At this time every year, I get butterflies in my stomach. Anxiety. It’s not only because of the chilling horrors or rabidly depressing stories that will fill our common space in the coming week.
It started a few years ago when my kids, now aged 3 and 7, entered Israel’s public education system. At first, naively, I didn’t give heed to the fact that my young sons, just out of diapers and starting to talk, would have to confront the Holocaust and Israel’s fallen.
Yet, I was mistaken. Starting at age 3, my kids learn in gan about the war, the six-million “Israelis” that were killed, and the bad man, a.k.a. Hitler. This year, my older son, who is in first-grade, will take part in the school-wide ceremony for Yom HaShoah. I’m dreading it.
The other day, he mentioned the upcoming “holiday.” What is it? He asked innocently, before his bath. You know, the one about Israel, he said. No, not Yom Haaztmaut.
The trend of teaching the Holocaust in preschools has gained steam in recent years. It was enshrined in state policy by our previous government.
The official reason is to strengthen children’s identity and sense of history. Many see it as a political move. I don’t want to make a political statement; I want this practice to end.
Preschool and early-school-aged children are too young to confront the Holocaust. Premature contact with these tragedies will not bring any good. Why do they have to learn about this inexplicable fact of life at such a tender age? What will they gain from it? At this age, they don’t fully understand death.
In the preschool and early school years, we need to explain the staggering siren that momentarily halts life here on Yom HaShaoh and Yom HaZikaron. I tell my kids that we stand silent together to remember people who died. That’s enough.
I believe this because kids have the right to be innocent.
It’s especially challenging to safeguard this right for kids in Israel, where violence is so prevalent and prejudices so raw. As such, I’ve put great effort into shielding my kids from our harsh reality. Operation Protective Edge was an excuse to watch Fireman Sam in our office (read: shelter). They’ve miraculously failed to absorb the prejudice and racism encircling them. They have even retained their innate color-blindness; I have to point out differences in skin color when playing Guess Who with my oldest!
It’s according to the same reasoning that I won’t yet divulge to my oldest son that he is a fourth-generation survivor of the calamity he will mark in school this Thursday. That this event irrevocably shaped the essence of his being. That his great-grandmother, a gracious and life-loving woman whom he played with last week on a visit to Montreal, lost her whole family to Nazi evil when she was not much older than he is now. That she endured hardships beyond my imagination.
I realize that some kids hear about the Holocaust from the news, parents, and older siblings. As a result, adults want to respond to their questions and fears. Yet, formal Holocaust education can wait until children can grasp the painful and complex concept of genocide. They have a lifetime to learn about the world’s ills. Waiting a little won’t compromise their identity.
We as parents can assuage our children’s fears and respond to their questions on a case-by-case basis.
I call on Education Minister Naftali Bennett to rethink this harmful policy.
Let our kids be kids. The Holocaust can wait.