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Former Redbridge and Newham school pupils reunited 20 years after 'powerful' interfaith project

PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 July 2019

The reunion was held at the East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue on Sunday, July 14. Picture: Sam Tarry

The reunion was held at the East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue on Sunday, July 14. Picture: Sam Tarry

Archant

Former school pupils from Redbridge and Newham who took part in an interfaith project in Israel 20 years ago have been reunited in South Woodford.

Twenty-four British, Israeli and Palestinian teenagers took part in the project in 1999 and a reunion was held at the East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue on Sunday, July 14.

The British contingent included pupils from Newham College, King Solomon High School, Ursuline School, Canon Palmer School and St Edward's Academy in Chadwell Heath.

The participants, now in their thirties, together with the Encounter Youth Exchange project co-ordinators, reminisced about how they aimed to work towards reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims during the 10-day visit to Israel.

At the reunion, they were joined live on Skype by former participants now living in Israel and China.

Also in attendance was Rabbi David Hulbert from the East London and Essex Liberal Synagogue, and Canon Dr Anne Davison, the project co-ordinator and Bishop of Chelmsford's adviser for interfaith relations.

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Hailing the project as a life-changing experience, the participants said they developed deep friendships and familiarity with each other's faiths and cultures.

The Muslim and Christian youth leaders, Sofia Choudhary and Chris Wright, who met on the project, even ended up getting married.

Sam Tarry, a Christian participant and former councillor in Chadwell Heath, said: "Growing up in Ilford it's hard not to have friends from many different faiths and backgrounds - Muslims, Christians, Jews, people of many other faiths too.

"But what was so powerful about this project, now 20 years ago, was to take the hope of a diverse and tolerant community, and to learn together and understand one of the most intractable conflicts in the world.

"It gives me hope for the future, and that we have so much to celebrate in our diversity here in Ilford."

Dan Ozarow, a Jewish participant from Ilford, said: "During those beautiful times, we all learned just how much we had in common, both as teenagers with similar interests and dreams, and also in terms of our how similar the values and precepts of our respective faiths were.

"These were experiences that changed our outlooks and our lives forever. It was magical to meet again, share memories of those times together and rekindle our friendships. We have proven that we have so much more in common than what our differences are."

The project was an initiative of the Anglican Diocese of Chelmsford with the Maronite Diocese of Haifa and the Holy Land.

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