Last week, the administration of Camp Solomon Schechter in the Pacific Northwest was stunned to discover itself being struck by a tsunami of outrage after acceding to a request by a visiting group of Muslim and Christian children to fly the flag of the Palestinian Authority.
The camp flew the flag at the request of Kids4Peace, a group being hosted at the camp, who asked that the flag which they brought with them be flown alongside those of the United States, Canada and Israel, which are flown daily at the camp. It’s not clear whether the children were actually citizens of the Palestinian Authority, or just American citizens who identified with the PA.
But source at the camp who spoke exclusively with JewishPress.com (and who asked not to be identified because the individual was not authorized to speak with media) said the reason the flag was flown was in order “to help them feel safe and included and respected, and that we were going to listen to what they had to say.”
The camp, which was founded in 1954, prides itself on its pro-Israel, Zionist stance, according to the source.
Camp Solomon Schechter bases its program on “the ideals of the Conservative movement” and underscores derech eretz (respect) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), according to its website.
Not all of the campers’ parents agreed that flying the Palestinian Authority flag was consonant with those values, let alone taking down the Israeli flag for the Sabbath, with all the others. It was apparent that the camp had not first cleared the program with the parents.
In response to numerous calls and emails from parents and others expressing outrage following the visit, the camp published a letter on its Facebook page, first reported by Seattle blogger Michael Behar.
“We sincerely apologize that we upset some in our CSS and larger Jewish community by introducing the Palestinian flag into our educational program,” the letter said. “Camp Solomon Schechter reiterates our unwavering support for the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland.
“Camp Solomon Schechter is a proud Zionist and pro-Israel camp. We honor the Israeli Army and Israeli people on a daily basis at CSS. Our goal was to create a safe space for all, and begin dialogue among the next generation.”
“For the sake of a teachable moment, we did raise the Palestinian flag as a sign of friendship and acceptance. It was met with uncertainty by some campers and staff, especially the Israeli’s (sic), but all understood that the message of hope for peace by flying the Israeli flag alongside helped develop empathy. Still we plan to take down all the flags for Shabbat since there is no peace and also to relieve the sadness and anger that some feel by the site (sic) of the flag.”
The letter closed with the remark that nevertheless [we] “remain unabashedly pro-Israel and we are celebrating Israel alongside our new friends.”
The camp’s executive director Sam Perlin also issued a statement together with co-board president Andy Kaplowitz, in response to the firestorm of comments that flooded the camp’s Facebook page.
“Camp Solomon Schechter regrets raising the Palestinian flag alongside US, Canadian and Israeli flags on Thursday and Friday mornings and it is a long standing CSS custom to lower flags for Shabbat and raise them again Sunday morning,” the statement said. “We neglected to foresee in such actions the serious political implications and for that lapse in judgment, we are deeply sorry.”
Kids4Peace Seattle is part of Kid4Peace International, an organization with chapters across the United States and in Jerusalem. The Seattle organization’s programs bring together Muslim, Jewish, Christian and other youth to “learn about, and take action to improve, issues such as religious intolerance, racism and homelessness and poverty.”
On the Kids4Peace website is an update of the group’s trip last week to Camp Solomon Schechter, written by Jordan Goldwarg, Northwest Regional Director of Kids4Peace. “This week, a group of youth participants from Kids4Peace were privileged to be guests of Camp Solomon Schechter, near Seattle, Washington.
“These 13 youth, an interfaith group of Jews, Muslims, and Christians from Seattle and Jerusalem, visited Schechter as part of the Kids4Peace Global Institute, a leadership program for high school students that helps Kids4Peace youth become strong advocates for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“While at Schechter, Kids4Peace youth led educational programs for Schechter campers and staff. Youth shared their personal stories of what life is like growing up as Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, including the struggles they face living in a divided city where peers and family members are often not supportive of their efforts to work together with people from the other side of the conflict. At the same time, American Kids4Peace participants shared why they also work for peace in the Middle East.
“In addition to these peer-to-peer education sessions, Kids4Peace youth engaged fully in the life of the camp, learning new songs and traditions, doing activities side-by-side with Schechter campers, and seeing the rich culture of Jewish worship. Through being at camp, Kids4Peace youth saw clearly the deep love of Israel expressed by Schechter campers and staff, as well as the joy that the Schechter community takes in celebrating Judaism.
“Kids4Peace youth and staff were grateful for the opportunity to spend these days at camp. At a time when conversation about Israel can be highly polarized, this visit afforded an opportunity to engage in a new kind of dialogue, one that is grounded in respect, civility, curiosity, and openness. It provided an opportunity for many American Jewish campers to meet a Palestinian for the first time, and to recognize that there are Palestinian partners who want to work–together–for peace.
“It provided an opportunity for Palestinian Kids4Peace participants to experience American Jewish life and to gain a deeper understanding of why a strong, stable Israel is so important for Jews the world over. And it provided an opportunity for all campers and staff to recognize that despite the deep disagreements that exist about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, a different kind of conversation is possible, one that helps move forward to new solutions and a hopeful future.”
Kids4Peace received a grant of $800,000 in October 2016 from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The organization is classified as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in the United States, with North American headquarters in Washington DC, and Middle East headquarters located in eastern Jerusalem on Al Nujum Street.