Alan Flashman

The Children of Israel 18: Winding Up — Thinking “Up”

I have been reading Hannah Arendt these days and have discovered that while Childism was informed by her closest student, it is Arendt’s thinking that I find most illuminating as I try to summarize my thoughts about “the children of Israel.”

As is well known, Arendt trained in philosophy and gained her doctorate from the renowned Karl Jaspers in Heidelberg, writing on the meaning of love in St. Augustine. That was just before she was forced to flee after the Nazi rise to power in 1933. She left behind not only home and friends but also her field. She became dedicated to work with people and understanding people in their “plurality”, a word she gladly borrowed from Kant.

Children can be best understood in their plurality, and in doing so adults achieve a special level in the ability to think regarding plurality. When a man understands another man and the difference between him and the other man, he achieves a form of contact with the other that changes himself as well. When a man crosses gender and culture gaps and understands a woman, his achievement is greater. When his crosses the age gap and understands a child, he crosses two boundaries, the first of the child now, the second the gap between himself today and himself as a child. Another way of saying that this would be the greatest achievement of plurality would be to say that this is the most difficult cultural achievement.

So a culture, a civil society and a state may be judged according to the degree that adults strive to understand children and privilege this understanding. And a culture has so much to gain by attending to the way children understand the world.

Israeli society claims to invest in children as the “future.” That is part of the problem. Children are here right now, in the present. If we want children to become our future, we need to give them the ground of being appreciated in the present. Otherwise, as our “future,” they will be merely inheritors of economic and security producers in an obscenely unbalanced governmental dispotif.

Every act of reaching out to meaningful co-creation with children is an act of resistance against governmentality. And in Israel today every such act will be met with opposition laced with chauvinism, childism and condescension. The stronger the reaction, the more the significance of the act becomes apparent.

I began this journey with children’s rights, but the struggle that is effective will not be in the realm of rights. The rights will follow only after the civil struggle has moved forward.

This struggle brings together the two realms that Hanna Arendt argued were necessary for social change: experience and thinking about experience.

I am suggesting here that adults in Israel respect, privilege and endeavor to feel more completely the experiences of children. This includes experiences in home, in school, and in society. It includes experiences with schools that do not suite them and that coerce them into being someone whom they are not. It includes children being used by one parent against the other. It includes children being “represented” by professionals who do not know how to listen to them. It includes paying close attention to the responses of children to terror, to losses, to demonization.

The second step involves thinking about these experiences. It involves reflection on the impact of the child’s experience on her development. It includes thinking about the impact on a child’s development of her voice being erased. It involves becoming not only “sensitive” but committed to the importance of these reflections and the dangers of ignoring them

Then comes the hardest step – talking about the experiences and our thoughts about them. I have been reaching out for ideas about with whom to talk. I have suggested areas where women talk with each other. One thoughtful reader gave her thoughts on how this might appear.

In a deep way this blog has become an appeal to adults in Israel to pay attention to the experiences of children, to reflect upon them with commitment and to speak about them. I think that all of the very abstract and complex ideas that I have proposed come down to just this.

Yom Kippur is thought of as a day of “repentance” [tshuva]. Maimonides famously (and indirectly) states that repentance is not itself a specific commandment [just as the commandment to keep all the commandments is not itself a specific commandment] but that it is first expressed in language – the words of vidui, admission and listing of transgressions out loud. I am looking for kindred spirits to the expression out loud to one another about how we have failed our children, in order to make change possible.

And I wish my (presumably few to the point of precious) readers Gmar Hatima Tova which here I would paraphrase – may the results of your impact on the world be beneficial.

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover. He recently published two summary works of his clinical experience (both 2022) Family Therapies for the 21st Century and Mental Health in Pediatrics.