Students worked on signs for the upcoming Interfaith Museum Exhibition at Temple Adas Israel, which opens this Sunday. Photo by Michael Heller.
By Mara Certic
For over a decade Leah Oppenheimer has been trying to find a way to further incorporate Hispanic families into the larger East End community, and now this Sunday her efforts will be unveiled at the opening of Sag Harbor’s new Interfaith Museum.
For the past three weeks, Sunday school students from the Vida Abundante Church in Wainscott have been joining the Monday evening Hebrew School classes at Temple Adas Israel to learn about the similarities between local Jewish and Hispanic lives, families and religions. This Sunday, March 22, from noon to 2 p.m., the synagogue will hold the grand opening of the museum, which will feature work and projects done by the children over the past month.
“I’ve been working on the issue of Hispanic families being so isolated here for over a decade as I saw the population increasing,” Ms. Oppenheimer said in a phone interview on Monday.
The Hebrew School worked with Head Start, which runs pre-kindergarten programming in Bridgehampton. “But it didn’t get the kids involved,” Ms. Oppenheimer said.
“It didn’t help the kids to get to know each other,” and that, she believes, is the key to bringing people together.
According to Ms. Oppenheimer, Long Island has some of the most segregated school districts outside of Louisiana. “The East End is more integrated than most,” she said, but there is still much improvement to be made.
Ms. Oppenheimer was at a conference at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust, in Manhattan, when she heard of a museum program with Jewish and Muslim youths, designed to teach similarities, explain the differences and dispel rumors.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for!” Ms. Oppenheimer said to herself when she heard about the program.
Someone in the temple’s congregation provided funding, and plans for the Interfaith Museum were developed and quickly fell into place. Ms. Oppenheimer has been working with Pastor Oswaldo Palomo of the Vida Abundante Church on the program, and for the past three weeks the temple has hosted “workshops” during which students get to know each other and learn about each other’s lives.
Adriana Leon, who teaches Sunday School at the Vida Abundante Church, said that in her 11 years here, this is the first time her students have been involved in any interfaith programs. “They’re really enjoying it,” she said of the children.
Ms. Oppenheimer said that during the first workshop the kids instantly hit it off. “They were all on the floor making posters together—it took about five and a half seconds.”
“The first week we just got to know one another and the kids made posters about themselves and in groups,” she explained. The posters revealed to the children that they had more in common than they thought, including what seems to be a global love for pizza.
Last Monday, each student brought in a treasured item from his or house—one child, for example, brought in a framed picture of his dog—and during the workshop they made professional museum display cards for each item.
The last workshop on Monday, March 16, began with the screening of a short video about early Latin American immigration to the United States. Ms. Oppenheimer’s husband, Dr. John Oppenheimer, then came in to tell the story of his father’s emigration from Germany before World War II.
All of the hard work will be on display this Sunday during the grand opening.
“I’d like to think of a way to do more of it next year. But this Sunday is our fiesta,” Ms. Oppenheimer said.
“It’s the essence of being Jewish, learning how to help the stranger in your midst. And it’s a major Christian ideal too,” Ms. Oppenheimer added.
“I think we’ll find a way to do more of this.”
The Interfaith Museum will have its grand opening on Sunday, March 22, from noon to 2 p.m. at Temple Adas Israel, located on the corners of Elizabeth Street and Atlantic Avenue in Sag Harbor.