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[In the Media] ICSC Youth Interfaith Partnership Yields Positive Results

By: By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

Published: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 1:53 PM PST

An interfaith youth leadership camp devoted to bringing together kids from diverse backgrounds returns to Malibu, where the concept was inspired by a dying man’s wish.

Call it a homecoming of sorts.

In June, Malibu plays host to Interfaith Camp, an annual youth leadership camp that brings together children of different faiths with the goal of promoting respect, understanding and friendship. Every year, the camp engages 30 to 40 teens of various backgrounds, from all over Los Angeles, in a week of sports, arts and cultural activities. After taking place for the past several years outside of L.A., Interfaith Camp will come full circle this summer at Camp JCA Shalom, located near Arroyo Sequit Park off Mulholland Highway.

“We’re excited about bringing it back to Malibu,” said camp director Anthony Marsh. “We feel that we’re bringing it back home because it was founded here.”

The Interfaith Camp concept is the brainchild of late entrepreneur Daniel Jacoby. Jacoby made a fortune during the dot-com boom as the CEO of online banking company Digital Insight. At the age of 34 he retired to Malibu, four years after his first bout with brain cancer ended in remission. Unfortunately, the cancer returned, and in 2004 he died at the age of 38.

“It came to him in his last days,” Richard Erkes, chair of the Interfaith Board of Directors, said. “As Daniel was dying, he left in his will that a percentage of the money from the sale of his house in Malibu subsidize an interfaith camp.”

The result was Interfaith Inventions, Inc., a nonprofit organization aimed at promoting tolerance, understanding and trust between children and adults of different faiths. The organization hosted its first Interfaith Camp in Malibu in 2004, and later camps have been held in Santa Barbara, Ojai, New Mexico and, for the last few years, Big Bear.

“It’s very compelling,” said Marsh, who came aboard in 2008 and never had a chance to meet Jacoby. “I feel like we’ll be carrying on his vision, what he wanted to see fulfilled and bring it to manifestation.”

For $350 for the entire week, including meals and lodging, boys and girls participate in performing and fine arts classes, as well as outdoor activities such as ropes and hiking. The activities serve as a safe background for children from different backgrounds to form friendships.

“We’ve had young people who have gone on to attend a bar mitzvah for the first time,” Marsh said. “For a Jewish kid who has never met a Muslim, when they become friends, it’s life-changing.”

Erkes, whose partner is Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, says the camp operates on a tight budget. “It’s money to operate but we haven’t been able to do any fundraising,” Erkes said.

Nevertheless, the results have been successful due to the fact that children are at the perfect age to receive the camp’s message of unity.

“To talk interfaith with my contemporaries, forget about it,” Erkes said. “But among the kids, they can change their minds.”

Wasi Momin, 15, of Hancock Park, attended the camp last summer. A member of the Muslim Youth Group at the Islamic Center of Southern California, Momin enjoyed the experience.

“I was always interested in interfaith…I like meeting new people,” he said. “I met people from all over California, people of different faiths. I had a great time. It was a great bonding experience…I feel that I grew as a person.”

Isaac Vandor, 15, a Jewish teen who lives in Malibu West, attended the camp when he was 12.

“Despite having gone three years ago, I’m still in contact with friends that I met there,” he said. “We still speak and hang out.”

“The great thing about the camps is that they bring kids of all different backgrounds,” Vandor continued. “Muslim, Christian faith, other Jewish friends. It was a great experience. I’m definitely going this summer.”

Marsh believes that “the main event is when there is no event”; when, after a week of hanging out together at the camp, religious barriers are replaced by understanding.

“They come in with modest expectations and when they leave, they’re surprised by the new friendships they’ve created,” Marsh said. “Seeing kids intersect with kids of different religious backgrounds and faiths can be powerful.”

For more information, visit interfaithinventions.org or contact Anthony Marsh at AMarsh@interfaithinventions.org.

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