by Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger
Two girls holding hands, tightly, or so it seems. They’re about ten years old. The two of them, one tall and thin, with jet-black hair and the other smaller, wearing her blond hair in braids, walk together joyfully and resolutely. They are not talking much, as girls that age usually do. Every once in a while they stop, say a few words while looking directly at each other, gesticulating and pointing. Now and then they approach a young adult, talk with her and look at each other and then, satisfied, go off on their way – together.
My eyes follow them, trying to understand what is going on. I get it, but can hardly believe it.
These girls do not know each other’s language. They have grown up as neighbors, so close yet so so far away. This one from a Palestinian village, this one from a nearby Israeli settlement. The blond one with the braids knows only Hebrew, the black-haired one speaks Arabic. But they are fast friends.
There would have been no chance in the world that they would ever meet and become so close. No chance, except here, at the Roots Summer Camp, where the counselors double as translators.
My good friend Ibrahim seems to have brought his preschool daughters to the camp. He is wearing a bemused smile from ear to ear. I didn’t know that at his age he still has little ones in the house. Could they be his grandkids? They walk all about with him, not letting go. I guess they are a little shy.
My granddaughter and I sit down to make something out of clay, and I strike up a conversation with a young mother. She tells me the name of the settlement where she lives. I think to myself – Wow, we’ve done a good job! Who would have expected that a family from there, a community considered to be a hotbed of Jewish religious extremism, is here at our camp, building bridges of understanding and friendship between Palestinian and Israelis …
I point out to her Ibrahim and those two cute little girls not leaving his side. Yea, they are really cute, she says — they’re my daughters and they’ve really taken a liking to him!
In America we send our kids to Jewish summer camp to strengthen their Jewish identity, and to imbue in them Jewish values. We want them to make friends with other Jews. It’s crucial; I’ve been there, done that.
And here I am after almost 40 years in Israel, helping create a summer camp that will ensure that our kids’ friends are not exclusively Jewish. A camp that opens their hearts and their minds to the “other” that they have never met and under the prevailing circumstances would never meet.
We need both types of camps. They are both inculcating Jewish values. It all depends on context and circumstances. Because what we so desperately need is balance. We must stand separately, and we must hold hands as well.
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