How Do I Tell My Children?

In the last number of weeks I have dissected the anti-Semitism occurring in the streets of the Western world. I have done this though as an academic, with a certain amount of aloofness that belies the fact that I am a Jew. Now though as the anti-Semitism is becoming ever more present, even stateside, I face a very real need to figure out, how do I explain it to my children? You see no matter how academic, impartial and scholarly that I would like to be the fact remains, that I am a Jewish mother with a Jewish husband, raising two beautiful Jewish boys. Up to this point my husband and I have had hushed discussions about what is going on trying to protect our children from hearing what is occurring in the world. Nevertheless, I must accept the reality that neither of my boys are at home all the time anymore and that they may hear from a classmate what is going on, which could lead to their overactive imaginations taking them down roads that would be better dealt with if it were out in the open in our home. After all I remember, at their age hearing about the Nazis and thinking that they were half men, half scorpion, strange but that is what a child’s imagination can do. So at the end of the day I recognize that the time has come for my husband and me to tell them about anti-Semitism.

Once I came to the conclusion that it is time, more questions started to tumble out, such as how much should I tell them about anti-Semitism? About it today? About it in the past? Do I tell them about the Holocaust? Blood Libels? Do I explain what it means when people wear shirts that say “Gas the Jews”? What is the line of just enough so that they understand without too much that they aren’t traumatized?

The fear of trauma has always been the reason that I have not spoken about it in my home. I remember being traumatized at the age of 4 when my father let me watch the movie Escape from Sobibor, about the Nazi Death camp. With images of lashings and gas chambers seared in my head it became the most influential experience in my whole life, ultimately leading to my specializing in Anti-Semitism for my MA. The lasting impression that I learned about the Holocaust and hatred towards Jews at too young of an age has led me to want to protect my children and insulate them from the horrors that have befallen the Jewish people. I have actively sought to guard them from the collective PTSD of world Jewry. Nevertheless, it is no longer PTSD that we have to worry about in 2014 but active hate crimes occurring today. This isn’t about telling them about where they have come from but where the future is going and honestly at the end of the day how to empower them so that if god forbid something happens they will know how to recognize what anti-Semitism is and how to respond to it.

But how do you look at your sweet babies’ faces and tell them about the evils of a world? I would rather them watch Frozen and sing “Let it Go” where good over comes evil rather than learn about the real world where all too often evil over powers good and where you can’t just let it go. It angers me that this is true and what angers me more is that this world is robbing my children of their innocence because their ignorance at what is happening to Jews will not help them. But, how, oh how do I tell my children?

About the Author
Yael Weinstein joined the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education as a faculty member in 2009. Yael earned her M.A. in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University, focusing on the topics of Anti-Semitism and Jewish Identity. At Brandeis, Yael worked as a teaching assistant for Dennis Ross, former U.S. Ambassador. Yael also works with the curriculum development team at the international Melton office at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
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