By Roni Roseberg
Naima had been in my high intermediate ESL (English as a second language) class for adults for two or three weeks. She was very articulate and enjoyed answering other students’ questions about her hijab.
Although she was from Syria, she had not been raised to wear the hijab. In fact, she said she was the only one in her family who did. She had adopted the custom while living in Saudi Arabia with her husband – and continued to wear a scarf because she liked it. A confident and friendly natural teacher, she saw people’s questions as an opportunity to educate.
One day, during a conversation in class, a student said: “Teacher, what is your religion?” I responded: “I am Jewish”. Naima, who always sat in the front row front, immediately turned a little pale and said: “Oh, my God, I am so ashamed!” I was puzzled, but I saw this as an interesting moment, and I was curious as to what shook her so much.
“Naima, what is it?” I asked. This is what she said: “You are a normal person!” to which I readily agreed. “And,” she went on:
… a very good teacher. I am in shock! I was so afraid of Jews! Even when I saw a Jewish man praying in the London airport, and I KNEW he was praying, I was still afraid! I am so foolish. I now realise how much propaganda I read in Middle Eastern newspapers. This is where I got my ideas from.
I have not seen many moments like this one where a person has an instant revelation, and makes a significant realisation in a flash, with the courage to speak about it. “Thank you for sharing this”, I said. “Let me tell you that many of our newspapers do exactly the same thing about Arabs.” And the class proceeded to have a fine discussion about stereotypes in the media.
After class, Naima and I hugged each other, two normal, but lucky, people.
About the author
Roni Roseberg is a teacher, based in the USA. She graduated with a BA in Anthropology from UCLA, obtained her Adult Education teaching credential from UC Berkeley, and her MA in Integrative and Holistic Education from California State University, San Bernardino.
Roni has worked as an educator since 1972 with students of all ages. She has taught English as a Second Language to adults from over 70 cultures and countries in colleges and adult schools. From 1990 to 2000, she was a safety educator and spokesperson for Santa Monica Fire Department. She taught for Santa Monica College from 2000 to 2004 and the Inland Center for Career Education (formerly San Bernardino Adult School) from 2005 to the present, teaching ESL, and presently, high school subjects in the California State Re-entry Initiative Center for those on parole.
Photo kindly provided by Nisa-Nashim – the UK’s only national Jewish-Muslim women’s network. Find out more here.