My son is three years old. He loves music and running and collecting rocks and leaves and sticks. He loves falling asleep in his big boy bed with Mommy and Daddy wrapped in big hugs. He loves blue popsicles and learning about outer space and having dance parties in our kitchen. He just started preschool and my fears for him were consumed with making friends, being away from me for the very first time, and in whether he would be safe during snack and lunch time (he has a bunch of life-threatening food allergies – but that discussion is for another time). He calls every person he sees a friend, and thinks strangers are just friends who we haven’t yet met.
My son is kind, curious, and feels deeply. When his 1-year-old sister cries, he gives her hugs to help her feel better. He looks at toys and tries to figure out how they work rather than jumping in and playing right away. He is a natural problem solver.
He is only 3 years old, so as parents, we made the decision not to watch news or discuss the atrocities Hamas committed against Israelis on October 7th, or the ongoing situation since then, in front of him. But he does go to a Jewish day school that has students from 3 years old through 8th grade and there are several Israelis in his class, so it didn’t totally surprise us when he brought it up and asked us questions, looking for answers to make the pieces that he had overheard fit together and make sense in his young mind.
Our son now knows that there are friends named Hamas that do not do nice things. He keeps asking me if they are going to come here and do not nice things to him and his friends. A simple question that should have had a simple answer. I should have been able to say: “no, of course not.” I wish I was able to give him that answer and to believe it myself.
At first, we reassured him that no, no of course they won’t come here and do unkind things to him. We told him that “they” are very, very, very far away and will never come here and that he is always safe when he is with Mommy and Daddy or at school. Now, I know that isn’t true. At the beginning of last month, Hamas were the only unkind friends that I was worried about. Today, I am worried about everyone. People I previously considered friends, neighbors, acquaintances. People I would have trusted with my children. Now, I am constantly taking note of my surroundings, wondering if we have painted a target on our children by giving them Hebrew names, sending our son to Jewish school, and if it is safe to participate in Jewish events within our community. Our son asked for a kippah to wear after seeing many children in his school wearing one, and my husband and I debated if it was safe to have him begin wearing an outward sign of his Jewishness. Why am I worried? Why am I scared?
Because people that rape girls until their pelvises break, who steal children and elderly from their beds, who film themselves indiscriminately murdering concert goers with their bare hands, who burn babies alive in ovens while brutally gang raping mothers aren’t the only bad guys. Yes, people that come up with those horrific acts, the people that commit them and brag about them and proudly take credit for them are surely evil. This depravity is so inhumane I am not sure I would believe it myself if I did not know it to be true. But there is another kind of evil in this world. An evil that terrifies me and shakes me to my core. And that is every day, normal people, people that I have known and who have known me for years, those ordinary people who proudly stand with terrorists and defend them as freedom fighters, excuse and justify and commend their terror and brutality by attributing it to a struggle for Palestinian rights, who applaud those actions and march in solidarity and become keyboard warriors spreading their support. Spreading hate.
People who I thought shared a moral compass with me are now cheering alongside and marching with people that make no secret of their desire for the demise of me, my family, and my people. I have heard those that deflect when asked about October 7th, or instead give a small, carefully crafted condemnation but are still standing shoulder to shoulder with people chanting, “gas the Jews!” and “from the river to the sea!” or “by any means necessary!” at rallies together. They claim they are standing with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Israeli oppression. In truth, it is a hatred of Jews disguised to justify and scrub the calls for and acts of violence until it is deemed clean and righteous.
Words are tossed around candidly with complete disregard for their definition, meaning, historical significance. Terms like “genocide,” “colonizers,” and “apartheid.” What is the purpose of throwing these terms around? Is it an effort to justify the complete disregard for morality? To excuse inhumane treatment of one group by another? To control a narrative of good guys versus bad guys?
My sweet, silly boy is learning how to be a good friend. A good person. At his school, they have kindness cards and are learning how to be a “mensch.” Every day, several times a day, he will ask me “Mommy, is what I am doing kind?” and most times, I am able to smile and answer “yes.” At three years old, he knows and understands kindness. He knows and understands how to be a good friend. He knows and understands what it means to treat people with compassion and respect and humanity.
In a world where people march in the street calling for the genocide of my people, where there are rallies cheering on crimes against humanity as the start of a revolution, marching in support of immoral behavior disguised as freedom fighting or excused in a gymnastics competition of “what-aboutisms” to bend and twist wrong until it seems right, I wish more people were pausing and asking themselves – “am I being kind?” I wish more of my friends paused and asked:
“Am I being a good friend? A good neighbor? Are my words and actions hurtful or helpful?”
Because if more people would stop and ask themselves the questions that my 3-year-old asks himself daily, the questions that inform his behavior and words and actions, then maybe, just maybe, I would be able to give him the simple answer confidently and honestly “No, the unkind friends will not harm you” that I so desperately long to give him. Maybe this problem solver of a toddler has it all figured out and we should all follow his lead. But I am not naïve, and I know that we will not do this. So, instead, I will hold him tight and tell him that his daddy and I are so proud of how kind he is and that he is safe with us right now. I will tell him those things and I will pray with all of my might that it does not change. I used to believe that we lived in a world where good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral, was so easy to identify. So easy to teach. When was that lost?