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Skipping school on remembrance days

Israeli education on wars and the Holocaust aims to produce an in-the-box thinking mass of future IDF recruits

“Turn it off!!!” she shrieked. My husband, a couple of my teenage boys and I blankly stared at her.

“T U R N it O F F!!!”, she said again, emphasizing each syllable. “Turn what off?” I asked. My 8-year old daughter, Lia, pointed to the TV. “That. The news is coming on. I HATE the news here. I don’t want to see it. Turn it off. P L E A S E”.

I shut off the television.

My fourth child spent her preschool, first and second grade in California. Unlike her three older brothers, during her early formative years, she was spared the hourly radio and daily television broadcasts, mainly about terror, existential threats and a bit of corruption. She also missed the horrible summer of 2014 and had few memories of the earlier “operations” in 2009 and 2011, although the sounds of sirens continue to “creep her out”. During our three-year hiatus, she also missed the constant discussions in social circles and in educational institutions from day care through university about “the situation”.

She also has no memory of the upcoming “season of mourning and joy” held each year during May, featuring Holocaust Day, followed by Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, and topped off with joyful Independence Day celebrations.

I was born in Budapest. My father was born in Budapest, in 1942. He and his brother survived as a result of Raul Wallenberg’s safe houses. My mother’s mother, who passed away at the age of 93 last month in Budapest, was a survivor of Bergen Belsen and Thereseinstadt.

Today, my husband continues to volunteer as a physician in the military reserves and my teen sons are well on their way to mandatory IDF service. Yet, this year, my third grade daughter Lia will not be attending school on Holocaust Day or on Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror.

In the early 2000’s, without hesitation, I dressed my three little boys in crisp white shirts and blue shorts and sent them off to day care, or preschool, or kindergarten, or elementary school. They would listen to teachers talk about the Holocaust and the stories of fallen soldiers and victims of terror in supposedly age appropriate ways. The tiny kiddos would stand in silence during the sirens that wailed throughout the land. By sixth grade, during the commemorative general assembly, they would already be performing in Holocaust or resistance-themed plays for the benefit of the lower grades.

Every year in early May, Anne Frank, Hanna Senesh, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the partisans entered their young psyches. A mere week later, the “Never Again” message was reinforced during Remembrance Day for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror. As the sun goes down, the day of national grief segues into joyous Independence Day celebrations with extravagant community parties and music. The message is clear and well orchestrated by the State and its education system – from toddlerhood to compulsory military enlistment, Israeli children absorb the concept of victimhood transformed to national realization and their very individual responsibility in the perpetuation of this story.

By the time they reach high school, these children (including my own) are, by and large, gung ho and ready to engage in the military establishment.

My kids’ high school actually boasts one of the highest enlistment rates in the country but the IDF continues to deploy its “mobile informational unit” to the school throughout the year – probably to maximize the number of kids who enlist in combat and elite units.

Every time the boys tell me that a special school event is scheduled, I ask half-jokingly, “Is it about Shoah (Holocaust) or Tazvah (army)?” I am usually right. As a finale, a year prior to enlistment, during 12th grade, the education system transports the future recruits for a weeklong trip to Poland, the culmination of a lengthy preparation process begun the previous year.  Seventeen years of “Shoah” education actually comes to life in these places of horror.

There is a five-year difference in age between my youngest son and my 8-year old daughter and I am in a very different place than I was five years ago. Seventeen years ago, when I began this parenting journey in Israel, in my naiveté I trusted the system to instill a positive Jewish identity along with progressive values into my most precious assets. Today, I am convinced that the educational system’s primary goal is the production of an in-the-box thinking mass of future recruits.

I object to the methods used to ensure “optimal” enlistment and the heavy price children invariably pay. I do not believe that the system has the right to instill fear and horror into an 8-year old and certainly not into a three, four or five year old, in order to guarantee their loyalty. Lia will learn about the Holocaust and Israel’s history, but unlike her older brothers, it will be her dad and me who determine the rate and extent of that learning process. Not the Israeli Ministry of Education.

About the Author
Zimra was born in Budapest and grew up in New York City. She immigrated to Israel in 1994 and for the past two decades has worked with diverse for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Currently, she serves as a resource development expert on the Civics and Shared Education team at the Center for Educational Technology (CET) in Tel Aviv. Zimra is mother to 4 children, ages 11 to 20. Inspired by her 16-year old son Amit, a lower limb amputee, she is passionate about competitive wheelchair basketball and spends much of her free time rooting for her favorite teams. Today, she and her family are living in the Negev.
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