Milken Community Schools junior Avi Sholkoff had never been inside of a mosque.
That changed when he participated in Muslim and Jews Inspiring Change (MAJIC), a program of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit NewGround: A Muslim Jewish Partnership for Change. Established two years ago, MAJIC brings together Jewish and Muslim teens to work on social action, participate in biblical studies, discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and more.
“Most other interfaith organizations focus on bringing peace between Jews and Muslims. This talks about peace a little bit, but it focuses mainly on creating relationships,” Sholkoff told the Journal during a phone interview.
One result? Surprise that his Muslim peers were just like him in so many ways, including being interested in “the same kinds of TV shows, the same kind of sports,” he said.
Sholkoff was one of 20 students representing 13 schools who graduated from the nine-month fellowship during a May 4 ceremony at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.
Approximately 90 people turned out to the ceremony, where each student received an award from the City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission.
“The graduation was great,” said Sholkoff, who was among the speakers at the event. “It was a lot of parents of the kids as well as other relatives, and also a member of L.A.’s committee on human relations.”
Over the course of the program, participants convene biweekly, alternating between Temple Emanuel and King Fahad Mosque in Culver City. A variety of elements comprise MAJIC’s curriculum, but a primary focus is on tikkun olam, according to NewGround executive director Rabbi Sarah Bassin.
“It’s not to solve the conflict but to create some kind of positive transformation here,” said Bassin, who is leaving the organization July 1 to become the assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel.
NewGround program director Aziza Hasan said the impact of social action projects undertaken by MAJIC students is significant.
“Our MAJIC participants are literally organizing projects, and through those projects they are actually serving the community,” she said in a phone interview. Hasan will serve as the organization’s interim executive director.
This year’s students organized a project focused on fundraising. The students raised money that was used to purchase food for Jewish Family Service’s SOVA Community Food and Resource Program as well as toys for chronically sick patients of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. They also learned about various social justice organizations.
Hasan said the benefits of the program are many. Participants “come into owning their own sense of self, their own identity, their own religious connection and cultural connection,” she explained.
Approximately 40 students have graduated from MAJIC over the last two years. It was named California’s 2013 Faith-Based Organization of the Year.
Founded in 2006, NewGround, which operates out of Los Angeles City Hall, runs two main programs. MAJIC is its teen program; it also runs a fellowship for young professionals.
Rabbi Ron Stern of Stephen S. Wise Temple was among the first to bring the idea to NewGround to expand its outreach from professionals to high-school students. He now serves on the MAJIC advisory council.
“They’re a great bunch of students, students who are really motivated to be part of this group,” Stern said of MAJIC participants.
And, by all accounts, they’re a group of difference-makers. How appropriate that participating students are known, unofficially, as “MAJICians.”
“They are magic,” Hasan said.
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