Jacqueline Monetta ’14 is a poster-child for dialogue and health. She has grandparents who are Jewish, Roman Catholic and Muslim, and she brings a little of each of those religious traditions with her when she participates in the school’s Dialogue Club, which seeks to build bridges between Jewish and Arab students at the school.
She also works for healing dialogue through another venture to help stem the tide of teen suicides. She is in the midst of producing and directing a documentary film on the topic and is working with the school’s Sources of Strength club to give teens a chance to speak directly to their peers.
Jacqueline was also featured in September in the San Francisco Chronicle for her work on a new program that would offer teens a chance to seek help via text messages in addition to phone hotlines.
On her mother’s side, Jacqueline has a grandfather, Dr. Assad Aram, who is both Muslim and an immigrant from Iran; her grandmother, Helen Backus, is a Catholic from Minnesota. They raised their daughter, Lisa, as a Catholic first in Iran and later in the U.S. following the political turmoil of the fall of the Shah.
Her grandfather, a physician and a member of the Shah’s cabinet, was made into a scapegoat by the Shah and jailed (like many other high level government officials) shortly before the revolution. Monetta’s grandmother, mother, aunt and uncle escaped Iran just days before the Iranian revolution and the Shah’s fall.
Aram escaped when the Revolutionary Guard took over the prison. He went underground for months before managing to make his way to U.S. by way of Turkey and France. Aram’s own story is one made for Hollywood and is described in a recently released book, Escape From Tehran, available on Amazon.com.
Back in the U.S., Lisa later met David Monetta, a third generation Jewish San Franciscan, after they both studied at Cal. They fell in love, married and had three children, including Jacqueline ’14, Zachary ’11 and Alexander, whom they raised in the Jewish tradition.
“My husband and I were surprised when Zack wanted to check out SI,” said Lisa. “It didn’t take long for David, a Lowell alum, to become the biggest fan of the school.”
One symbol of their interfaith family happens at Christmas and Hanukkah when the Monettas take out their menorah and place their Christmas tree atop a Persian rug and then top the tree with a Star of David.
“I love seeing how closely connected the religions are,” said Jacqueline. “Religion in our home isn’t a line that separates, but one that connects us. My favorite thing to do is watch my two grandfathers, one Jewish and one Muslim, sit down and get along so well.”
At SI, Jacqueline serves as a senior member of the Dialogue Club along with presidents Jessica Nasrah ’14, Michael Dudum ’14 and Nasser Al-Reyes ’14, who are Arab-American; Jordan Solomon ’14, who is Jewish; and Sam Bernstein ’14, whose roots are both Jewish and Catholic.
Led by moderators Paul Totah ’75 (a Palestinian American who is Catholic) and Shelley Friedman (a French teacher who is Jewish), the group meets every Tuesday and stages an informal dialogue that helps students see commonalities and appreciate cultural differences. Members also discuss how to respond to ethnic jokes and deal with injustices that affect both groups.
They have raised money to benefit Lend for Peace, a microlending site started by Andrew Dudum ’07 while a student at Wharton School of Business, and they met last year with Lowell’s Jewish student organization, the Jew Crew.
Jacqueline enjoys the club so much that she wrote and recited a poem about it at Temple Emanuel a few months ago. “I love being in a club that lets me embrace my roots and fight stereotypes. I also love our dinners at Good Frickin’ Chicken where the Arab and Jewish students come together at the end of the day, just like my grandparents do during the holidays.”
Even though she is a member of her Jewish temple, she says she “is a product of multiple faiths. I’m not just Jewish but also Catholic and Muslim and have the richness that comes from that diversity. Now I want to learn more about Hinduism and Buddhism, thanks to my World Religion course.”
Jacqueline has also devoted her senior year to Sources of Strength, a club that seeks to promote student wellness and encourage suicide prevention. She is directing and producing a documentary on the subject to help students learn about resources available to them, including a new texting service similar to a 24-hour crisis phone line. While she is filming advice from adults, she is also giving teens a chance to offer their advice to peers thinking about suicide. She is looking for students interested willing to share their own stories and also in the film’s production. (You can watch a trailer to her film here.)
This fall, Jacqueline will begin her freshman year at Duke University, where she will study either communications or international relations as a way of furthering the healing work she does in both the Dialogue Club and in Sources of Strength.