Breaking religious barriers
In January, Rabbi Daniel Elkin invited a number of leaders from different faiths to see if they could help put together a multi-faith group for teenagers from congregations around Kingston.
“Religion is often seen as a source of war,” he said. “I want it to improve society, which is the way it should be.”
More than 50 teenagers showed up for the first meeting of the Multi-Faith Group – held in February at the Beth Israel Synagogue – to consider social action initiatives they could work on together.
“We wanted it to be neutral for everyone from the different faith groups,” Elkin said. “We don’t want anyone to advocate their religion as better than another or to evangelize. We want the kids to help the community.”
The teens, gathered from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, United, Unitarian, Baha’i and Anglican congregations, wanted to work together on the same project. They talked about different issues and decided to concentrate on homelessness.
Dividing into three sub-groups – fundraising, cooking and lobbying – the teens planned individual initiatives that each group could undertake.
Brent Harris, a high school student who has just graduated, was in the fundraising group that decided to hold a car wash, raising more than $500 for a local shelter.
“The secret was that someone came up with the idea to sell tickets in advance, so people who didn’t necessarily want their car washed could still give money,” Harris said.
The cooking group held two evenings during which they cooked lasagna and desserts, donating them to two local shelters, including Dawn House Women’s Shelter.
“It was really nice, and they were very excited to get the food,” said Valerie Kizell, one of the students in the cooking group.
“We got a written thank-you note from both places.”
While helping out local charities, the teenagers are also learning tolerance and acceptance of one another, Elkin said.
“It’s very educational for them because a certain comfort level is reached. They go into a new place of worship not knowing how to feel, but they leave knowing that it’s a regular place, not strange at all,” Elkin said.
“This helps break down barriers.”
That concept seems to be working with Harris, who said that all the teens were surprised how similar they were to one another.
“It’s amazing to share our religion, and it’s amazing how many similarities there are. If people talked more about it, they would realize that,” he said.
“This is fun socially, and very timely.”
The two subsequent meetings were held in places of different faith: once at Regiopolis Notre Dame High School, a Catholic school, and once in a Muslim mosque.
When the adult leaders suggested that the teens pick a representative, they chose a more communal approach: they picked one representative from each faith group and one from each high school to spread awareness about the group and its fundraisers.
The Multi-Faith Group plans to continue work in September, opening up its membership to students in grades 7 and 8.
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