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'Heaven on Earth': Interfaith Play Dates Bring Local Children Together

 Muslim and Christian children from local East Village religious centers got together for an interfaith playdate at Middle Collegiate Church.
Muslim and Christian children from local East Village religious centers got together for an interfaith playdate at Middle Collegiate Church.
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Peter Calderon

EAST VILLAGE — Neighborhood kids of all faiths are coming together to sing, play and learn through a new series of play dates to build solidarity across religious lines in the East Village.

Interfaith coalition Local Faith Communities of the East Village has been uniting neighborhood faith leaders — from the local mosque, synagogues, churches and temples — around interfaith activities for a decade. They had rallied around the city's Muslim community years ago when vocal detractors shot down a plan for a mosque near Ground Zero, and continue to join together in solidarity in times of unrest, said members of the group.

So when the imam of the Madina Masjid on E. 11th St. shared at a post-election meeting that his children felt anxious about the future given recent vitriol aimed towards Muslims, faith leaders decided to launch an initiative that would promote love and inclusiveness, and would teach kids to respect and protect different religions.

"We said, 'We have to do something here, we have to reassure our kids that they're safe.' Hopefully having these kinds of events and this sense of community and being together is somewhat reassuring," said Rabbi Larry Sebert of the Town and Village Synagogue, adding that he hopes the events will encourage kids to find common ground.

"Not everyone sees the light in everyone's heart, to see that we're all created in God's image and that we're all reflections of the divine, whatever we might look like or however we believe or however we practice," he said. "We're all God's children. It's really important to give that message to our kids."

The first play date was held Jan. 8 at the mosque, and the second was hosted by Middle Collegiate Church in March. The third event will be hosted by the synagogue April 30, said Sebert.

At the second event, roughly 60 children — of mostly elementary school age — and 40 parents gathered to sing, do arts and crafts, and even soak in some theology while eating pizza and ice cream, said organizers.

Members of the mosque taught the kids origami, and members of the church led the kids in folk songs such as "This Land is Your Land." Faith leaders took turns teaching the kids about religious symbols and practices, said the church's senior minister, who said the room was filled with "lots of laughter, lots of curiosity" that day.

"It's a joyful, moving picture of what I think heaven is like — a place where everyone is seen and loved for exactly who they are," said Reverend Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church, who said she hopes the play dates will become a long-term practice in the community.

"It was heaven on earth that day."

The second-ever interfaith play date was hosted at Middle Collegiate Church March 19. (Peter Calderon)