JERUSALEM the Movie, Explores Tolerance Themes

This blog was written by Emily Chiariello, a Teaching and Learning Specialist with Teaching Tolerance.

Teaching Tolerance is proud to partner with National Geographic Education by contributing educator resources for the new IMAX film, JERUSALEM. At the center of this amazing film are three teenage girls—Revital Zacharie, Farah Ammouri and Nadia Tadros—who call Jerusalem home. Each girl follows one of the three major world religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) that share Jerusalem’s Old City. Although Farah, Revital and Nadia share a heritage and deep love for their homeland, they live as strangers because of the social boundaries created by their religious and cultural differences. Through the lenses of history, geography and culture, JERUSALEM tells their stories and attempts to answer a central question in anti-bias education: How do we live together peacefully while still honoring our differences?

Photograph by Valerie Downes, courtesy Teaching Tolerance
Photograph by Valerie Downes, courtesy Teaching Tolerance

We at Teaching Tolerance have grappled with this question since our founding in 1991. Twelve years ago, we launched Mix It Up at Lunch Day, a campaign that encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries at school and in the community. The school cafeteria remains a place where student divisions are most clearly drawn. So we ask students to move out of their comfort zones on one day each year and connect with someone new over lunch.

Research shows that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. But what happens when the proverbial lunchroom is a city or region of the world? What happens when social boundaries are marked by quartered sections of a city marred by violent conflict? Does “mixing it up” still work?

Diversity must be understood in its proper social, political, historical and cultural context; we should not oversimplify parallels between school climate and the most fought-over land in history. Yet if we listen to JERUSALEM’s protagonists, we hear the same hope and belief about diversity that inspire thousands of students each year to cross social boundaries in their classrooms, schools and communities:

When I come to the Old City, I see Christians and Muslims and I am very curious about how do they see Jerusalem… And I also wonder if they’re curious about my community, about my life? (Revital)

Every religion has an assumption about one another. We think we’re so different. But we have more in common than we realize. (Farah)

JERUSALEM ends with a plea from Christian teenager, Nadia, “I hope one day we can have the courage to meet the people who are living right next to us.” Tapping into the hope and courage of students can help them peacefully explore sameness and difference in their schools, their community and the world. The Mix it Up campaign is one way to begin. Viewing the film and teaching the lessons that accompany JERUSALEM is another.

Starting this month, JERUSALEM will play in IMAX and digital cinemas in museums, science centers and other cultural institutions worldwide. Visit the website to see clips and access middle- and high-school lessons based on the film. You can also download two Teaching Tolerance activities: Breaking Down Invisible Walls for formal educators and Crossing Social Boundaries for informal educators. These activities challenge students to ask themselves, “What social boundaries exist between different identity groups at my school, and how can I cross those boundaries?”

Written by Emily Chiariello, Teaching Tolerance. This post was originally published on the Teaching Tolerance blog on September 20, 2013.

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