As part of a cross-cultural exchange between Jewish youth from Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka and Native American youth from Takoda Prep High School in Minneapolis, students have been exploring and sharing their ideas about roots, identity and resiliency.

The year-long exploration culminated April 22 with a “Culture Coalition: Through the Narrows with Native American and Jewish Youth,” virtual art event that showcases students’ drawings sharing their perspectives as they relate to roots and resilience.

Available for online viewing through Thursday, May 6, “Through the Narrows” also includes the youths’ collaboratively written land acknowledgment statement, recognizing it as a Native American homeland.

The program also includes an audio drama by Minneapolis artists Z Puppets Rosenschnoz that shares the story of a Jewish woman and a Cherokee boy.

The goal was to create a cross-cultural opportunity for the students to explore their own and each other’s culture and reflect on cultural resiliency, according to Rachel Calvert, program facilitator at Bet Shalom.

Through it, they have made meaningful connections that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.

“In the culture coalition, I have seen firsthand the power of connection,” said Christy Irrgang, education director at Takoda Prep, an alternative high school with a focus on helping all students make advancements in core academic competencies while maintaining a strong connection to American Indian culture.

“Students who may seem quite different from one another discovered how similar they really are and how they are all manifestations of their ancestors,” she said. “I am so fortunate to have spent this time learning from these students and helping facilitate their conversations in learning resiliency and action.”

The students began this journey by working on a land acknowledgment statement that was also read during the Friday night service at Bet Shalom, acknowledging the land throughout the area is the original homelands of Ochéthi Šakówin, or Seven Council Fires, which included the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people.

The statement recognizes that “their territory was far-reaching and included much of the northern part of the Midwest.” The lands specifically at Bet Shalom “are the ancestral and unceded territory of the Wahpekute band of Dakota.”

The statement went on to explain how recognizing the history of the land and the people who lived on it helps them fulfill the Jewish values of t’shuvah, Hebrew for “to be sorry and repent,” and zahor, Hebrew for “remembering.”

“T’shuvah is important because when mistakes are made, telling the truth about it helps to make it better. Zahor is important because Judaism places great importance on the transference of memory so that it may always be for a blessing,” the statement read. “Land recognition accomplishes the value of t’shuvah because we need to recognize that the U.S. government made a mistake when it took the land from the native tribes. It also accomplishes the value of zahor, because we should be remembering who lived on this land before us.”

Together, the students also studied the Holocaust and aspects of the Jewish culture like music and storytelling and how Jewish people view spirituality and how it aligns with Indigenous wisdom, Irrgang explained.

Additionally, the students worked with puppetry artists Chris Griffith and Shari Aronson of Z Puppets Rosenschnoz. They have been working with the students over the past year intertwining stories from their own Jewish and Native American ancestries in their show “Through the Narrows.”

“It was amazing to be able to explore the intersections of roots and resilience with these students,” said Aronson.

“Working together to transform their artwork into animated videos about taking the next step forward in life’s narrow places was a powerful way to collaborate across the screen,” Aronson said, noting they worked online together due to COVID.

In the audio webcast, Griffith and Aronson also share a fictional story they created of struggle and triumph among two characters from their own Jewish and Native ancestry – a 3,500-year-old Jewish woman, recounting her crossing of the Red Sea, and a 6-year-old Cherokee boy bearing witness to the Trail of Tears.

“I hope viewers appreciate the uniqueness of this pilot program and the brightness it brings to a world full of heavy news,” Irrgang said. “I also hope people see how parallel the experience is for Native and Jewish people, and how we can all learn from one another.”

The program was supported by the RUM fund at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

The video will be available on YouTube for viewing through Thursday, May 6, on the council’s YouTube channel, https://bit.ly/3eq3lVs.

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@apgecm.com

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