Interfaith camp teaches kids about other religions

Children take part in the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp in Mississauga, Ont. (Rabbi Audrey Pollack photo)

For a new interfaith summer camp, peace starts with the children. The Peel Interfaith Peace Camp teaches kids about the traditions, cultures and beliefs that Jews, Muslims and Christians have in common.

The program is for children ages seven to 11 and runs from July 23 to 26. Each day, the campers learn about a religion and visit a new place of worship.

“I think that if we’re going to build peace and understanding in our society, you have to start with the little ones. They can see past a lot of the things that divide us,” said Rabbi Audrey Pollack, one of the founders of the camp.

Children take part in the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp in Mississauga, Ont. (Hannah Alberga/The CJN)

The head rabbi at the Solel congregation in Mississauga, Ont., Rabbi Pollack partnered with Canon Jennifer Reid from St. Peter’s Anglican Erindale and Sheikh Jaffer H. Jaffer from the Masumeen Islamic Centre in Brampton, to create the summer camp, which started last year.

Eight Jewish campers, 14 Muslims and 9 Christians attended this summer. The camp administrators felt it was important to attempt to maintain a proportionate distribution of members of each religion, even though there are fewer Jews in the area (Solel is the only synagogue in Mississauga).

Arliene Botnick, the director of education at Solel, explained that when her children went to school, there were only a couple of other Jewish kids in the entire student body. And the other Jews were often related to them.

Children take part in the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp in Mississauga, Ont. (Hannah Alberga/The CJN)

“Mississauga is very diverse, our kids go to school with kids of lots of different faith traditions, cultures and backgrounds, but they don’t necessarily know so much about them,” Rabbi Pollack said.

In Mississauga, Jews make up 0.26 per cent of the population, Muslims are nearly 12 per cent and Christians are almost 60 per cent, according to the Peel Data Centre.

The idea for the camp came from Rabbi Debra Dressler, who runs a similar program called London Interfaith Peace Camp in London, Ont. She reached out to Rabbi Pollack because her Muslim counterpart grew up going to a mosque in Mississauga.

Children take part in the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp in Mississauga, Ont. (Hannah Alberga/The CJN)

Peel Interfaith Peace Camp didn’t just impact the kids that attended last year, but also left a mark on the faith leaders and parents who got involved with it.

“Immediately, we’ve seen the faith leaders get closer and see each other every few months to discuss what’s happening. That in itself has helped us overcome some of the boundaries, some of the barriers that we may have had,” said Sheikh Jaffer.

In March, when a woman antagonized members of the Dar Al-Tawheed Islamic Centre in Mississauga by ripping pages out of a Qur’an in its parking lot, those involved with the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp came out to support the mosque.

Children learn about Islam, while attending the Peel Interfaith Peace Camp. (Ben Germann photo)

“What we’re looking to build on is that sense of community and connection,” Rabbi Pollack said.

After last summer, when the campers’ parents saw the impact the program had on their children, they wanted to experience it themselves. In May, interfaith leaders organized a three-course “progressive dinner” and conversation for parents at all three places of worship. They started at the mosque for appetizers, continued on to the church for the meal and finished off at the synagogue with dessert.

“By the time we got to the synagogue, people didn’t want to stop talking,” Canon Reid said.

On the last day of camp, there will be a family potluck dinner. Campers and parents are encouraged to bring traditional foods that represent their cultural heritage.

The organizers hope that the summer camp will act as a model for society.

“For me, the long-term vision is … a generation without racism, a generation without any type of prejudice towards each other. I think it starts at this age,” Sheikh Jaffer said.