This morning I drove my older daughter to Kids for Peace Camp in New Hampshire. She was met by a flock of young teenage girls–Jewish, Muslim, and Christian–from the New England and Jerusalem. The girls seemed to swoop in and scoop her up. There was laughter, friendliness, and excited curiosity.
This is not my daughter’s first interfaith camp experience. We have spent many summer weeks in Jerusalem where she attended the YMCA interfaith day camp. Our last summer there, her best friend at camp was a Muslim. I think they gravitated to each other because they were both, in their own way, outsiders: he, being Muslim at an overwhelmingly Jewish camp; my daughter, Jewish, American and Black.
Interfaith dynamics are multi-layered. Each child and adult brings more than just a faith. We bring our whole selves and our entire lives.
Driving home from the camp, I thought of the Rambam‘s Hilchot Teshuvah, Laws of Repentance. Maimonides teaches that most people continue doing what they do not because they are especially bad or evil in any way, but out of ‘habit.’ It might be useful to apply this to interfaith/interracial dynamics. We habitually gravitate toward people ’with whom we have things in common.’ People who ‘look like us,’ and ‘share our values.’ We simply do as we have always done. The Rambam teaches that what seems natural and right might only appear that way because it is our habitual way of doing things.
As adults, behavioral and social habits around faith, ethnicity, and race are ingrained and hard to change. It takes education and practice and mindfulness. It takes teshuvah, an acknowledgement that our habitual way of looking at the world and going about our lives might, in some says, be counter to what God intends for us (or, if you prefer, simply counter-productive). Rambam would say that, to do better, we need to work consciously and with focused to break old, mindless ways of living (habits).
Kids for Peace Camp, I think, is trying to break those habits before they are formed. How brilliant is that.
Whether from confusion or contrariness, my younger daughter persists in referring to her sister’s camp as ‘Peace for Kids.’ From her lips to God’s ears.
May there be peace for our kids, and soon.