Beliefnet
Forget about the kugel. The girls in the plaid skirts were what had Justin Schneider intrigued.

"It's who's hot and who's not," said Schneider, 13, of Greater Atlanta Christian School, joking with his friend David Apatov, 12, of Davis Academy, a Dunwoody Jewish school.

Schneider's typical adolescent interest in girls and his flippant comment may not be what organizers had in mind when they brought together the youths of different faiths. But it reflected their purpose: finding common ground among the faiths.

Yarmulkes, khimars --- a Muslim head covering for females --- and white shirts blended together at Davis Academy on Thursday for an innovative cultural exchange. Muslim students from Clara Mohammed Elementary School and students from Greater Atlanta Christian School gathered with the Jewish student body at Davis Academy to learn about Jewish religious history, custom and tradition.

"It gives me chills," said Misty Overman, junior high principal at Greater Atlanta Christian.

"The first time these kids came to our school, I heard some of them say, 'Their kids are just like us.' "

It's the third such get-together. Clara Mohammed and Greater Atlanta Christian already have held open houses for the program that detailed the faiths and traditions associated with those schools.

Davis Academy students led the presentations, which centered around holidays, customs and food. Plays, PowerPoint displays and trays of food helped effectively convey the culture and history.

Takira Trigger, 13, of Clara Mohammed took her first spin with a dreidel.

"It's fun since we're playing for M&Ms," she said.

The Unity Program is the brainchild of Rabbi Steven Ballaban, Davis Academy head of school. While the concept was no doubt encouraged following Sept. 11, the idea came months before, after Ballaban traveled to Israel and became disheartened by the situation.

"I realized how deeply blessed I am to live in a country that's a pluralistic, multicultural society where we have respect for the American ideal," he said.

"I really wanted to do what I could to perpetuate that value so we don't have to experience what other countries experience."

Unity began with a somewhat awkward Thanksgiving celebration last fall. A trip to Washington was another icebreaker. Now, months later, the groups are more comfortable with each other and embracing their differences --- and similarities.

At Clara Mohammed's program, an "incense road" was created that linked all major prophets from the faiths.

"We've had a good reception from parents and teachers and wondered why we haven't thought of this before," said Sandra El-Amin, principal at Clara Mohammed.

The program isn't designed to be a one-shot, feel-good experience. Sixth-graders in attendance Thursday will continue this education for the next two years.

The schools also are designing a joint community service project.

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