I’ll admit, I’ve never been one who is big on symbols.
I had a mezuzah, chai and a star of David as a child, but mostly they only made an appearance at BBYO weekends and at summer camp.
I’ve always been proud of being a Jew but am just not someone who does the outward symbols I guess.
Come to think of it, we’re not that big on religion either. When you have a child that is intellectually disabled and autistic, the concepts of G-d and faith are tough to explain to a child who is smart, but doesn’t learn in a conventional way and for whom the things they most easily learn are what they see.
Still, despite our lack of religious tradition, my daughter is proud of being Jewish. She loves the Jewish holidays, which mean getting together with our family and friends and telling stories about the holidays.
Living in the Netherlands and attending a Dutch school for special needs children means that she goes to school with Christian and quite a few Muslim children. She understands that Christians and Muslims have different holidays and traditions. She is growing up in a diverse environment.
She is proud of who she is.
Still, I got nervous the other day when she asked me if she could wear her Star of David to school.
Because after all this is Europe. And we just went through a summer where European cities were routinely demonstrating against Israel and in some cases inciting hate by shouting Death to Jews. Here in our home of Amsterdam, a woman was beaten for hanging an Israeli flag off of her balcony.
I’ll be honest, my first instinct was to say no.
As a Jew, I am enormously proud of her, but as a mother, I just want no harm to ever come to her. I don’t want people’s hate to make her change who she is.
So much about autism is about balancing the need to redirect an autistic person’s natural instincts to channel them into behaviors and ways of doing things that are recognized as acceptable by society while at the same time embracing and loving those very parts of them that make them different and telling them those differences are not just okay, they are wonderful.
I don’t want my daughter’s Jewishness to be something she has to redirect. Ever. Still, as her mother, it is my job to keep her safe from harm as best I can. No matter how I slice it, there is some risk, even if it is minute that the necklace will cause problems.
If my daughter did not have special needs and went to a mainstream school, I am sure I would have said no right away rather than just taking a few minutes to figure out how to talk to my daughter about it.
Although my daughter’s school is filled with children with intellectual disabilities, children who probably don’t even understand what a Star of David is, much less what Judaism is have the ability to feel or voice anything about it, and while I know the staff and teachers at the school embrace diversity, I was afraid some parent might see the star and make an issue out of it, or worse, that my daughter who already struggles a great deal socially, would be ostracized even further.
Or that the worst would happen, my daughter’s Jewishness would make her a target for hatred and bullies.
Then I remembered something.
These are my fears, not hers.
Not letting her wear a Magen David brings fear into her shiny little world.
She takes her cues from me. If I am afraid, she will grow up — afraid. How can she be proud of who she is if I tell her to hide it?
What will it tell her if I tell her not to wear it? Perhaps something much greater than wearing it will.
If (pff, pff) something should happen it won’t be because she wore a Magen David, it will be because people hate. I am scared and if someone says something to her I will feel awful.
But, I can’t get around one fact — the answer to hate is not hiding.
It is not my daughter or any Jew displaying a symbol of Jewish pride that needs to change. If I don’t let her wear it, I am saying that the woman who displayed the flag on her balcony, or the Orthodox men walking to shul in Paris asked for it. That justifies the hate (and criminal acts) that were perpetrated against them.
No. Just no.
My daughter is in a secure environment with adults who look after her well being. She is supervised all day long.
I have to trust that the putting on of a necklace won’t change that.