ORT students have joined a global interfaith event that encouraged them to learn more about themselves and their peers.
The sixth Scholas World Youth Encounter took place in Sao Paulo for four days, with more than 100 international students promoting tolerance and intercultural dialogue. Fifty ORT students attended from nine countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, South Africa, and Ukraine.
The event opened with an opportunity to share cultures, languages and to dance together. Students taught each other how to sing ‘happy birthday’ in their own languages.
Pope Francis shared a message with the students in a recorded video: “This youth encounter is a work of reflection with three key words: movement, encounter and gratitude. Encounters, for humans, should be free. And to have encounters we should have movement.”
Amelie Esquenazi, World ORT representative for Latin America, welcomed the students with a message of peace, remembering the Israelis who could not attend due to the war, and welcoming the Ukrainian students.
She said: “You are brothers and sisters around the world who speak the same language, the language of peace. It doesn’t matter where you came from or which school. We all want a better world and a world of peace.”
The students were divided into two groups; one concentrating on graphic arts, and the other on theatre and body movement. In the workshops, they developed their skills and their capacity to look to others and understand them better.
On the event’s second day, students visited Sao Paulo’s City Hall and met local dignitaries. They heard from Jose Maria Del Corral, president of the Scholas Foundation, and Dario Werthein, former World ORT Chair of Trustees.
Mr. Werthein told the students: “We are in a very delicate moment in the world. We have the students from Ukraine who came to be with you. We have war in Israel and the Middle East. We have many attacks around the world that have happened in the last three weeks.
“Being able to find this space of togetherness, to share, to know that there are differences too – let’s respect the differences. To understand each other, to find common paths. I think it’s like a little light that we can transmit to the rest of the world. If people follow us, we can find peace for all, where we can all live better.”
The third day started with a visit to a center that is seen as a ‘kindergarten’ for older people – a home where they can spend the day taking part in entertainment and social activities. The group from the Encounter took part in two activities – first, they were seated together with the older people, chatting, exchanging ideas and painting. Then, they started to dance in a happy and vibrant moment.
The following stop was at the Sky Broadcasting Center, where the group learned about satellite transmission. They also visited Da Barra Farm, one of the oldest and most important sites of the city, where they joined a Capoeira class – an Afro-Brazilian martial art that includes elements of dance, acrobatics, music and spirituality – followed by a Samba class; in traditional Brazilian style, the day ended with a game of football.
The Encounter saw people speaking mainly in three languages: Portuguese, Spanish and English. Few of the students shared a common language. However, they found ways to engage, as explained by 16-year-old Hannah Duchen, from the ORT-affiliated King David Linksfield school in Johannesburg, South Africa.
She said: “I have met with people who don’t speak the same language as me, and we connect on such a different level. You learn in this country that people want to make peace, and just want to have friendships, and just want to have fun.
“I’ve been inspired to make changes because it taught me that we make our own barriers. This experience has allowed me to be more open-minded and see people for who they truly are and not look at the superficial things – just try to look at a person’s soul.”
The closing ceremony included a tree planting ceremony in honor of the Israeli students who could not attend. The trees will grow at the city halls and at the local Jewish center.
The Rabbi of the Congregação Israelita Paulista (CIP), Ruben Sternschein, was invited to share a few words and said: “The function of humans, from Biblical times, has been to work together and take care of the land. What happened on these days on the Encounter, the conversations between different people, the sharing of strengths and weaknesses, maybe it is exactly what humans should do.”
During the Encounter, Jose Maria Del Corral had an opportunity to talk to the ORT teachers, sharing the history and the importance of the partnership between ORT and Scholas: “We are not a Catholic event that creates an interfaith dialogue. We are an interfaith event – we were born in this way. It makes it so special. We said to the Pope that we would have at least one annual celebration to work for unity and diversity.”
The ORT students had a life-changing educational experience at the event. Ina Spyrydonnova, a 15-year-old student from the ORT school in Sofia, Bulgaria, said: “Magical is maybe the word. Uniting people from different countries with different perspectives. I learned how to fight for my rights. If you want something to change you need to fight for it.”
The event is a partnership between Scholas Occurientes, World ORT and the Leo Werthein Foundation. Previous encounters took place in Jerusalem, Vatican City, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and Panama City.