Rabbi Avi Weinstein

The Saudis Came to Jewish Kansas

In Jewish Day School, Saudi Arabia, Yom Yerushalayim on May 22, 2009 at 1:33 am

I’m not kidding. Nine Saudi Arabian school principals and supervisors came to visit the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy today. Organized through a local not for profit and sponsored by the State Department, these men–of course, men–came to witness a Jewish community day school in action. Just for a dash of irony, today is Yom Yerushalayim, but somehow I don’t think they would have joined in the celebration of the Jewish unification of El Kuds, if you know what I mean.

One of the educators opened expressing gratitude for our hospitality, and telling us that one of Muhammed’s wives had Jewish lineage and that his other wives ridiculed her until Muhammed rebuked her and said she too is the daughter of a Prophet, Moses.

They asked about how we handled moral education when the students did not live up to the ideals expected of them. They asked about class size. They asked at what grade the boys and girls are separated (they aren’t).

Our students asked why aren’t the boys and girls allowed to play together even after school? They explained that boys and girls have different temperaments and needs, so they need to be separate until they are married. Understanding that these people were our guests, and that it would be rude to challenge them, our students let that one go until after our cousins had left. Great maturity for 7th graders.

The top supervisor gave me his email address, a gmail account and asked me to send him sample of our Jewish studies curriculum. So, for two hours peace in the Middle East seemed possible until…

Right at the end of the visit, after all the pictures of detente, one of the teachers said through his interpreter (who was from Nablus but had been in the U.S. for thirty-five years). “We do not agree with Israel, and we feel it is unfair that Palestine is not present on your Israeli maps.” To which we replied, “Would we find Israel placed on Saudi maps? We do not agree with much of what you do, but you seem perfectly nice.”

They laughed, got on their bus and went to visit one of the Catholic schools.

I remember being with the poet Yehuda Amichai, of blessed memory, when he was asked if he went to these very fashionable dialogues with his Palestinian counterparts. He eschewed participation in them saying that he already believed that their was decency across the Jewish Arab divide, but that was beside the point. Each people had passionate claims to the same small piece of real estate and all the cordial teas in the world was not going to change that, nor was it going to make it easier to compromise.

Here is what I learned today, that the Saudis we met were very keen on letting us know that there was room for them to respect the Jewish tradition, but there was not the same generosity when it came to Israel. This seems to amplify Amichai’s point. As long as you are not claiming the real estate there is plenty of room to get along.

Happy Yom Yerushalayim!


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