One day, after a soccer game, my best friend Tareq and I plopped ourselves down in the field’s overgrown grass.
In any other situation, he and I would be an unlikely duo. At Seeds of Peace, however, the sight of a Muslim Palestinian boy and a Jewish American girl together is nothing unusual.
Once seated, I immediately noticed a sour, putrid smell in the air. Searching for the culprit, I realized that Tareq had removed his sneakers. I winced and yelled, “Tareq! Your feet smell like ass!” Without missing a beat, he smirked and responded, “Nah, Lex, it’s the inside of your nose that smells like ass.”
What an absurd answer, I thought. As I instinctively began to formulate a zinger to fire back at him, I paused for a moment to consider the logic of his response. Never would I have considered that the source of the bad smell could be the inside of my nose.
Tareq and I simultaneously burst into laughter. We had spent the summer connecting over shared experiences as intensely personal as coping with the death of a best friend and as seemingly insignificant as a mutual love of pickles on our turkey sandwiches.
Through Tareq’s stinky feet, I began to understand the power of perspective. It was not always easy to see the world and its conflicts through a new pair of eyes. With time, though, I recognized that Tareq and I could have passionate debates without having to prove the other’s core belief wrong. I had simply learned to take his view, lay it next to mine, and see that his belief was as valuable to him as mine was to me. Ultimately, I realized that I could remain deeply tied to my Jewish faith and still find meaning and truth in the way Tareq looks at the world.
When I think of Tareq, I think of the words Seeds of Peace was founded upon. Thirteenth century poet, Rumi, wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I reached that field with Tareq.
Our friendship, and my Seeds experience more generally, has inspired me to surround myself with people who will challenge and broaden my worldview, shown me the importance of listening with an open mind, and led me to believe governments do not make peace. People do.
Post Camp, my greatest identity is that I am Seed. As an American Seed, I seek opportunities that push me to think a little differently. When debates regarding the conflict—or any conflict—arise, I challenge myself to stand up for the Palestinians—or the “other” side.
I studied Arabic—not Hebrew—at Washington University, and in high school decided to take classes about Jewish History and Ethics offered by my synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation. I was selected as one of three Americans to return to Seeds of Peace after my first summer at Camp, and subsequently spent two summers working there.
Yes, that makes four years in a row—I can’t get enough. I hope you are beginning to understand why.