“Celebrating Hanukkah in a McDonald’s with Muslim and Christian high school students in North Philadelphia must be a first”, says Reconstructionist Rabbinical College student Ari Hendin, who is also an intern with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. Hendin had been asked to lead a brief teaching on the meaning of Hanukkah on Sunday, December 13th, and to light the menorah with the North Philadelphia cohort of the Center’s Walking the Walk program, an interfaith youth service learning program designed to break down barriers between youth from different faith traditions by building relationships and understanding.
The North Philly cohort, which includes students from Al Aqsa Islamic Society School of Philadelphia and St. Michael’s Lutheran Church of Germantown, lacks Jewish students, unlike most of the other Walking the Walk cohorts in the greater Philadelphia area. The students had planned to prepare meals for the needy at Project Share as their community service activity, but when that did not work out they met at a nearby McDonalds instead.
“When I asked for volunteers to help light the menorah, the students were eager to participate. They were genuinely curious and asked respectful, serious questions about Hanukkah in particular, and Jews and Judaism in general,” Hendin said.
“Few of them have an opportunity to interact with Jews, and they were glad to have the chance to do so in a most unlikely place! This is what Walking the Walk and interfaith youth programs are about,” she continued, “shattering stereotypes through meeting real people from other faiths, and seeing the light of divinity in each human being, just as it is reflected in the lights of the candles of the menorah.”