How to Teach Children Tolerance

A shoe box, a mirror, two pieces of string, a blindfold, Cheerios, and pretzels.

What could this list possibly be for?

In Israel, teachers and youth movement leaders of third and fourth graders are using these everyday objects in unexpected ways in a 75-minute lesson on accepting difference.

The religious scouts, a group with a membership of over 85,000 young people, has begun using this activity. This lesson plan and others are available online in an effort led by Shoval – All is Created for Your Glory, with Shatil’s help and guidance. Shoval is an educational initiative of gay men from Havruta and lesbians from Bat Kol.

Their main mission is to create a safe place within religious communities in Israel for LGBTQ adolescents.

“The change in attitude towards religious LGBTQs will come from the bottom up – from the grassroots rather than from the leaders,” says Yael Yechieli, Shatil’s Religious Freedom coordinator. “Children and teens are much more familiar with and open to this population. They have a cousin, a neighbor…but they may not have the tools for dealing with this difference. This curriculum provides those tools.”

In the above lesson, the children play a variety of games that emphasise their similarities and differences. One game is to describe objects they see through a crack in a shoe box, with the last object being a mirror. Then, it’s time for a discussion: What is the difference between the way we see ourselves and the way others see us? From where do our differences derive? Which differences are easier for us to accept and which are harder? What is good about difference?

Leading Orthodox rabbis and educators express their support for greater inclusivity in the religious community in a clip produced by Shoval with help from Shatil called, “Orthodox leaders discuss repentance and LGBT.” Rabbi Ilai Ofran says in this clip, “Our task – the task of our life – is to build a community that has room – room for those who are like us and for those who are different. And if there are entire groups that don’t find their place, we’re sinning not just against our fellow man but against God.”

While the impetus for the curriculum guide was to encourage an atmosphere of acceptance for religious gays, it applies to all kinds of differences including a child of divorced parents or someone of a different skin color.

These issues are sensitive and controversial. The writers of the curriculum remind the teachers and counselors that chances are high that someone in their group or class is “different” in one way or another. Over time, Shatil knows that this is one of many efforts that will strengthen voices of tolerance and openness in the religious community.

Photo Credit: Yael Yechieli

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August 2017