New program connects Jewish and Latino students

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Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

8th grader Nicole West, right, a student at Sinai Akiba Academy in West L.A. visits with second graders Melody Garcia, left, and Mercedes Torres both of Hoover Elementary near MacArthur Park.

Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles inaugurated a new partnership yesterday that's intended to foster interaction between Jewish students and mostly Spanish-speaking immigrant students.

Generations ago, in L.A. neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, Jews and Latinos lived, worked and played side by side. For a couple of hours after the school bell at Hoover Elementary near MacArthur Park, Jewish and mostly Mexican-American and Central American youngsters rubbed elbows and learned about each other.

Nicole West, an eighth grader at Sinai Akiba Academy in West L.A., talked with Hoover 2nd graders Melody Garcia and Mercedes Torres, who take part in the L.A.’s Best after school program.

West: What’s your favorite color?

Torres: Azul.

West: Yeah, blue, you like blue? What’s your favorite color?

Garcia: Pink.

West: Pink, like your pants?

Later, through storytelling, singing and dancing, the Latino kids learned about Hanukkah and the Jewish kids learned about Latin American Christmas posadas celebrations. Larry Scheindlin, the headmaster of the 700-student Sinai Akiba Academy, said this is the first time many of his students have visited this neighborhood. "We want our kids to see beyond themselves. They need to reach out and make connections with other kinds of people. It’s easy for them to grow up in West L.A. in kind of a bubble."

The L.A.’s Best coordinators say the same thing about their students. Israel Consul General Jacob Dayan says L.A. and Israel are ethnically diverse – and in need of interactions like these to heighten cultural understanding. "Once we learn to know each other, we learn to respect each other and we know that we are much more similar than the images that are being created through a few images on television."

Sinai Akiba Academy is the first of seven private Jewish schools that have committed to partner with the L.A.’s Best students.

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