Ten months ago, my daughter and I planned to do something wild and crazy. Her other siblings were not invited, as they do not belong to the exclusive club that we do. We are both redheads – my daughter is bordering on auburn while I am more of a strawberry blonde – and we signed up for the annual redhead festival that takes place every year in the city of Breda, Holland. I know. It seems like a super-nutty thing to do, but being redheads, we’re already slightly nutty to begin with so it just made sense to us. Besides, it just so happened to be on both our bucket lists, so how could we not go? We’ve both always felt different – like we stand out in a crowd – and when the rain and the humidity hits our locks, it looks like we’ve stuck our fingers in an electrical socket. So we thought that standing amongst thousands of people who look just like us would definitely be an experience worth experiencing. Not to mention the fact that we will be featured in the next Guinness World Book of Records that will be coming out in 2015, as part of the largest gathering of redheads in the world…
Since I’m on their sign-up list, I’ve been getting regular updates on the upcoming festival’s activities and a few months ago I was asked which country I was representing. Since there are over 90 countries being represented in the festival, they thought that this year it would be a good idea to print out flag stickers to wear, so that others might see where you’re from. Obviously, I signed up that we were representing Israel. Now, let’s skip a few months. Besides this terrible war that we’ve been embroiled in all summer, the shocking anti-semitism that has crippled Europe is now in the forefront of everyone’s minds. From the Belgian doctor who refused to treat her Jewish patient, to the Antwerp shop that banned Jews, to the Swedish woman who was beaten within an inch of her life for wearing a Jewish star around her neck, we Jews are now walking around with a bulls-eye target on our backs.
This has sparked some rather interesting conversations around dinner tables with both friends and family. I asked my daughter if she was still comfortable with the idea of walking around Breda with an Israeli flag, or would she prefer to wear a Canadian flag instead. Being the stubborn redhead she is, she insisted that we were going to wear our Israeli flag proudly. When I asked her what would happen if someone got a little hot-headed and started shoving, yelling or pointing a finger at her, accusing her of killing Palestinian women and children, she calmly replied that she already thought about that and had a speech ready. “We’re here because we’re redheads and we’re definitely not here to discuss politics. And as far as hating us goes, what is it exactly that you want us to do with that information? Plenty of people hate us and we’re used to that. But thanks for letting us know.” Her response is witty and concise, but it’s not necessarily realistic. If someone were to act on their anger and start shoving or hitting, I’d be at a loss as to what to do. Which is why I’m seriously considering going without a flag whatsoever. When I mentioned the whole discussion to a friend of mine (you know who you are…) while sitting at a bar mitzvah this past weekend, she became incensed with me. “Then don’t go!” she said. “If you’re ashamed of wearing a flag of Israel then you shouldn’t go.” I asked her if her husband wore a baseball cap over his kippah when they went traveling in Europe. She claimed that it’s not the same thing.
Hiding a kippah is hiding your identity as much as hiding your Israeli flag. You can argue that one is a Jewish symbol while the other is an Israeli one, but that’s just semantics in my books. In the end, I argued with her that shame has nothing to do with whether I hide the Israeli flag or not. If I was traveling alone or with my husband, then I would do what I want and suffer the consequences. But I’m traveling with my teenage daughter and my first responsibility is for her safety and well being. And that trumps all. Anyone who knows me knows that I am as proud of being Israeli as anyone else who lives in this country and if the events of the last two and a half months had not occurred, then the flag-wearing conundrum would be a non-issue. But this war – and the latest 11th broken ceasefire – is not quite over and so I have to take all of this into consideration. Interestingly enough, the next morning, after our heated discussion, there was a news article about a Jewish man in Maryland who hung both an American flag and an Israeli flag outside his restaurant. He received the following death threat: “Take the flag down you f—ing Jew. Jews are scum. … We are going to kill all the Jews, including you.” My friend saw the article, tagged me and commented that I just might have a point….
Right now, I’m still on the fence. My gut instinct is to go without a flag and play it safe – for both myself and my daughter. My husband is joining us for our weekend in Amsterdam, but is steering clear of the redhead festival. He said jokingly that he had no desire to spend his Sunday in the midst of what undoubtedly will be the angriest and most fiery gathering in all of Europe. Considering that, wearing my Israeli flag might not be the smartest idea. But my heart wants to wear that flag proudly and dare anyone to defame it and what it stands for.
I guess that’s the redhead in me…