I can be harsh with my children.
Perhaps too harsh.
Amid writing books on parenting and having hosted a daily radio show for Oprah dispensing child-rearing advice, my family is not bereft of all the drama one would typically find in the American home.
Perhaps more so given that we are blessed, thank God, with many children.
I have learned countless lessons from being a father but this is perhaps the greatest and most obvious: our children ape our actions and copy our convictions.
When I have yelled, I have seen the overall decibel level in our home increase.
When I have shown anger I have seen my children fight more among themselves.
And conversely, when I have shown courage I have seen my children rise to their convictions.
Recently my children made me a very proud father. Mahmoud Abbas was coming to speak at New York University where my son Mendy is an undergraduate. Mendy was outraged that Abbas – who has created a unity government with Hamas, a genocidal organization whose stated intention is the annihilation of the Jewish people and Israel – was facing no protest.
Mahmoud Abbas, who robbed the Palestinian people of democracy by refusing to face an election now for ten years, was being greeted as a hero at an American campus. The President of the Palestinian Authority who practices ethnic cleansing by declaring that in a future Palestinian state no Jews will be allowed and who regularly names public squares after terrorist murderers of children was being cheered at a liberal arts University.
So he organized a protest. Unfortunately, few students and Jewish organizations on campus said they would participate. So Mendy went ahead with his protest anyway by calling his siblings – and it helped that he thank God has a few – to join his protest with him.
And there it was. From my second eldest daughter who served in the IDF and is visiting from Israel for the Jewish festivals, down through my two daughters who attend Yeshiva University’s Stern College for women, to my teen daughter at High School, to my just-bar Mitzvahed son, Mendy had his protest. He and his siblings organized brilliant, factual, and colorful signs protesting Abbas’ intolerance and partnership with terror.
A protest of five people. Did it make a difference?
The media, spotting the protest, came to him in waves for interviews where he calmly, factually, and resolutely explained the reason for his protest. A group of Palestinian students walked over to my daughter who served in the IDF and confronted her about her facts. She studies political science and Middle East history at an Israeli University. The media covered that exchange as well.
So five people provided a counterpoint to Abbas’ propaganda about Israel rather than Hamas being the obstacle to peace, even as Abbas and his sons are accused by the Palestinian media itself of wide-ranging corruption and theft from the Palestinian people.
My son later pointed out to me that President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, whom I hosted on a panel with Elie Wiesel last year at the very same hall at NYU, attracted much more protests than Abbas, even though NYU has the single largest Jewish student population of any private University in America.
But more important than the media covering the event, it bolstered other Jewish students to take a stand.
The University campus is a place of intimidation for many Jewish students these days. I saw it when it began at Oxford in 1988 and it has gotten so much worse since. Every public act of support for Israel helps to bolster Jewish identity and rally support for the Middle East’s only democracy, where Arabs live with more freedom and rights than any Arab nation.
My purpose in this column is not express parental pride – although my kids have made me proud – but to convey a much more universal point.
I have always tried to stand up for Israel. Along with glorious America, my family, my religion, and my God, it is the great love of my life. But of late my kids have witnessed as death threats have poured in over my public defense of Israel in the recent war in Gaza.
They saw the video of a man publicly attacking me at my speech in Seoul Olympic Stadium in front of 100,000 people. They see the odious anti-Semitic hate speech I face on social media each day.
And they also saw that I did not back down. Not because I am particularly courageous – I wrestle with irrational anxiety and fears every day of my life – but because, as the Mishnah says, “In a place where there are no men, stand up and be a man, and if not now, then when?
It’s 70 years after the holocaust. The Jewish state is in a battle for its very survival. Surrounded by enemies on every side, they seek to delegitimize and make it impossible for the Jewish state to simply defend itself.
Will we sit by and watch it slowly succumb to the forces of genocidal hate? Or will we learn from the holocaust that we have noone to rely on us but ourselves.
And when we fight to overcome fear and risk social ostracization to stand up for Israel, our children watch, copy, and slowly stand up themselves, giving us more pride as parents than we can ever imagine.
It’s the Jewish new year. We need many qualities to see us through the coming times with so many threats surrounding us. We need hope, we need fortitude, we need vision, and we need charity.
But above all else, we need courage.
In the coming year may we must all learn to stand up straight. Our children are watching.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is founder of This World: The Values Network, the foremost organization influencing politics, media, and the culture with Jewish values. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he has just published Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.