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Salaam, shalom, peace.

A unique camp for middle school students drew young teens to make new friends, design art projects and take small group selfies. Yet it also included interfaith prayer -- and lots of planning how to stand up against hate when they see it.

Now in its second year, Peace Camp -- believed to be the only one of its kind in the Chicago area -- was designed by the interfaith nonprofit Children of Abraham Coalition and this year it sold out.

With a growing demand, and a majority of its campers and leaders returning again this year, its teenage board of directors believe their vision to promote interfaith literacy, relationships and reverence is growing.

The Rev. Corey Brost, C.S.V., founded the Children of Abraham Coalition in 2010 to combat rising hate incidents after 9/11. Right from the start, the organization's mission was community based, aiming to hold events to advance interfaith "literacy, relationships and reverence" between people of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions.

The peace camp for middle schoolers was conceived by the teen board members of the coalition after experiencing faith-based bigotry themselves.

"This event is important because religious-based fear and hate start early," Brost says. "During the camp, even sixth-graders can identify it and have experienced it.

"Our goal is to help these kids grow in interfaith literacy," he adds, "while also learning skills to speak out against faith-based bigotry and bullying."

The Children of Abraham Coalition uses community-based events and Peace Camp to start the conversation. The camp drew more than 40 middle school students and a team of 23 Muslim, Jewish and Christian high school leaders from the North and Northwest suburbs.

One of those leaders was Abbey Finn, a junior at Buffalo Grove High School, who was among the original team members who helped to create the camp.

"I am in awe of how the students were able to discuss their differences rather than shy away from them," she said. "As someone who hears anti-Semitic comments on a regular basis at school, it makes me feel hopeful and excited to see the differences these kids will make."

Another leader who felt empowered after the camp was Rebecca Drexler, who is a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield.

"With so much hate in the world, it feels good to create a place of love, respect and education," Drexler said.

Over the course of the two days, students visited Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Turkish American Society of Chicago in Mount Prospect and St. Simon's Episcopal Church in Arlington Heights.

At each stop, they received a tour as well as a presentation from young people about each faith tradition and important artifacts from their religion.

This was the first peace camp for Kerim Oz, 17, of Wheeling. He is a Muslim board member on the Children of Abraham Coalition board, and while he says he has not faced hate-based bigotry himself, he is aware of the "national climate in our country and around the world."

"I think where people go wrong later in life is a lack of education and absolute ignorance about other religions," says Oz, who is a student at Harper College. "If we can reach students when they're young, they'll learn just how many similarities there really are."

Another leader who spoke was Sarah McDermott of Park Ridge. She is a senior at St. Viator High School and she was among the organizers after experiencing anti-Semitism herself when her middle school classmates discovered her grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.

"It was heartwarming to see how many campers returned this year," McDermott said. "Just seeing their eagerness to learn more about other cultures warmed my heart and gives me hope for a much better future."

Brost sees the interfaith movement growing, but he credits his young teenage board of directors with being the ambassadors driving the change.

"Studies show that anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and hate groups are on the rise," Brost said. "People just don't become like this. They are raised in fear and prejudice from an early age."
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Title Annotation:Neighbor
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Date:Mar 6, 2019
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