One late July morning, I stopped into die Jewish Center of die Hamptons (JCOH), as is my summer custom, for the final few minutes of services and an hour of Torah study.
The guest speakers at services that day happened to be representatives from Seeds of Peace. For those unfamiliar with this marvelous organization, Seedy of Peace brings together children from conflict-ridden regions to a camp in Maine to experience one another's humanness and learn basic techniques of conflict resolution. From 46 Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian teenagers in 1993, the New York-based nonprofit has expanded to include young leaders from South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans. Under President George W. Bush, Seeds of Peace was recognized by the U.S. State Department for the effectiveness of its model.
JCOH's rabbi, Sheldon Zimmerman, who is rather hawkish on issues related to Israel, nevertheless maintains an apolitical pulpit, and political speakers are kept outside of services. Seeds of Peace squarely fits the apolitical bill. After all, it takes no position on the tightness or wrongness of any side's argument in the ongoing fight over the future of Palestine. It merely asks if things might not go a little more smoothly if children on both sides learned to befriend one another.
Alas, certain elements of the Jewish community believe that it weakens Israel even to envision a peace that is anything but the kind that Rome handed Cartilage. On that Saturday, a few of those people--some regulars, some strangers--distributed handouts filled with lies and libelous statements to each member of the congregation. By a complicated causal chain of McCarthyite associations and use of hysterical language, the handouts defamed Seeds of Peace, Birthright Israel, J Street and even Rabbi Zimmerman. As far as I could make out, the big allegation against Seeds was that someone who had once been a "counselor" at the camp was associated with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) that helped organize the Gaza aid flotilla. Birthright Israel, we learned, was actually an Iranian-funded plot whose goal was to bolster Hamas. "The J in J Street means Judenrein, not Jewish," the writers of the handout insisted. While there was no disruption of the presentation, as was widely feared, services were filled with tension, and some sharp words broke out over lox and bagels during the Kiddush.
Most of us have heard this conspiracy nonsense before, but what surprised me was the fact that before Torah study even began, several congregants complained to Rabbi …