For some of the Jewish and Muslim students at Millennium Brooklyn High School, the Israel-Hamas War is more than just something they see on the news.
“I have a lot of family there. So it’s not easy, like being in class and you know, I have to be on my phone because I’m, like, getting messages from my family,” Aya Stern, 17, a senior and the co-founder of the school’s Jewish Student Union, said.
It’s not an easy subject to talk about. Demonstrations and social media conversations across the city and the country have gotten heated. But here, students decided to take a different approach: one of solidarity, in the form of a joint statement written by leaders of the Jewish Student Union and the Muslim Student Association.
“We wanted to make sure that there was no room for discrimination. We wanted to make sure that our community was very clear and understanding of different people and what they were going through — because we have a large Jewish and Muslim population in the school,” Samiya Rubaiya, 16, a junior, and the vice president and founder of Muslim Student Association, said.
So, after each meeting with the school’s Principal Kevin Conway, they met with each other.
“We all sat together with a counselor and a few teachers. And we spent two hours crafting a statement. Really, like, intentional with every sentence,” said Sivan Joffe-Hancock, 16, a senior, co-founder of Jewish Student Union.
In their statement, they recognize the pain both communities are experiencing, and that hate may be on the rise — and say they won’t condone the spread of antisemitism, islamophobia or any discrimination.
It reads, in part: “We urge all students of MBHS to be mindful of their words and actions, and to ensure that they do not incite fear or make other students feel targeted or unsafe. Collectively, we have the social obligation to be sensitive to the experiences of others, and we should all understand that for many of us in the community, this is personal.”
“We just came in with open minds about how to handle it. And I feel like because we did that we were able to like, understand where each one of us were coming from,” Rubaiya said.
“There’s been a lot of political debate on social media especially, and obviously a lot of violence — not only there, but also here. We didn’t want any of that in our school. Like, there’s enough violence and there’s enough debate and there are people losing friendships over it and we didn’t want that to be happening in our school community,” Stern said.
Instead, their clubs aim to provide a place for students to safely feel seen and heard — like at a recent healing circle they held.
“I’m just so proud of them. I mean, for them to be going through what they’re going through in their own communities, and to put any differences aside and focus on the kind of highest values of our community and just to lead with empathy and humanity and civility. I don’t know — it was inspiring for us,” Kevin Conway, the principal at Millennium Brooklyn High School, said.