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Remembering MLK: Jewish School, Catholic School In New Jersey Start Program Discussing Cultural Differences

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a country where everyone came together.

On his important day, students at two different New Jersey schools shared how they're doing just that. It was inspired, in part, by an idea from the family of a holocaust survivor, CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis reported Monday.

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Eva Nelson dedicated her adult life to education as both a teacher and a holocaust survivor. When she passed away in June at age 82, her family came across a scrapbook with thank you letters from former students.

"There were ones that said, 'Mrs. Nelson, if it weren't for you I wouldn't have known about the holocaust,'" parent Ariel Nelson said.

Her death coincided with Black Lives Matter protests for George Floyd around the country, so her family wanted to make a difference in her memory.

"We want to do something that teaches against hate," Ariel Nelson said.


So they opened up the dialogue with Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, creating a special program in September. It connects students in Livingston with those from different backgrounds at another school in Newark -- St. Benedict's Preparatory School -- to study antisemitism and racism.

"The program was designed to bring students together from different cultural experiences and have them share each other's narratives so they can understand each experience that the student has," said Rabbi Eliezer Rubin, the head of Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School.

"We're made to be connected and what we're experiencing now in this country is nothing but disconnection and that's what King understood. He understood the answer to life's challenges is in connectedness," St. Benedict's Father Edward Lahey said.

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A group of about two dozen students meet weekly after school on Zoom for discussions, joined by a teacher from each school.

"We're getting rid of those prejudices and seeing each other as human beings and that's so important," English teacher Deborah Orens said.

It's an eye-opening experience for the students.

"To hear someone who lives so close to me experience these things and live such a different life was really interesting," Rae Kushner student Miriam Bash said.

"I think it's really important to learn from people you don't actively engage with," student Nate Savitz added.

"Learning about the importance of standing up for what you believe in really stuck with me," student Rebecca Arian said.

From one school to another, there were a lot of takeaways.

"Different perspectives and just learning about each other's culture," St. Benedict's student Kamily Flores said.

"What stuck out to me the most is a conversation about voter suppression," student Jaden Oates added.

"You really don't realize how closed off you are in your community until you branch out and talk to other people," student Agnes Aghanwa said.

The goal is to move the program from Zoom to in person, once it is safe.

And it won't end with the current students. The plan is to continue it with a new group each year.

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis contributed to this report


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