“You should probably take that off before you go,” my parents advised me.
They were referencing the relatively large Israeli flag I had recently pinned onto my knapsack which now draped over the bag, cape-style. Although I heard my parents’ request, I listened to my ever passionate, often headstrong inner voice and went on my way, flag swaying behind me as I walked.
Their argument was valid. Displaying the flag everywhere I go could call unnecessary attention to myself. How often do you see people walking around with the flag of their indigenous country exhibited for all to see? Additionally, there is the point that many people are, to put it in simple terms, not too fond of Israel. The masses associate it as the country with constant political problems, as the source of too many blaring headlines and as the cause of much of the current upheaval in the Middle East. I am an individual among this crowd and do not have this mindset. Even so, why make myself stand out by wearing a symbol of this very country out loud?
Because now more than ever there is a need for the attraction of this type of attention. The alarming Pew statistics which emerged last week state that 82% of white Evangelicals believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people, while only 40% of American Jews believe the same. With less than half of American Jewry believing that we have a Divine right to our own homeland, there is an urgent need for the 40% who do to publicize and voice their support for Israel.The flag adorning my bag confirms that I am one of the minority and that I am not afraid to stand up for my support of Israel. It may even make viewers stop and ponder where their own allegiances lie.
In 2011, I traveled to Poland as a participant of Heritage Seminars, a remarkable Holocaust education trip. I, along with nearly all of the participants in my group, tied Israeli flags around our back and wore them for almost the entire week-long journey. When we stopped in Lublin, we were advised to remove our flags, as the area was particularly anti-Semitic. After around an hour of touring the city and learning about the atrocities committed to the Jews there, our pride broke through and we all simultaneously put on our flags. Here we were, a mere seventy years later, walking the very earth they tried to annihilate us from! That day, the flags served to us as a symbol of Jewish survival and strength. I made a promise to myself that I would carry that feeling with me into the future. That I would do my best to always take pride in my identity, whether in the streets of Lublin or of New York City. The current flag on my bag serves as a daily fulfillment of this promise.
As Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once famously said: “l’kol makom sh’ani holech, ani holech l’Eretz Yisrael,” to every place that I go, I’m heading towards Israel. Every time I put on my bag, I’m reminded a personal message of lech lecha: no matter where I’m going at the moment, my ultimate destination is Israel.
So, dear reader (something I’ve always wanted to say), one question remains…to flag or not to flag?