In my early days of training in education, I sat in on the class of a master teacher in a fourth-grade class. I was supposed to learn from the way she was teaching, yet I found myself learning far more from what the students said. The teacher was teaching the book of Joshua and the Israelite conquest of the land from the Canaanites. With great enthusiasm and with a proud smile on her face, the teacher said:” and then…the Jews won the war — because God was on our side!”
A confident fourth grader bursted out with a confident smirk on his face and said: ”of course we did! We always win! God is on our side!”
A second, more thought-out voice, said with trepidation — somewhat asking, somewhat stating: ”well…we lost in the Holocaust?”
This highlighted the need children have to make of the world around them — as Jews. Yes, Jewish families and schools teach a great deal of Jewish text and values but can we help children make sense of the nonsensical world around them too? Better yet, should we do that? Should children know that there is a world out there with blind and ancient hate directed at none other than them?
In a world where information entitlement is a fact, in a world where children have more access to information than ever before, responsible adults need to make sense of the world these children are living in. How? How much? To what extent? Or what conclusions should be drawn, all vary from parent to parent and from child to child. If you are living in Paris and teaching children Krav Maga is the most appropriate thing to do because children are likely to face physical violence, so be it. If they are living in a place where political advocacy is more effective, let that be the case. What should not vary is that there is a response. Not addressing anti-Semitism in today’s day and age is not an option.
No matter where you live or what the circumstance is, here are 5 things that every Jewish child should know about antisemitism:
It’s not me, it’s you — children often blame themselves when adults do the wrong thing. When speaking to children about antisemitism, children m u s t be taught that there is nothing faulty about them or who they are. Children need to understand the concept of scapegoating and that some really bad people don’t take responsibility for their own faults and try and find others to blame for those.
The gifts of Judaism — the strongest immunization to hate is taking pride in who you are. Jewish children must be made aware of the unparalleled gifts Jews and Judaism have given this world. Be it in science, humanities, morality, academia, or religion — Judaism changed the world for the better. Jewish kids are entitled to know that they are part of one of the greatest cultures the world has seen.
Humor — did you ever wonder why Jews had so many jokes? The answer is not funny. Living through unthinkably difficult and nonsensical circumstances, Jews used humor to keep sane in an insane world. Using humor helps children recognize the ironies, internal contradictions, and pathology of anti-Semitism.
You are not helpless — standing in Paris during the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl heard the crowd roaring:” death to the Jews!” Instead of letting fear overcome him, Herzel began the Zionist movement. Three years later the first Zionist Congress took place in Basel, Switzerland, and less than 50 years later the Jewish state was a reality. Children must know how to problem solve. No matter how difficult a situation is, there are remedies for it.
Israel — no conversation about antisemitism abroad can be complete without letting kids know that there is a country somewhere over the rainbow which welcomes and embraces Jews from wherever they come. Be it civil war in Ethiopia, antisemitism in France or ethnic cleansing from Arab countries, Jews who fled their original countries were—and are—always welcomed in Israel. While there is so much to Israel as our homeland and land of our forefathers, a city of refuge from hate and antisemitism, is at the core of what Israel is about.
Regardless of what you are doing, make sure your children are proud, knowledgeable, and know what they stand for.