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It was surreal watching last Tuesday night’s New Castle Town Board meeting while riding home from the Israel rally in Washington, D.C. in a bus full of members of our community. As I was not able to comment over the YouTube stream, I would like to add this:
I understand that certain symbols and markers resonate with people differently. And so, I have empathy for those who feel as though one nation’s flag triggers them in a certain way. The last thing any of us want is to have our neighbors made to feel like outsiders.
But one detail I fear was overlooked is that the Israeli flag stands not only for the seven million Jews but also the two million Israeli Arabs who call Israel home. It is not a symbol for Jews only but a symbol of remarkable co-existence.
Among the many heroes that have emerged since Oct. 7, we cannot discount those two million Israeli Arabs who might have been caught in the middle, but have stood side by side, peacefully with their Jewish brethren. Hamas has openly talked about their desire to draw this population into conflict, yet there have been virtually no issues.
The Arab Israeli party is led by Mansour Abbas, a member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) who has shown the kind of visionary leadership one could only wish for from Benjamin Netanyahu. Among those Israeli Supreme Court members weighing in on the legality of the IDF’s work is Arab Supreme Court Justice Khaled Kabub, who is roundly respected by Jews and Muslims alike.
Having just been in Israel, I met Jews, Muslims and Christians, working side by side, everywhere. Every hospital is full of citizens from all ethnic backgrounds working hand in hand. There are Muslim and Druze members of the IDF. Those Arabs living in Israel enjoy a level of freedom of expression and religious practice those in Gaza could only dream of. When I see the Israeli flag, I do not see only Jews. It stands equally for those Muslim and Christian Arabs, among other groups.
One speaker suggested we fly a flag that represents peace and co-existence. This is exactly what many of us see in the Israeli flag, a country that has initiated exactly zero wars and has honored every ceasefire; who has attempted again and again to find compromise in sharing the land; a multiethnic and multireligious tapestry of citizens grateful to call this sacred place home. To say that the Israeli flag is only for Jews is akin to saying the American flag is only for Christians.
Perhaps this needs to be communicated more clearly to our non-Jewish and especially Arab or Muslim friends. If we forget to articulate this more often, that falls on us. So let’s be clear: This flag represents members of your community as well. And the state of Israel would be less vibrant (and frankly, less interesting) without them.
When we call for the return of the 240 hostages held by Hamas, that includes individuals of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, including the nine Muslims currently being held hostage. We pray and advocate for them with no less vigor than we do members of the Jewish community.
Perhaps I am overly optimistic, but I hope that the removal of Hamas might open an opportunity for closer ties between the Jewish and Arab communities – both in Israel and here in Chappaqua.
Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe is the senior rabbi for Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua.
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