Onnie Schiffmiller

What Do We Tell Our Children?

Hi everyone, I hope that you are all well.  Many of you continue to check on us. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.  We feel so loved.

People keep asking me how we are.  I so appreciate the question.  It’s the answer that eludes me.  I don’t know how we are anymore. Well, I don’t know how I am these days.  I see signs of everyday life around me. Supermarket shelves are mostly full.  Restaurants and malls are open, and people are mostly back at work.  Communities far from rocket fire have returned to a normal academic schedule, though many schools are struggling to educate children and keep them safe. Yes, life is as normal as it can be. We work, we volunteer, and we see our grandchildren.  We chat with neighbors and do the laundry. But me?  I am raw. I suspect that I’m not alone.  But, I’m an adult and I’ll recover. I live among some extraordinary people, and they inspire me. They remind me that we will continue to build a Jewish homeland for ourselves and for our children.

I want to take a moment to talk about Israeli school children right now.  I’ve been thinking about them a lot. How do we communicate with our children and grandchildren about the nightmare of October 7th and the war that ensued?  The whole country is asking this question. Actually, we’re asking lots of questions. Should we talk about the atrocities of that day with young children?  How much should we tell them? How do we explain the ghoulish motives of Hamas?  How do we explain that people want to destroy us? Posing these questions is good.  It’s important.  As adults, we often face challenges in what and how to share bad news with children.  It may be something as mundane as the death of the pet goldfish purchased two days before at the local carnival or as life altering as the death of a loved one. Asking the question says a lot about who we are as human beings.  It says a lot about us as a society. By asking the questions, we’re acknowledging the fragility of childhood.  Children process information differently than we do.  They’re self-centered.  I don’t mean that pejoratively.  Children experience their surroundings firsthand. It’s challenging for them to comprehend that just because something happens to one person doesn’t mean that it will happen to them.  We’ve all rocked children back to sleep after a nightmare based on a story they heard.  While they were not the victim, their delicate minds rearrange the events and suddenly they’re dreaming that they were hit by a car when, in fact, it was the neighbor down the street.

So, our children are starting to hear things.  They’re starting to see things. “Bring Our Hostages Home” posters and pictures of individual hostages are plastered on billboards, bus stops and private homes.  “What are hostages, mommy? Why are there so many posters with people’s faces on them?  Who is Hamas, and why do they hate us? Why are there so many children from southern Israel now in our school?” So many questions.  And. Those questions come up unexpectedly; in the middle of dinner when asked to pass the rice, on the way to a doctors’ appointment or when getting ready for bed.  The curiosity usually catches us off guard.  How do we answer?  My Facebook feed is filled with parents trying to learn how to respond. Social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors and other mental health professionals are helping us to navigate these unchartered waters.

I’m glad that the country is asking the question.  It speaks to the morality of our society. Maybe we’re not always successful, but we’re trying not to raise a generation of hate.

Wishing you all peace and security.

About the Author
Onnie Schiffmiller is a tour guide and the owner of Israel with Love. She made aliyah with her family from New York in 2003.
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