The author "hangs on" to memories from his BBYO trip to Israel. He's photographed at Har Bental on the Golan Heights. Courtesy of Ben Ruskin
Last summer I was given the amazing opportunity to travel to Israel with BBYO. Not only did I learn important lessons about my Jewish heritage and culture, but I also drank chocolate milk out of a bag. Overall it was a fantastic experience. Months later, as “Islamophobia” began to emerge as an issue in the presidential election campaign I recalled an event from my trip.
In Israel I experienced Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim celebration for the end of the fast days during the month of Ramadan. We were in Akko, a city in the northern coastal region. Akko has a large Muslim population and a prominent mosque, Al-Jazzar, in the town square. I looked outside the window of my youth hostel and saw a massive party in the streets. There were small carnival rides being run by children younger than me. The snacks that were being sold left a pungent, yet delightful scent in my nose for hours to come; the blaring music was catchy and upbeat. It felt impossible to be upset during such a celebration, and the stresses from home melted away as we joined the hoopla.
I recalled watching this celebration and hearing the music played late into the night. With recent news involving the religion of Islam — such as states refusing to accept Syrian refugees and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wanting to ban Muslims from entering the United States — I think back to the time I spent celebrating with people who I met in the street. Everyone wore a smile on their faces, proud that they had completed yet another month of fasting. (In Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours.)
The locals decorated me with beaded, plastic necklaces and gave me small hand-held noisemakers to celebrate the end of a holiday that I did not celebrate. I was treated with hospitality and kindness even though I was an intruder. The people were excited to welcome my friends and me into their festivities, and we loved being a part of it. These people, young and old, welcomed us into their arms without any reluctance.
I know that people are inherently good, but lately the way that Muslims are portrayed in the media (and Trump’s comments about them) makes it hard to remember that. Israel taught me to treat everyone with kindness, no matter the circumstances, and that is a lesson that I will never forget.
It disgusts me today when people make claims that “all Muslims are terrorists.” I know first-hand that most Muslim people are not terrorists. People need to evaluate their accusations they are inflicting upon the kind-hearted people that I met in the street while traveling through Akko.