Shmuly Yanklowitz

Any hope for peace and redemption must start with our children

(Wikimedia Commons)
(Wikimedia Commons)

When we look at the world around us, it’s tempting to want to give up hope. There is no end in sight to the war with Hamas and the crises that will stem from it, a political atmosphere filled with hate threatens our communal institutions, and, with each passing year, we seem to be confronted with a new existential problem for the function of a just society.

In the past week, though, I’ve found solace in one ray of hope: the freeing of dozens of hostages from the hands of Hamas, many of whom are children, even toddlers. On Sunday, for example, it was so moving to get to welcome back 4-year-old Avigail Idan, 8-year-old Yuval Brodutch and 9-year-old Tal Goldstein Almog.

From Day 1 of this war, it has been a shanda of the highest degree that children have been used by Hamas as pawns: killed for terror, kidnapped for political purposes and hidden behind as human shields. Our kids and the kids of Palestinians never asked to be a part of this, yet they’ve had this horrible role forced upon them. To our terror, we still await the release of 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, along with his brother and his mother.

We ought to be reminded of God’s angry words from the Book of Chronicles (16:22), “Do not touch My anointed ones; do not harm My prophets.” Who are the anointed ones? The Talmud interprets:

R’ Yehudah said in the name of Rav: … ‘Do not touch my anointed’ refers to the children of the house of study, ‘ … Resh Lakish said in the name of R’ Yehudah Nesiyah: The world only persists because of the breath from the mouths of the children of the house of study … And Resh Lakish said in the name of R’ Yehudah Nesiyah: We do not interrupt the study of the children even for the building of the Holy Temple. (Shabbat 119b)

The duty to protect children — as well as the role that children play in our world — is oh so holy, and that is why it hurts us so viscerally to see the rights of children violated.

(Wikimedia Commons)

When I look back on my childhood as a middle-class American, I can remember just how carefree and safe I felt in my parents’ home. When I see photos of the child hostages returning to their families, indeed my hope is renewed, but I also feel deeply worried and infuriated, that these kids might never know the experience of living in a world where they feel almost invincibly protected and cared for. I’m stricken with fear and a sense of responsibility when I realize that we’ll be living with the effects of this war as long as the current generation of kids is alive. And this is true for Israeli kids as well as Palestinian ones.

Childhood trauma is devastating for the innocence that it takes from our children, but also because we know they’ll carry it in one form or another throughout their lives. It will never go away. We can only hope to help them redeem it.

That is why, no matter what dread and sickness to our stomachs we feel right now, we cannot pass on our cynicism to them, about the brokenness of the world, about the intractability of conflicts.

We must keep hope alive for them, even if we ourselves don’t see it happening in our lifetime. Like the generations before us that planted trees in an Israel that they couldn’t possibly imagine developing into the nation it is today, we need to plant for our kids the seeds of an Israel that doesn’t face terror, that does not need to go to war with its neighbors.

Yes, we’re jaded, but we need to tell our children that it is possible for their generation to finish the job. We must fight the irrationality of continuous conflict with the irrational dream of peace.

(Wikimedia Commons)

For me, this starts with kids in Israel and America, because that’s what’s closest to my home and my Jewish community. The organization YATOM, that I founded, has supported many vulnerable Israeli kids with grants since the conflict began, primarily via microgrants and we’ve been so moved by the therapeutic care our partners have been providing. But the work necessary extends to resolving the problems of child trafficking, child hunger and poverty and the need to connect vulnerable children to loving foster families.

One of the hardest things for people to do is have faith in the future. The uncertainty of what is to come prevents us from doing what we know to be necessary in the present. But we have no choice. The world will move forward toward a frightening tomorrow whether we are prepared or not. With that in mind, we must do what we can for the million-plus children actively victimized by human trafficking, the hundreds of millions of children in extreme poverty, and the approximately 150 million children in need of guardians.

As a Jewish community, we’re not equipped to meet the needs of all of the world’s children right now, but we do all of the ability to set change into motion wherever we can. On some issues regarding child welfare, we may feel powerless. So then let us find another issue where we can make a difference as a volunteer or as a donor. Let us remember what it’s like to be children and let us never forget that children are God’s “anointed ones” that require our highest priority. Let us dream of a world where every child feels physically and emotionally safe and work each day to bring that dream into reality.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the President & Dean of the Valley Beit Midrash (Jewish pluralistic adult learning & leadership), the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek (Jewish Social Justice), the Founder and CEO of Shamayim (Jewish animal advocacy), the Founder and President of YATOM, (Jewish foster and adoption network), and the author of 22 books on Jewish ethics. Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America and the Forward named him one of the 50 most influential Jews. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s and do not represent any organizations he is affiliated with.