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In New York, Children of Different Religions Celebrate Jerusalem

Around the world, battles are waged in the name of religion. But in Brooklyn, New York, a simple children's book about Jerusalem brought together Christian, Jewish and Muslim children for a special holiday event.

Although it's been called the City of Peace, perhaps no city has been fought over more than Jerusalem. Yet thousands of miles away, a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim school children came together to discover what the Holy City means to all their faiths.

In a project initiated by the Jewish-sponsored Anti-Defamation League, children from three schools, one Jewish, one Roman Catholic and one primarily Turkish Muslim, read the illustrated children's book, "Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses and Crescents." They then exchanged letters and met for the first time in a holiday performance. The Muslim children shared what they'd learned in short speeches.

"I'm going to talk about making peace with the three religions. How could we do this? We could write letters to each other, talk about our differences, and we could keep on writing letters to each other so that we could be pen pals and friends," one Muslim child said.

Jewish children presented paintings of the three religions' sacred sites in Jerusalem: The Jews' Western Wall, Christians' Holy Sepulcher and Muslims' Dome of the Rock. The Catholic children sang in Spanish, reflecting the Latino heritage of many Catholic New Yorkers.

"Esto es el día Esto es el día Que el Señor ha hecho Que el Señor ha hecho Regocijémosnos y estemos contento en ello." they sang. The lyrics mean "This is the day this is the day that the Lord has made that the Lord has made Let us rejoice and be glad in it".

The children are ambassadors of love and respect, said Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz. Just like kids in Jerusalem they, too, come from a very diverse city. "Here in Brooklyn, we're lucky that we have it all. We have every religion in the world, and even some you never heard of in, Brooklyn. I can assure you if it's out there, it's somewhere here," he said.

To the delight of the children, Mr. Markowitz read from "Jerusalem Sky," switching from a Jewish Yarmulka to a priest's collar to a kufi representing Islam. "Atop these majestic monuments to miracles, synagogue stars, church crosses and mosque moons meet under the Jerusalem Sky and merge their shadows. And there are the world's three great religions side by side," he said.

The author and artist of "Jerusalem Sky," Mark Podwal, listened in the audience. "I didn't know what to expect, you know I didn't know whether this would be a chore for the kids. But one mother told me something that moved me: her son was so excited that he wanted to wear a suit," he said.

After the presentation, the children mingled and talked about things they had not known about the other faiths.

"I'm Jewish and I learned that I didn't know that there were Christians in Jerusalem," said one girl

"I didn't know that either. I thought Jerusalem was pretty much Jewish land owned by Jews. I thought that was all it was. I know there are many Christians, a lot, but I wouldn't have guessed that Muslims because I never thought who the Dome of the Rock belonged to. And I don't think I ever heard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher," a boy said.

To an adult eye, there were few differences among these youngsters. Girls huddled in circles and giggled, boys chased each other. Both Catholic and Muslim girls wore plaid school uniforms. An 11-year-old girl wore a headscarf and just shrugged when asked whether other children wanted to know why.

"They are like what's that mean? Why do you wear that thing? I'm Muslim. I believe that Allah to cover my hair so I'm really proud that I wear a hijab," he said.

A children's book may not be able to ease the battles that wage among all religions, but for a single afternoon in Brooklyn it brought joy and forged friendships among children from three faiths.