Jews are miraculous people. Seriously, 5780 years and still here? Think about all the suffering and pain before the Holocaust, pogroms, antisemitic myths, trials, exiles. Then during the greatest tragedy of all human history, the Holocaust they fought for their lives and then came the years of turmoil after 1948. Now there is a new wave of antisemitism in both Europe and the USA. What is astonishing about Jews is while all these were happening to them, they were busy building bit by bit a great legacy for all humanity. Let us think about all those brilliant authors, musicians, philosophers, scientists, businessmen, innovators, engineers.. This is “the Jewish miracle”. I am not writing these to flatter Jewish people or because I am writing now in The Times of Israel. Jews know themselves better than I know them. The reason why I am writing this is because today Rosh HaShanah begins and today we, non-Jews can also have the opportunity to reconsider our lives and make changes so that we can actually make the world a better place. Every year I prepare a resolutions list, this year I wrote only one: Teach children love, empathy and respect.
We all know that hate and prejudice always go hand in hand with death. Thus any little hole through which a ray of hate disseminates, should be covered by love so that our children would not grow up to be true fascists. “Fascism” is an excessively bold term, I know that. But I use it on purpose. To emphasize the potential danger. Believe me, every democratic regime could yield to authoritarianism and eventually to fascism, in a very short period of time. Hate is always the first gate. Once you legitimize your hatred (of whoever you choose, your hatred of Jew, hatred of Greek, hatred of Turk etc.) in a society, you can persuade anyone to do anything. This hatred is not solely of Jews. But if someone hates Jews, simply because they are Jews, it is highly probable that he would hate someone else from another nation, religion or ideology either because his emotion is based on lies, disinformation and nonsensical theories. Hate spreads like soundwaves, it extends widely and it only gives birth to more hate.
At this point, I would like to share with you a very personal childhood memory. One day, I was probably about 4-5 years old at that time, I was playing with my dolls and my parents were sitting there discussing something that I don’t remember now. Suddenly I don’t know where that idea came from but I raised my head and said to my father that I hated Greeks. I simply said “Dad, I hate Greeks.” He got very upset. He asked me why I had such an idea. I didn’t answer because I didn’t know. “Deniz, you should never hate anyone because he is different than you. You can’t choose where you are from” he said and he added with a rather angry voice “I don’t want to hear you saying such a thing about someone again”. I was just a 4-year-old girl. I had never been to school because I was a “highly sensitive” child with asthma so my mom rather than sending me to kindergarten, preferred to keep me in my grandmother’s safe hands. So I didn’t learn that idea at school. Besides, my grandparents and parents were educated people, they got friends from other religions and races. Certainly this idea were not theirs. I had no friends because I rarely went out to a playground. My only friend was my elder sister and she never wanted to play with me anyway, let alone share her feelings about other nations. Obviously this idea did not belong to any friend either. I guess I had that idea from television. There were movies and news. It is the only possibility I can think of.
Many years passed, I was a graduate student in Political Science and International Relations, can you guess what my graduate thesis was about? “The Macedonian Question in Greece.” As a result of my interest in Greece, I learned Greek. Then for my doctoral studies I applied for Athens University and completed my PhD there. A girl who once said “I hate Greeks,” became a woman who spent many years working on Greek history. Now I have wonderful Greek friends and I really like Greek people.
Without a doubt, my parents were extraordinary. I was a lucky child. They had very close Jewish and Armenian friends, they were always there as I was growing up. My sister and I had a Greek doctor. He always came to our house for tea. While we (my sister and I) were surrounded by various cultures in daily life, our parents were constantly educating us on what was “really important” in the world. Yes, as a kid I was very much interested in Barbie, or Lego, but there were “the other things.” For example, I remember us watching movies about the Holocaust. I remember my parents talking to us about what happened during the Holocaust. My father used to tell us about how Israel was founded and my parents used to discuss with us other abstract ideas like for example, why fascism is dangerous, why we should believe in diversity, how other nations and cultures had the right to exist. We learned all those values at a very young age. Look at me now. I am writing a blog article in a Jewish newspaper.
I didn’t tell these stories to show off. I would like to underline that educating our children can make a real difference in society. Many families leave their children to fate, and they are tossed here and there by various ideas. That is not freedom in the least. On the contrary, it makes them vulnerable. They grow up without knowing what to believe, and/or how to interrogate their own beliefs, some of them don’t even have a solid set of principles. Hence they are ready to swallow any information given to them. Is this really our future? We have a responsibility in this world. We must take initiative and teach our children basic human values such as love, respect and empathy. We must teach them how to fight prejudice and hate and how to build a society based on coexistence. Or else we can never be sure that another genocide would not occur in the near future.
In conclusion, being a Turk, a non-Jew, a woman who has no children yet, I have a resolution for the upcoming year this Rosh HaShanah. Starting from my nephew who is 8 years old now, I will teach my children how hate makes us pay a price, how millions of people could become murderers when the “proper mindset” is legitimized. This year, let us promise to ourselves that we will educate our children. We can talk to them according to their age, watch documentaries with them, we can tell them stories of our own families or the real stories we read in books. We can teach them empathy, respect to the others and how hate will also destroy our own world. Let us just spend some time on this, believe me this will give a whole new perspective to your child. I hope the new year brings us all health, happiness and abundance. Shanah Tovah to you all!