Our local Camp Solomon Schechter made news this week when, it raised the Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli flag. The camp was hosting a group from Kids4Peace, an organization that brings together Jewish, Muslim and Christian, Israeli and Palestinian youth to build relationships through a variety of activities, including summer camp. From their website: “Founded in Jerusalem in 2002, KIDS4PEACE is a global movement of youth and families, dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in divided societies around the world.” I had the privilege of meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian co-directors when I was on my Interfaith Partners for Peace trip to Israel two years ago.
The intention of raising the flag was of welcoming and peacemaking. Yet the act brought a maelstrom of hateful speech and false charges against the camp. After being viciously attacked on social media, the camp issued an apology for raising the flag.
This past Tuesday was the Jewish observance of Tisha B’Av (“the 9th of Av”) the date traditionally associated with the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. While historically perpetrated at the hands of foreign armies, the rabbis of the Talmud sought a spiritual reason for the Temple’s destruction. What ethical breach in human behavior, they asked, led to the Temple’s destruction?
They offer numerous commentaries and suggestions to the answer to this question, but the one that stands out this week is the teaching that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, “baseless hatred:”
However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of mitzvot, and acts of kindness, and that they did not perform the sinful acts that were performed in the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was baseless hatred during that period. (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b)
What is baseless hatred? It is hatred run rampant. It is transcending beyond rational argument to personally attack another’s humanity. It is to treat someone as an “other” as “less than.”
Unfortunately, we are seeing sinat chinam in our day. Political discourse has dissolved into name-calling and personal attacks. We are dividing into “us” vs. “them.” This was true in the attacks against Camp Solomon Schechter—completely ignoring the context and the reason for the flag-raising, and completely ignoring the camp’s stated values, people have been attacking the camp for supporting terrorism, for being anti-Israel, for being against the Jewish people.
When I taught about sinat chinam in the past, I always thought it was a good teaching, yet located in the realm of metaphor and homiletic hyperbole. How can hatred bring down an institution, a building? But this week I understand how: all of this hateful attacking speech can have real consequences on a beloved institution that has served the Northwest Jewish community for over 60 years. If this hateful speech leads to lower enrollment, or hinders the capital campaign recently undertaken, then sinat chinam will contribute to bringing down an institution. Which is why, on Tisha B’Av, I made a point of making a financial contribution to camp and why I will still encourage CSS as one of the local Jewish camping options.
It is also why I joined with other Northwest rabbis of all denominations to send a letter of support to the Camp and its leadership. It was a letter of support for the camp in light of these attacks, but it is really a letter of warning for all of us not to engage in hateful speech. The letter reads in part: “We, rabbis from the Pacific Northwest, affirm the extreme importance of the Jewish values of treating everyone with derech eretz (civility) and respect. We are called to build connections and offer respectful, constructive feedback rather than destroying relationships and turning one against another.”
I regret the fact that we even needed to write such a letter, or that I even need to speak out about sinat chinam. And I regret the fact that the camp felt the need to apologize for an act that was bold, important and necessary. The raising of the flag was the complete opposite of sinat chinam, it was a gesture of bridge-building, of recognizing the humanity of the other, of hope for a better future.
Attending a camp such as Camp Solomon Schechter is meant to be a time for kids to grow as Jews and as individuals. Raising the Palestinian and Israeli flags together was a wonderful opportunity to foster that. Such an act is deserving of support, not hate.