Last year, a friend and I were returning home after an afternoon out, and decided to take a longer route than usual. On the way, we passed a Jewish temple. We quickly noticed the prominence of the building, but more so we noticed the prominence of the flag waving above it.
The Israeli flag was striking for one reason: while the building itself was certainly impressive, the stature of the building seemed almost an afterthought beneath the flag itself. A shadow, almost. But how could an enormous building be a mere shadow of cloth?
We noted how odd it must have looked to passersby: a hijab-clad woman pondering the facade of a Jewish temple in the middle of the quite secular city. I’ll admit – we even shared a laugh about how strange it must have looked.
As we stood there, someone was making their way to the entrance for a service that evening. The person smiled and — what? Held the door open for us, thinking we were actually on our way inside.
Talk about crumbling walls. No, this didn’t break down the checkpoints, stop rocket fire, or bring down the firing posts looming from atop the wall tragically marking the Middle Eastern skyline. But it certainly threw me for a loop. I was being invited in, hijab and all. There was absolutely no animosity, fear, or hesitation in this stranger’s eyes. I declined the invitation, but was left with something to reflect on for the evening.
Just before leaving the premises, my friend snapped a picture of me. Quickly. It was a picture of my face and the Israeli flag blowing above me. I was neither saluting nor cursing it. I wasn’t looking at it, either – I was looking ahead, even away from it.
It was, at the time, simple: a snapshot of seemingly irreconcilable imagery. On a more analytical level, perhaps it was me looking toward a future where being invited inside wouldn’t have struck me as odd at all.
Of course, nothing is simple. Flags are not simple, garments are not simple. People get seriously wound up about flags, about who they represent – and who they fail to represent.
Once the photograph was released, the lesson about flags was drilled into my conscience. People made all kinds of assumptions about what the photo signified. They assumed – without bothering to ask.