During the inaugural session of the Halton Interfaith Peace camp, which took place in Oakville from July 9-13, 2018, campers came to Shaarei-Beth El synagogue to learn about Judaism.
The Interfaith council of Halton has in its mission the goal of bringing people of different faiths together for education and fellowship, but it was even more important after the shooting at a mosque in Quebec in January of 2017. The Council, quickly mobilized a response to this attack by organizing a ring of peace around the Al Falah mosque in north Oakville, in conjunction with similar interfaith rallies across the country.
A month later, seeking to continue the positive interfaith relations, the Council discussed the idea of an interfaith youth summer camp. Council Chair Rabbi Wise invited Rabbi Debra Dressler and Shanin Pardhan of London, ON to come to Oakville to meet the Interfaith Council of Halton and representatives of the Interfaith Council of Peel, to show how they started a camp in London and how it could easily take root in Halton. Using a model created originally by Eastern Mennonite University in the state of Virginia, the London camp has been run successfully for 4 years and Dressler and Pardhan were excited to showcase their strategies and expand it throughout Ontario. Both interfaith groups were ready to start this new venture, with the Peel camp starting up in the summer of 2017 and the Halton camp starting up in 2018.
The interfaith peace camp is designed as a week-long day camp for students in grades 1-8, that encourages understanding and cooperation among faith groups. Through this day camp experience, the campers and the staff build friendships and understanding with peers about their different backgrounds. While the other camps bring the three Abrahamic faiths together – Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the Halton Interfaith Peace Camp wanted to expand to other faith groups as well. So this past July 9-13, 2018, the camp had sessions with representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths but also Hindu, Bahai, Sikh, Native Canadian, and Greening Sacred Spaces. The camp also tapped into the resources of Halton Police Services, who throughout the week offered a dozen counselors through their YIPI program, (Youth in Policing Initiative).
The camp was a big success with 22 campers and 12 counsellors and 6 staff. They visited various places of worship and had wonderful speakers come speak to them. They bused over to Bronte Park for a wonderful program on eco-friendly initiatives, had a faith scavenger hunt and sampled different ethnic lunches. They had arts and crafts and sports interspaced with learning and discussions. “The feedback from campers and their parents was so positive we have already begun planning for next summer” said director Andy King of Maplegrove Church. Overall it was a big success and registration for summer 2019 will begin in the fall.