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Submitted/Rabbi Victor Urecki speaks at Sherman High School students about the importance of religious and cultural diversity on Dec. 18.

SETH - An event promoting cultural and religious diversity left students asking questions and organizers proud of the results that came from an early morning gathering in the Sherman High School gymnasium.

Tabbed to address the students were Pastor Anthony Pratt of the First Baptist Church of Racine and Rabbi Victor Urecki of B'nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston. Due to sickness, Pastor Pratt could not attend, but Rabbi Urecki took the stage to address attendees.

In a social media post later that day, Rabbi Urecki posted a photo and a message about his experience at Sherman High.

"We grow by these encounters, he said. "We learn by discovering the beauty in all traditions and people."

Rabbi Urecki is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the Chicago Board of Rabbis. He serves on the

Executive Rabbinical Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, which is the largest Jewish philanthropic organization in the world.

Rabbi Urecki serves on National Council of AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and on the board of directors at the University of Charleston. He was the 2011 recipient of the "Living the Dream Award" for his work on interfaith relations and the 2014 West Virginia Civil Rights Award recipient.

Lisa Hildebrand, a native of Philadelphia and history and math teacher at Sherman High, organized the event and said it was fulfilling for her to watch students ask questions openly without judgement or fear.

"We don't have a lot of diversity here and I saw the need and I emailed Rabbi Urecki and he was gracious enough to do this," she said. "We had a lot of good questions and he was great with the students. It was a great way to start a conversation and let the students experience something new or unfamiliar to them."

Rabbi Urecki spoke about the difference between Christmas and Hanukkah and took questions from students about the Jewish festival (also known as the Festival of Lights) commemorating the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.

The Rabbi is a contributing editor to the Charleston Gazette, writing frequently about religious tolerance and mutual respect for others.

"My goal is help enlighten people," Hildebrand said. "This is the next generation. We have students that have never been to the mall in Charleston and there is an economic element to that, but this was a way to bring diversity to them and help them learn about the world around them. I thought it was beautiful. It is important to see people of other cultures, religions, beliefs and creeds."

Hildebrand, who is currently working on a doctoral degree, said she was very pleased with the student body reaction to the event.

"They were so kind and respectful," she said. "Class after class poured into the gymnasium and listened and learned. It was an amazing day."

Hildebrand looks to schedule more diversity-themed events at the school in the future.

Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at pperry@hdmediallc.com or follow him on Twitter @philipdperry.


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