Israel: Not a Time for Zealotry or Shyness with Children

IDF Protective Shieldby Cyd Weissman

Minutes after coming out of the bomb shelter last week, I saw a father and his twin daughters finish a meal and quietly chat in a Tel Aviv restaurant as if nothing had just happened. On the streets of Jerusalem a mother told me that her 7 year old son was managing the incoming rockets just fine. “Can we do it again” (go in the shelter), he asked? “I want to hear the boom, like the video game.” What can we do as parents and educators when our children are experiencing danger either in real time or in virtual space?

Firstly, we can’t be shy about it. Educators and parents often avoid the subject of Israel for reasons including their own uncertainties or the potential divisiveness of the subject. On the other hand, some adults approach children on the subject of Israel with a zealotry that guarantees to shut a child down. Because it may be harder for parents and educators to talk to children about Israel than sex here are a few suggestions from experts.

According to Berman, Deiner and Lantieri, Educators for Social Responsibility, the first thing to do is listen.  Children as young as four or five are exposed to what’s happening either from their own experience, from the media, or from the chatter of adults. Simply, ask a child, “Have you heard news about what’s happening in Israel?” “Do you have any questions about what’s going on in the world.”

IDF Protective Shield_2You can help children be clear about what is real and what is imagined. Young children often make leaps from what they hear to what they think. For example, a few facts might end up, “If missiles are hidden in schools in Gaza, then there are missiles in my school.” Trusted adults talking to children about what they are hearing or fearing doesn’t stir, it calms. As Educators for Social Responsibility say, “No matter how frightening some feelings are, it is far more frightening to think that no one is willing to talk about them.”

We have a special Jewish vocabulary for listening. Shema.  Now is a time to exhibit sacred listening. Our children need loving adults who are there to hear their questions, feelings and stories about Israel and what being a Jew in this world. We can let children know that God is listening too by actually reciting Shema with them. Shema says you are not alone. All of Israel is listening too.

According to Berman, Deiner and Lantieri older children, in middle elementary school and early middle school will be concerned when faced with violence about issues of fairness and care for others. Fairness is complicated. And children can hear from you as an adult how you balance self care and care of others. What does it mean to protect one self and try to care for others? Keep informed and share what Israel is doing to balance the virtues of care/protection of self and care for others.

IDF Protective Shield_3According to Wertheimer and Pomson (2014) children need Israel educators to be exemplars and explorers. An exemplar shares her experience to make a point. But more importantly, according to their study, children need adults to be their guides in uncovering their own beliefs, and values. Wertheimer and Pomson call these adults in children’s lives, explorers.

When listening to adolescents be prepared for their developmentally appropriate need to engage with ethical dilemmas that arise from the conflict.

Our job is not to give them the answer, not to shut their questions down, but to make accessible the rich resources of our tradition so they can grapple with the opinions they explore and express. They need rich content in their conversation. Facts trump newspaper headlines. Discerning points of view/biases in the headlines is hard work that adults can do with teens. Giving teens a chance to let their hands follow their hearts and move to action is also work that is in our power as parents and educators. I appreciated hearing the story today about teens in the States who bought pizza and had it delivered to a unit of soldiers.

IDF pizza deliveryThe times require us to do one thing with our children regardless of a child’s age, Engage. This is not, as the innocent child in Jerusalem said, a game. We can’t be shy or be zealots. Our children, growing in a volatile world, need us to put our arms around them and bravely start the conversation by listening.

We are starting the conversation for educators in New York who are seeking a place to process the crisis in Israel for themselves and are looking for ways to talk to their students. Please join us for “Israel: A Forum for Jewish Educators.”

Thursday, July 31, 1:30pm-4:30pm
at The Jewish Education Project
520 8th Ave, 15th fl. New York, NY 10018

Rich resources include:

The I Center

JECC’s “Responding to Crisis

Parents Talking to Children about Violence

Makom Israel
The Gaza Conflict – Materials for the Educator

Cyd Weissman is Director of Innovation, Congregational Learning at The Jewish Education Project.

photos courtesy IDF Spokesperson’s Unit