On Saturday, April 27, 2019, a man walked into a Chabad synagogue in Poway, California with an AR-15 and shot four people, killing one and injuring the other three. At approximately the same time, I walked into an Indian jewelry store in Taos, New Mexico. While these two events seem to have nothing in common, I feel strongly that they do.
The owner of the store was having a lively conversation with two men, both of whom had disclosed having spent some time in the Middle East, in different capacities. This owner proudly disclosed that he was a Palestinian and very enthusiastic about his heritage and background. After the two men left, I walked around the store and noticed some of the extraordinary jewelry it featured.
Timidly, I asked the owner if he had an objection to selling his jewelry to a Zionist, asking in a humorous, reluctant manner. He smiled broadly and answered that he had no problems with that idea, and we chatted briefly about the Middle East and areas that we had both traveled.
As I purchased an opal/silver Star of David, we agreed that there were methods by which peace could be achieved in the Middle East, through peaceful negotiation and friendly cooperation. Clearly this was an oversimplification to conflicts that have been waging for many centuries. But as we left the store, I felt certain that I had acquired a Palestinian friend who shared my desire for a lasting peace in the Israeli/Palestinian geography.
The irony between this interaction and the hatred displayed in Poway is obvious. In the New Mexico setting, two adult, educated people were able to understand their differences and believe that these differences did not prohibit friendship. To the west, one self-empowered man bypassed understanding and negotiation, deciding that it was his life’s mission to exterminate Jews as soon and as often as possible.
Thankfully, I was in the southwestern jewelry store and not the synagogue in California. In the first, I had an opportunity for peaceful interaction; in the second, I could have been a victim. Appropriately, as I left the store, I smiled at my vendor and said my best goodbye – Shalom.