Picture the following scene: I’m standing on the platform waiting for my train. On my left is a sign, the sign reads: no smoking. Directly underneath the sign sits a young mother, probably in her mid-30’s. In her hand, nestled between her fingers is a cigarette, creating a thick cloud of smoke around her perimeter. To her right, sits her 10 year old son. I politely approach her.
Me: “Excuse me ma’am, perhaps you didn’t notice the ‘NO SMOKING’ sign…it’s right there, on top of your head.”
Lady: (a few moments of silence as she looks at me completely bewildered) and then…”Nu…Az ma? Ani ekabel et haknas, lo ata?!” (so what? I’ll get the fine, not you!)
Me: (a few more seconds of silence as I too am bewildered, attempting to register what on earth just happened): “First of all”, I tell her, “the smoke really bothers me” (which, I presume is part of the reason why they chose to outlaw it in public areas). “Second of all”, I continued, “is this really the example you want to be setting for your son?”
Lady: “do me a favor…don’t tell me how to educate my children.”
Me: “Wow lady” I retorted, “You’re a perfect example of the dire problem facing Israeli society today”.
Needless to say, I walked away feeling extremely frustrated. The sad thing is that I told this story over a number of times to different groups of people and nobody seemed too shocked – I guess incidents of this sort have become so commonplace in Israeli society that they no longer produce the same shock factor as they used too.
We spend so much time and money on education, but how do we expect to see any results when kids learn one thing at school and another at home? It seems to me as though we are fighting a losing battle. In school, kids are taught not to littler but then they see Daddy throwing a candy-wrapper on the floor; at school kids learn to follow the law but then Daddy parks his car illegally, or as in our case, they see Mommy smoking underneath a ‘No Smoking’ sign (not to mention the damage she is causing to both her and her son’s health and the way in which she regards others).
We need to redirect our education efforts. That is, we need to avert a great deal of our education expenditure towards educating parents. This can be done effectively by starting from the beginning. It’s very hard for people to change, but if we focus on young parents, just starting out, than we may be able to see a real change in the next generation.
For the past three years I have been working with Mercaz Zeirim in Natanya. Mercaz Zeirim (HaGag) represents the interests of young people in Natanya and puts a strong focus on education, culture and entertainment in order to make Natanya more fun and accessible to young people and so as to mold its future generations into positions of leadership and social action. As a project manager for ‘HaGag’, tasked with developing several major projects in addition to consulting on other key decisions pertaining to HaGag’s future, I have continuously shifted HaGag’s focus to precisely this area – the next generation of parents: young newly-married couples and first-time fathers and mothers.
However, this model is not without faults. Indeed there is one integral point with much be addressed. What if young parents and newly-marrieds aren’t interested in being educated, as in the case of the lady at the train station? As the saying goes: you can bring the horse to the water, but you can’t force it to drink. This is another major problem which can only be overcome by incentivizing. Perhaps young couples who take part in one of these seminars could receive some sort of a stipend or benefit in recognition of their participation. This would serve as an initial incentive, sparking their interest in the program, with the hope that the program would be capturing enough and offer enough substance so as to keep people interested.
Another, albeit less obvious, way of educating parents, is to engage them in educational programs together with their children, such as seminars covering environmental awareness, health, sport, manners etc. In this way, we could succeed in simultaneously conveying powerful messages to both children and parents, doubling our influence without having to single out only young parents.
One might think of topics such as education and social change as unimportant or secondary when faced with “bigger”, perhaps life-threatening challenges such as the Iranian threat or the soon-to-be-late peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. However these issues have never been more relevant as they are now, representing the nature and character of our nation’s and state’s future. If recognized as a fundamental goal, supported by both the central government and local municipalities, this initiative may help us to see the desired change take shape in Israeli society, maybe even in the near future.