Flags are symbolic. That is a fact.
There are symbols which we associate with joy and pride, and there are symbols which we react to viscerally, with anger, pain, and sadness. Camp Solomon Schechter made a choice to fly along side an American, Canadian, and Israeli flag, the flag that represents the Palestinian people. Camp Solomon Schechter was welcoming a group of Kids4Peace participants; Palestinian Christians, and Muslims, Palestinian Israeli Christian and Muslims, Israeli Jews and American Jews, Muslims, and Christians. They raised the flag in welcome, and their decision to be welcoming has led to heartbreaking conversations. I am not interested in whether or not camp should have or should not have raised the flag. Personally, I believe their actions embodied the Jewish value of Hachnasat Orchim – welcoming guests. What is so hurtful is the conversations that I have been a part of since the flag was taken down.
The camp has been accused of being Anti-Zionist, yet they were hosting a group that is dedicated to creating future leaders both Israeli and Palestinian. The participants in Kids4Peace are from families who are willing to risk personal safety, alienating friends and family, and setting aside their preconceived notions of one another and come together to listen, to hear the story of the other and commit themselves to making the future different than the past.
I wish the adults around the Jewish world were doing the same. I have been part of discussions that are extremely hateful. Conversations which began on the same day of the Jewish calendar when we mourn the destruction of Jerusalem because of senseless hatred. Senseless hatred is alive and well in our times, and Jerusalem remains in the middle.
I’m going to be blunt, and brutally honest. We as Jewish leaders, clergy and educators need to be as brave as the participants of Kids4Peace. We need the ability to see the Palestinian people and not lump them all together as terrorists. We need the ability to treat all people as created in the image of God no matter what flag they fly under. I am proud to be a Zionist. I am proud to be outwardly pro-peace, and a two state solution. I do my best to show empathy and compassion towards the Palestinian people, to listen to their narrative and not feel threatened when it deviates from ours.
As a Jewish community we can not hold others to a standard different than ourselves. The Israeli flag was waving long before 1948 in schools and summer camps. Israeli Jews too participate in intimidation and violence, and they do not represent all the people of Israel. Just as the terrorists while being Palestinian, do not represent the whole of the Palestinian people. Israel has a diplomatic relationship with the Palestinian Authority and while the goal of peace has not been achieved, there is recognition of the other on both sides.
I have great respect for Kids4Peace. Kids4Peace, is a grassroots program. They were created because the adults, the politicians, the clergy, and educators for both communities are frozen in fear and bias. Kids4Peace participants are role models not only amongst their peers, but to the adults leading both of our communities today. I only hope, that we adults can follow in their footsteps.