My children learn about some, if not most, of the depressing realities of life at school. In this country, terrorists are all too aware of how great a role the daily news cycle plays, and frequently carry out attacks that will run in endless repetition while we eat our breakfasts, or more commonly, as we hurriedly grab a coffee and a boreka at 10 am.
Last night, my six year old told me that “a policeman died today.” Even though we used to live a 30 minute drive from Jerusalem, he rarely got to leave our sheltered village. Therefore, because of a love of cartoons, particularly Spiderman, policemen are more a part of his day-to-day existence than the victims who were maimed and slaughtered while reciting morning prayers. I figured that for a six year old, it was enough to be traumatized by one death , so I left out a more gruesome clarification of all the people who were being laid to rest that day.
My daughters, 8 and 10, also had already heard of the attacks at school. With them, there’s always a balancing act of how to keep them safe while trying to keep them from turning into rabid racists. I try to point out when Arabs, Christian and Muslim both, try to help us, but it’s hard to miss that the names and faces of the men behind the cars, and the knives, and the guns are rarely the same as the names of their classmates, or the parents of their friends and neighbors.
My four year old son still seems unaware that anything bad has happened. And yet, I could tell immediately that even his kindergarten, located nearly 90 minutes away from Har Nof by car, had been affected deeply by the tragedy. As we arrived this morning, the assistant was letting one of the other parents out of the door, and motioned us to hurry inside so that she could turn the lock. I noticed a child, the son of the mother who had just left, sobbing quietly behind the door.
“The situation is complicated,” said the assistant in hushed tones.
At first, I thought she was talking about the boy. Maybe his parents were going through a divorce, like our family? I smiled and nodded that I understood.
She continued, “I keep the gate locked and I keep the door locked as much as possible. Some of the other parents don’t understand. But you came from America, so this must not be new to you.”
I realized that I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. So, I fell back on a safe “Uh huh.”
She led my son to the coat room while I hung up his bag. From the window, I could see the top of a tiny head, as one of my son’s classmates approached the building, followed a few seconds later by an attempt to open the door. The assistant was still helping my son, who had suddenly decided that wearing a coat held the same status as pants and was now a required part of being accepted in polite company.
The little boy began knocking insistently on the door. He also was saying something in Hebrew which my motherly imagination translated into ‘even though my mom told me to go to the bathroom before I left the house, I didn’t listen to her, and now I have exactly 30 seconds before I pee all over myself’. Or it else it was ‘I am passionate about getting my educational fill of clay that sticks to my hair and sugary treats that stick to my teeth. Please let me in!”
After assessing that the assistant was not going to make it to the door within the 30 seconds that I had granted in my mind before a kidney exploded, I took a deep breath and turned the key that was still hanging from the lock. The little boy entered, smiled shyly at me, and then made a beeline for the clay. I knew my Hebrew was getting better!
Before I had even begun to lock the door back, the assistant was behind me looking slightly accusatory, as if I couldn’t be trusted with being the entrance monitor. And in truth, she’s probably right. For the most part, I can’t tell Arabs and Jews in Israel apart if they were both dressed in say, jeans and a polo shirt. And my ability to distinguish where people are from based on their accents is practically nil. Except New Jersey. And oddly enough, Scotland. So, if any terrorists from New Jersey or Scotland plan to cross my path, be forewarned!
I explained how I had watch the boy come to the door from the window, and the assistant relaxed visibly.
“You can’t be too careful,” She mumbled apologetically. Then she ushered me out the door and I was left standing there, separated from my son by a lock clicking back into place.