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Symbolism

Thursday, 14 August 2008

We spend a lot of time talking about our family up here at camp. Not our family of origin but our larger Jewish family. How we are all connected though we live in different places and may have different ways of expressing our Judaism. It gives the campers (who range in age from 6-13) a special sense of belonging.

On our hike tonight, which was led by our unit’s mishlachat (the word they use here for the Israelis who serve as counsellors and specialists), the campers were asked to name several Jewish symbols. One camper volunteered “a chamsa” which was an incorrect answer according to Niv, our tour guide. “A chamsa is a Muslim symbol,” he said.

Well, he’s not exactly right and he’s not exactly wrong. It would be most correct to say that it’s origins are Middle Eastern and that it has widespread use in both the Muslim and Jewish communities.

But how interesting that these Israelis viewed it as Muslim and for us, it just seems so Israeli.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Dadgiraffe permalink
    Friday, 15 August 2008 12:20 pm

    Sh’lichim are often terrific, especially when talking about Israel. When it comes to teaching about Judaism…that can be another story.

  2. tamaraeden permalink
    Friday, 15 August 2008 12:48 pm

    For me, a hamsa is simply, “eastern”. Middle eastern if we want to be specific. 🙂 From Israel, to Persia, to Palestine, to Morrocco, you name it.

    Since you and I have talked camp together…at JCA Shalom they now have a really cool green/eco garden and one of the portions of the garden is a hamsa garden. It’s a cute little space with plants and hand painted hamsas that decorate the floor of the garden. The point? This is a Jewish camp, with an eco garden in the shape of Israel, and part of that garden is dedicated to hamsas 🙂

  3. Steve permalink
    Saturday, 16 August 2008 4:40 am

    Tell Niv he’s wrong.

    The Hamsa origin is believed to predate Islam. The symbol was previously used in Punic religion, where it was associated with Tanit. Tradition in Islamic cultures associates the symbol with Fatima Zahra, daughter of the prophet Muhammad. In Israel and in Jewish culture it is most commonly known as “Hamsa” or “Chamsa”, without any Islamic heritage connotations. Some sources link the significance of the five fingers to the five books of the Torah or to the five pillars of Islam, though this significance may have been attributed after the fact to a symbol that quite possibly pre-dated both religions.

    The problem most Israelis have is they cannot see the forest for the trees. Anything Arabic is awful and evil and must be destroyed. It is this attitude that is Israel’s achilles heel.

    I have some cousins who live in Israel, and they have quite frankly said some disturbing things about Arabs and Muslims in general. Things like we should think nothing of killing them all – its what G-d wants, that they are less than human, and the Torah tells us so. These are orthodox people. These people are my blood relatives. Yet the disgust so openly displayed for Arabs is shocking to me. And the so matter of fact ‘I am right about this, there is NO debating it’ attitude that comes forth doesn’t help either.

    Shocking. Simply shocking.

  4. Saturday, 16 August 2008 7:16 pm

    i’m with dadgiraffe. israelis are not always the best teachers of judaism. they sure know israel, but not all the jewish stuff. it’s that whole secular thing….

  5. Monday, 18 August 2008 7:50 pm

    I had a discussion with the shlicha at our camp about one of the lessons she was teaching… about how Judaism in Israel isn’t about religion. That singing Jewish songs on Saturday night at a cafe is Judaism. Or hiking in Ein Gedi, etc. Ugh. That’s the last message I think should be going to out to a group of 12 year olds (that was her intended audience). I agree with Phyllis – I’m thrilled to have Israelis ignite my kids’ passion for Israel. But leave the teaching of Judaism to people who accept and embrace (to whatever extent) Judaism as a religion.

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