Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Camp CommUNITY Reflection - Falah Saleh

Falah Saleh—1992
Trained and certified MWD Engineer; Trained Directional Drilling Engineer
General Manager of IHOP 1411; Director of Training for AFD GROUP

This is a brief story about my personal experience at Camp CommUNITY. I am a proud Muslim American. I am also proud to be the son of two Palestinian immigrants. I can clearly say that Camp Community had an enormous impact on my life, and it couldn't have been better timing.

It was the summer just before my sophomore year in high school, and to say the least I was a confused and lost young man. It is really tough growing up in this country as an American with a Palestinian background in the middle of a war with an Arab country. If the truth be told, at the time that Mrs. Thomas, my English teacher, offered me the opportunity to go to this camp, unknown to her, I was holding a ton of animosity towards anyone Jewish or even worse Israeli due to my family’s personal experience in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now I have never been nor will ever be a violent person, but for the most part I had never opened up or been friendly to anyone with that background.

I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting myself into with signing up to go to this camp. I assumed it would be a long boring week of singing “Kumbiya” or something to that effect. Little did I know that it would be full of many teenagers with similar stories and similar issues. There were so many people there from so many backgrounds, with so many stories and so many dreams.

It still is still so amazing to me that the counselors and advisors knew exactly what to say and when to say it, in order to get us to open up to each other and learn about each other. It didn't take long before we were the melting pot of the future of this great country. I was learning about all sorts of cultures and how some of them handled being American while being a descendant of another country and culture.

I think deep down inside I knew that there was a reason I was there, I just never knew it would be so dramatic. I am not sure if I were really ready for what was about to come my way or not, but the surprise of my life was coming. Every year they have a skit night, or more of a cultural show and tell. I decided that I would try to do a skit of a Palestinian freedom fighter being interviewed by ABC Nightline. I had always felt the media was one sided when it came to the Middle East. My goal was just to shed some light and show another side of the story, one without all the stereotyping.

When I look back at it, I question if it were the right thing to do or not, but it really did set up what happened next. Later on in the evening there was a skit involving a Jewish girl. In her skit she said something negative towards Palestinians. Just hearing it validated my feelings. I’ll never forget my best friend Matt just putting his hand on my shoulder and saying, "Don’t sweat it, Falah; she has no idea what she is saying".

What I didn’t know is that one of the camp leadership, a young man going to West Point named Loren, was watching my reaction the whole time. I have no idea what his motivation was, but he was going to do what it took in order to bust through the wall I had in front of me. He figured a way to bring the two of us together and got us to open up to each other. We learned about each other, we joked with each other, and we shared a few tears with each other. (I say a few, but it soon became a tear fest!)  And the miracle was that she and I, two people from such different cultures that historically were enemies, became FRIENDS!

I have since visited the West Bank and Israel numerous times. I will never change my view that there needs to be a self governing Palestinian state. As much passion as I have for a free Palestine, I also believe Israel should be its neighbor. I know it can work, but I also feel in order for it to work it will take American Jews and American Palestinians coming together here in order to pressure the people there. That’s why camps like this are so important. It gives a platform for things like this to happen...a way that hearts can change.  It gives young men and women a chance to better understand one another instead being indifferent towards other cultures.

I am now a happily married, 33 year old father of two wonderful fun-loving boys. I have done my best to shield my boys from the hatred this world can have and to show them instead the joy that love can bring to this world. I am trying to raise them with the same values I learned at Camp CommUNITY so many years ago.

Camp CommUNITY truly did help make me what I am today because it was the building blocks of a time period when I was very impressionable. I thank everyone that had anything to do with my attending Camp CommUNITY, and I wish that every teenager had the opportunity to attend this life-changing camp so that they could leave the camp feeling the way I felt and go out and make the world a better place for all people to live.



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