a big circle of children outside a school
Students from Venetia Valley supporting their Jewish peers across the street at Brandeis Marin (Photo/Brandeis Marin)

1,000 students crossed the street to show our Jewish school love and support

After the tragic shooting of 11 Jews attending Tree of Life congregation for Shabbat morning services in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, there has been an outpouring of kindness and support from other faith and ethnic communities.

In San Rafael, solidarity came in the form of 1,000 students from Venetia Valley, a K-8 public school with a largely immigrant community, crossing the street to sing and share their love with the community of Brandeis Marin, Congregation Rodef Sholom and the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center.

At a time when our country is divided in so many ways, the feeling of solidarity among communities of different cultural, religious or ethnic backgrounds can reduce the feeling of division. For us at Brandeis Marin, a K-8 day school, the community bond we share with our neighbors at Venetia Valley is a blessing.

Kids today are growing up with inflammatory, xenophobic rhetoric, a resurgence of bigotry and anti-Semitism and the reality of shootings in schools and places of worship. How will students develop the resilience to move into their future with a sense of hope? Is there a panacea to the malaise that can set in when one feels overwhelmed by the news?

Gathering together with a large, multicultural group of schoolchildren and their dedicated teachers sure did feel like a healing agent and filled the hearts of those who attended the solidarity rally organized by the Venetia Valley school to show support to their Jewish neighbors on Nov. 1. Students carried signs of love and friendship and sang songs in Spanish and English, reminding those of us in the Jewish community about the importance of building bridges and standing together when times are tough. We were reminded that a smile doesn’t belong to any one language, friendship transcends cultural bounds, and kindness is not the property of any single religious tradition.

When adults model acceptance and respect to children, the impact is powerful.

Our kids need to hear these messages of friendship and experience acts of kindness. They need to send them and receive them. This is how they learn that differences of race, religion, culture and ethnicity do not separate one community from another. Rather, shared values of love, kindness and friendship bring us together.

We adults need to make an effort to build relationships across communities so that our children know how to be allies to one another and how to respond to hate. When adults model acceptance and respect to children, the impact is powerful. The next generation will have deeper cross-cultural competencies, resulting in more compassionate and caring communities. We can marginalize hate and intolerance, instead of people.

This isn’t the first time that our communities have crossed the street in support of one another. The relationship between the Venetia Valley school community and the Jewish community of Rodef Sholom, Brandeis Marin and the Osher Marin JCC did not start the day 1,000 students and teachers walked across the street. The relationship started several years ago when Rabbi Michael Lezak urged us to cross the street and stand with our Venetia Valley neighbors, and it has been nurtured over time through volunteerism, shared programming and strong partnerships between the leaders of all the organizations on both sides of North San Pedro Road.

Our communities make the effort and take the time to build our relationship during the good times, and when the hard times hit, we are there for one another. This model of community building and cross-cultural engagement can help children become more resilient. Research has shown time and again that children who grow resilience are connected to other people and have authentic relationships. This is a goal worthy of being a communal priority.

After the solidarity rally, a Brandeis Marin parent asked her child what the rally was about. The young student replied, “They love us. We are good friends, even when we are sad.” Now there is a message of hope in solidarity.

Peg Sandel
Peg Sandel

Peg Sandel is head of school at Brandeis Marin in San Rafael.

Jessica Trubowitch
Jessica Trubowitch

Jessica Trubowitch is director of public policy and community building at the Jewish Community Relations Council and is a Brandeis Marin parent.