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How to talk to your kids about hate crimes

What can a child understand about the murder of a baby, about stabbing marchers? More than you would imagine

Less than a week ago, on Tisha B’av, I taught my five year old son about sina’at chinam, indiscriminate hatred. Hatred ruined the Temple, I said. Hatred is bad.

I gave age-appropriate examples. What if your friend took your toy, or said this, or withheld that? Would that be a reason for hatred? Of course not. Well done.

And I thought, great, we covered this topic for now.

Then the last twenty four hours happened. Six victims from Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade are still hospitalized. Ali Saad Dawabsha, an eighteen month old baby, is dead.

His mother will never get to hold him again.

His older brother will never get to fight and make up with him, or do mischief together, or pat him again.

No one will get to know the unique personality that just started to evolve.

And age-appropriateness suddenly seems like a thin, weak substitute for actual education.

So I started from scratch.

Some people hate whomever is different from them, I told my son on the way to kindergarten.
If they believe in God, they hate those that don’t.
If they don’t believe in God, they hate those that do.
They think that what the others are doing is wrong, wrong, wrong.
And they think that this gives them the right to hurt and kill those whom they hate. Do you think that they’re right?

One man, I said, hates people who don’t do as the Torah says. So he took a big knife (“Really big? Like a sword?”) and stabbed them. But if this man would have truly believed in the Torah, he would have remembered that “thou shall not kill.”

Other people hate Arabs. They burned an Arab home last night and killed a baby. Do you think God wants us to kill babies? Because we are Jews?

These people, I said, think that they’re doing a good thing. Serving God or something. Do you think God would want that?

God made us all in His image, my love. It means He made all people, no matter who they are or what they do, a little like Him. And He doesn’t want us to kill the people He made (here we talked a bit about exceptions, self defense and the courts and so forth).

Then I told him that I’m furious today.
Furious doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings, in fact.
These people, these murderers, believe that they did what I wanted them to, as a religious Jew. They think that they represent me.

“But really,” said my son, “they did the opposite of what you want, right?”


We walked in silence for a while.

I sometimes hear people from abroad say, “Oh, it must be so hard to raise children in Israel, surrounded as you are by violence and hatred. How do you protect them from it all?”

I sometimes hear people from outside Jerusalem say, “Oh, it must be so hard to raise children in Jerusalem, where they see such different people, and absorb all these tensions. If only you would live in a settlement/in Tel Aviv/in another country, they would only see the people you want them to see.”

But I’m proud to raise my children in Jerusalem, where life is sometimes ugly but is always, always real.

If we want to equip our children for adulthood, it’s up to us to give them tools right now. They will encounter tensions and hate sooner or later. The question is, will they have the interpretive framework to understand such things correctly?

So instead of isolating and protecting my son from days like today, I choose to be honest. And I hope that one day, when he’ll be all grown up and out of my care, he’ll have the fortitude to face hatred, “and not give way to hate.”

So I knew I was right to tell my son the truth: Reality wouldn’t disappear if we ignore it.

But I did wonder whether he understood it at all.

And then I got my answer.

Ima,” he said, eyes serious and sad, “so maybe that’s why the Temple wasn’t rebuilt yet.”

Speechless, I just nodded.

Just so.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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