Daniel’s dream

Before he died, Malibu resident Daniel Jacoby fulfilled his dream-the creation of an interfaith camp for children.

By Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

The Hebrew phrase tikkun olam means “repairing the world” through social action.

Malibu resident Daniel Jacoby, to many, exemplified the meaning of the phrase, especially throughout the last months of his life during which he worked to see his vision of an interfaith summer camp come to completion.

Jacoby died March 13 at age 38 after a long and difficult battle with brain cancer, but not before he secured the plans for the first session of “Interfaith Inventions,” an interfaith children’s camp for children ages 11 and 12.

Jacoby was the successful cofounder of Digital Insight, a dot-com company that essentially invented the computer dynamics involved in online banking. One year after its incorporation, Jacoby discovered he had a brain tumor and received his first round of radiation treatment.

Six months short of the five-year remission mark, Jacoby learned that his cancer had returned, and that he was not going to make it this time.

In August 2003, Jacoby decided to contact Rabbi Judith HaLevy of the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, where his parents, Janine and David Jacoby, attended.

HaLevy met with Jacoby in his Malibu home and helped him wrestle through his bigger questions: Why would God do this to him? What is there to believe in? And, why must we suffer?

Whether or not he received specific answers to his questions, in January, Jacoby decided he must help others during his limited time left.

The first task of Jacoby’s was to donate money for a new playground for the preschool at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue. Upon giving HaLevy a check, she said Jacoby asked her, what about the camp?

“Camp? What camp?” HaLevy replied.

HaLevy said Jacoby explained to the rabbi his desire to establish an interfaith camp for “children of all religions to play together, to get to know each other as real people through the process of creating and having fun.”

“I want to bring Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, all kids together in an atmosphere of play and fun to form lasting friendships,” Jacoby told her.

Within a few months, HaLevy and Jacoby quickly scrambled to put together Jacoby’s dream. He did the paperwork to create Interfaith Inventions as a nonprofit. HaLevy created a board of directors, found a location as well as the best person to facilitate Daniel’s camp-Andy Gold. Gold is the owner of the camp’s facilities, and has been involved in interfaith work for many years.

Jacoby’s first interfaith camp session will take place July 18-23 in Rose Mountain, New Mexico. Fifteen children, five from the Muslim, Jewish and Episcopal communities, will be the first to experience the workings of the camp. The children will be 11 and 12 years old, but teenagers will be included in years to come. “Our hope is to create this camp as a prototype that can be copied across the country,” HaLevy said.

The children at Interfaith Inventions will enjoy various outdoor activities-hiking, swimming, canoeing-basically, HaLevy said, “what any kid enjoys at summer camp.” The only difference is, the songs they sing will vary in their origin of faith, and so will the lessons.

The idea of the interfaith camp is not to create a unified set of beliefs that the children should agree upon, HaLevy noted. Rather, the real hope is to build tolerance and understanding between the children and their separate faiths, as they learn and share with each other their personal belief systems.

HaLevy said that with the war in the Middle East, current negative feelings stirred up by Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion,” among many other variables, this year is as good a time as any to introduce a camp which teaches tolerance and understanding among the faiths. The hope, HaLevy added, is that the children will be able to look at each other and play with each other, and say, to their parents and family, “This [person] is my friend.”

The camp will include a staff of seven to eight who are experts in this field, and have been involved in interfaith work previously. HaLevy said there would be a great deal of talking, sharing of each other’s rituals and learning the basic humanity in every human being. Members of the interfaith board, who held their first meeting this February, are excited about the opportunities and challenges that this camp would allow.

Usman Madha of the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City and a member of the interfaith board, said, “This is a holy project, and even though it will be the most difficult thing that I have ever done with my community, I can’t say no.”

During his last few months of life, Jacoby chose to attempt an even more intensive round of chemotherapy. Jacoby told HaLevy, “I know this will be difficult, but I will quit only when it is impossible.”

HaLevy said she believed he clearly meant his interfaith project, as well as his struggle to fight cancer. As the phrase tikkun olam signifies, HaLevy said she believes that “Daniel always knew that it was his task to leave this world a little better than he found it.”

Jacoby donated enough money to provide full scholarships for the first year of children to attend the camp. In future years, the fee will be roughly $800 dollars, which camp leaders hope will be covered or lowered substantially by donations.

More information about the project can be obtained by e-mailing MJC&S member Philip Dichter, president of Interfaith Inventions, at PJD90265@aol.com.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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