Sometimes if you've spent a lot of time in the Middle East you start feeling very anti-Jewish. Boycotting Israeli everything, trying to support Palestinian people's hopes. Especially in Lebanon to praise anything Jewish made you seem like a spy. With good reason, years and years of warfare, massacres, and bombings have made Lebanon and the Lebanese wary of anything Jewish. Although there is a VERY small population of Jews in Lebanon they keep, obviously, a low profile. I was shocked to hear relative family members teaching their kids to chant "Down, down Israel! Those Israelis are bad! They are going to the Hellfires!" To my American ears this smacked of brainwashing. But was it? Over in "good ol' USA" how many times do we hear about "Muslim Arab Terrorists"? Brainwashing? I don't know if you can call it that but it is unfair. I spent many a day teaching my Lebanese Relatives that there are good Jewish people out there in the world. Just as there are good and bad Muslim people. Of course many debates led into the realm of Muslim vs non-Muslim but that's another story.
I have known a few Jewish people personally. I didn't know them too closely but they did leave an impact on my life in some small way.
The first Jews I knew were my father's co-worker's family. Some weekends we'd go to their house and I'd spend time with their daughters. The younger one and I really had fun and she seemed an all around pleasant girl, not corrupted by society. There were trademark Jewish symbolism in their house that I looked at carefully and with a touch of respect for their openly religious beliefs. Later a few years went by and our families drifted apart just by lack of communication and the last I heard about them was the father disowned his older daughter for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. This did shock me, I had heard of such things but had never KNOWN anyone who would do something like that, after all they were what I would call decent people. Although I couldn't comprehend why a man who took the time and patience to raise a beautiful lady would suddenly cast her out because she defied her religious beliefs, I DID have respect for the fact that some people have deeply held religious beliefs and it went deeper than blood.
The next time I ran into a Jewish person I was then Muslim, wore hijab, and knew a bit more about the differences between our faiths. I was riding the local Tucson bus at sunset to a Hotel where the Muslim community had gathered to raise money to build a new Masjid in town. I got on and sat down in the middle of the bus and sitting opposite from me was a young black man around my age of 18. He was dressed in a classy suit mostly white, and on top of his head wore the traditional Jewish cap. Our eyes met and then glanced off quickly. We both sat there not quite staring at each other because we were the only traditionally religious people apparent on the bus. I'm sure if a nun had been present there would have been a three way stare. I felt I wanted to start up a religious conversation with this guy and from his furtive glances he did too. Yet we both held back afraid of the same thing... causing a religious misunderstanding....in public. I saw many of the other passengers looking between us both waiting for something to happen and a silent tension practically hummed through the bus. I saw my stop and pressed the cord button, it chimed and we both stood. We were standing face to face and the temptation to talk grew....
"Salaam," he said smiling.
"Shalom," I replied quickly smiling too. He let me off first and as we stepped off in different directions we were both still smiling. Two simple words conveyed a hope for the future where people could indeed understand the other's beliefs and live in Shalom, in Salaam, in Peace.
The next and last time I ran into anyone Jewish was after I left Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the Israelis had attacked Lebanon and war hit hard. I got to USA really with the fear of Israel in the hearts of my daughter and I. Rockets had hit really close to our summer home and had literally shaken me to my core. Every time jets overflew we flinched waiting for the Boom. Here I was in Tucson, Arizona, USA flinching in my own home. I hated Israel, I even hated Jews right then.
My mom is a crafter and almost every weekend she had shows at various locations around Tucson with the Tucson Arts and Crafts Association. Sometimes they were held at parks or churches or nursing homes, but this weekend I was there they held it at the Jewish Community Center. I had always gone and helped my mom sell and help her put her things on display and help her take the displays down and chat with all her fellow crafting friends. I hadn't seen them for years since I had been in Lebanon and she told me they were all eager to meet me and my daughter. So we went to the car and drove there. As we made a U-turn at the light in front of the JCC I saw the large Menorah decoration and a small shudder went down my back. We parked and I forlornly walked pushing my daughter in her stroller up the black pavement to the main entrance.
It seemed every step made me more uneasy. My beloved husband and in-laws were cowering in fear at that moment across the world in Lebanon and I was stepping on Jewish Territory. I felt like a traitor. We walked in and everywhere was displayed beautiful Jewish made art and decor. Proudly listed names were boldly written telling all their accomplishments but all I wanted to do was scream "My brothers and sisters in Islam are DYING at this moment because of People YOU support!"
Naturally I kept my mouth firmly shut. Few, if any, would understand or sympathise with me. I greeted the crafters with a falsely cheery smile that as time went on relaxed into the real thing. But it was oh so hard. To keep walking. Keep smiling. But I did enjoy the crafts and spending time with my mom.Now living in UAE where Israel is much further away. I feel more relaxed about it all. I don't like or support the State of Israel existing on Muslim lands but I do know there are good Jews in this world that are trying to reach out and say Salaam instead of Shalom.