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Tami Lehman-Wilzig

Children of protest

My kids learned it at the dinner table: Public protest brings about change. Now I want to bring that message to kids everywhere
Protesting the judicial reform. (Sara Henna Dahan)
Protesting the judicial reform. (Sara Henna Dahan)

Week after week, I marvel at how Israeli children of all ages are making their opinions heard vocally and via posters at demonstrations throughout the country, protesting the judicial reform legislation. It is a sight to be seen, but not a new Israeli phenomenon — and certainly not an unusual conversation topic in our household.

In 1990, my husband, Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig, authored the pioneering book on Israeli public protest: Stiff Necked People, Bottle-Necked System. His research revealed that Israel led the world in per capita participation.

It consumed him to the point that it was practically all he discussed at home, even explaining it to our sons (at the time 7- and 4-years-young). It made an impression on our eldest, who was not the best behaved at school. Every week, I was treated to a list of teacher complaints about different shenanigans. While the teacher was a serious, well-meaning educator, she was not cut out for first and second grades. She gave one homework assignment that left even my husband sweating after he helped our son complete it.

When I received a call from the principal demanding that I come in Now! I knew that this time our son was in deep trouble. However, when I saw the school yard scene, a broad, proud smile crossed my face, leading the principal to turn an irate red.

“Explain this!” he roared, pointing to a group of children led by our son holding placards and chanting after him: “Chava has to go!” I calmly turned and said: “This is an excellent example of my husband’s research. Public protest is what brings about change.”

I threw our son a kiss and waved goodbye, but that scene remains emblazoned in my memory, now popping up weekly on my mental screen because, in the end, his demonstration worked. The following year, Chava was transferred to the grades she was meant to teach – 5th and 6th. Now I cross my fingers, hoping that the nation’s weekly demonstrations will halt an impending, national catastrophe.

All Jews are children of protest. It is in our DNA, dating back to Abraham, when he argued against God’s intention to destroy the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Group protests evolved hundreds of years later, with the Children of Israel constantly kvetching in the desert. When my first book “Tasty Bible Stories” came out, I made sure to creatively include the Israelites’ public protests about food and water in my school presentations.

Children of today’s Israel are continuing this important civic tradition begun thousands of years ago, and adopted the world over. Amnesty International UK points out: “The right to protest is a fundamental right and a vital way for children to make their voices heard in a democracy.”

As a children’s picture book author, there is no doubt in my mind that picture books can serve as excellent introductions to public protest. Take, for instance, As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March toward Freedom, by Richard Michelson, and Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, by Michelle Markel. Powerful examples of Jews leading protest. But what about a kids’ book dealing with current demonstrations in Israel?

Unfortunately, Israel is no longer viewed as David, but rather as Goliath, and I have been told that books relating to the Jewish state don’t sell too well. This sorry fact is alluded to in a 2021 Jewish Journal article on picture books dealing with Israel, as assessed by poet, author, resource maven, and literary advocate Erika Dreifus, who noted that “Israel-infused kidlit doesn’t appear on as many book lists as it should, in both mainstream and Jewish contexts.”

The latter is heartbreaking since Jews all over the world are one people, with Israel always ready to embrace them. That thankful fact should be in the back of every non-Israeli Jew’s mind, as should the talmudic evidence of our being an argumentative people — hard-pressed to agree on almost anything.

Which leads me back to the possibility of a picture book relating to public protest in Israel. I asked my publishers in America, Doable? If yes, perhaps starring my son? Shhhh. Don’t let him know. I don’t need another protest.

About the Author
Tami Lehman-Wilzig made Aliya in 1977 with her husband, Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig. She is an award-winning author of 13 published picture books, and three more on the way over the next two years. Her books include “SOOSIE, The Horse That Saved Shabbat,” “Keeping the Promise,” “Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles,” and “Passover Around the World.” You can find out more about Tami and her books by visiting https://www.tlwkidsbooks.com/.
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