyes (if it weren’t too obvious already by their jumping and giggling). It is that excitement of discovering closeness in things that before seemed far apart; of the familiar world of their own religion and culture with what was at first a distant classroom-learnt entity.
I felt that the workshops helped the children realise that Judaism is not a disconnected religion of a distinct group of people, but exists as part of a realm of cultural traditions that are familiar across countries, East and West. Students from a Christian school, for example, were delighted in perceiving the structural similarities between the rituals involving the Shabbat meal and their own customary religious practices, such as saying grace or lighting a candle. Seeing this learning process really working for these children made me realise the importance of these workshops in shaping liberal and tolerant minds for this generation.