As a child, I spent my summers at Camp Solomon Schechter, a Conservative Jewish camp in Tumwater, Washington. My experiences at Camp Schechter were central to the development of my Jewish identity, and my eventual decision to immigrate to Israel.
At camp, each day began at “the flagpole.” Hundreds of sleepy-eyed campers and counselors from all around the Pacific Northwest strolled to the flagpoles, where we would circle up around the American, Canadian and Israeli flags. As everyone circled up, the Israeli “scouts” (young Israeli counselors) would lead us in a morning song. “Bo-bo-bo-boker tov!” they sang, meaning “Good morning!” in Hebrew.
Additional Hebrew songs, the American and Canadian national anthems, and then the Israeli national anthem — “Hatikvah” — would follow.
Camp Schechter was founded on Zionist principles, and served as a safe haven to build a Jewish community for many campers who might be the only Jews in their schools or hometowns.
But to my dismay, this safe haven was shaken last week — when the Palestinian flag was raised over these very same campgrounds. I can only imagine the outrage among my thousands of fellow Camp Schechter alumni.
As first reported by The Mike Report — a blog that focuses on Jewish news in the Pacific Northwest — Camp Schechter welcomed a group of Palestinian Muslims and Christians from a group called Kids4Peace to join the Jewish campers for the beginning of a new session.
Like the overwhelming majority of Schechter alumni, I welcome the idea of dialogue and friendship, especially with Palestinian children and young adults. But for Israelis, the Palestinian flag embodies hatred and violence toward Israelis and Jews, and — without warning or authorization from campers, staffers and parents — raising it was beyond insensitive.
After an avalanche of complaints, the Schechter administration sent out an email explaining that the flag was raised in a “teachable moment,” as a sign of friendship, empathy and acceptance toward the Kids4Peace delegation.
The camp administration admitted that the flag “was met with uncertainty by some campers and staff, especially the Israelis,” and then said that the flag was taken down for Shabbat “since there is no peace and also to relieve the sadness and anger that some feel by the site of the flag.”
“We have not altered any part of camp; we remain unabashedly pro-Israel, and we are celebrating Israel alongside our new friends,” maintained the administration, which later sent out an apology for its “lapse in judgment.”
From my vantage point — as a Schechter alumna-turned-Israeli — I can tell you that raising a Palestinian flag is a politically and emotionally charged act, especially for Israeli counselors who have vivid memories of war and Palestinian terrorism. In the latest major attack, a Palestinian terrorist broke into a home in Halamish and killed three members of a Jewish family that was celebrating Shabbat.
For Israelis, the Palestinian flag evokes a denial of the call in “Hatikvah” for the Jewish people to be a free in the land of Israel; the Palestinian Authority government that the flag represents incites and pays terrorists who take that denial into their own hands.
Yet the camp’s move must also be viewed within the broader context of the way in which American Jewry is headed — namely, indifference and even a growing hostility toward Israel. Many Jews, especially in younger generations, distance themselves from Israel because they fear being associated with negative narratives about Israel, Zionism and, too often, the Jewish people. By rejecting Israel or Judaism, they conform to gain acceptance in liberal circles — and this phenomenon is especially prevalent in liberal communities in the Pacific Northwest. Therefore, we have an even greater responsibility to strengthen Jewish identity and unapologetic Jewish pride in our own backyard.
I can only hope that the benefit of interfaith dialogue was not lost because of the Palestinian flag incident. And as an alumna, I pray that Camp Solomon Schechter remains the same camp that shaped my Jewish identity and made me the unabashed Jew that I am today — living in the State of Israel.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, New York Daily News, Forbes and The Hill.