Tami Lehman-Wilzig

What Do You Say To Israeli Children?

What do you say to Israeli children?
You had a bad dream.
Can we really say that??? Because there’s a problem. The nightmare isn’t over.

What do you say to Israeli children?
I’ll start with my grandchildren. Two weeks ago their community was under missile fire. A direct hit shattered the house of their friends’ grandmother. The two friends and grandmother escaped unharmed. At the sound of the siren they scurried into the home’s reinforced concrete safe room. But the next day our usually independent 9-year old granddaughter was scared to cross the street alone.

What do you say to Israeli children?
I told her I understood, that it’s OK to say out loud: I’m afraid. By hearing ourselves say the words, we conquer our fears.
But…when I signed up to volunteer with children who had escaped the pounding horrors of southern Israel and are now housed in Kfar Saba, I quickly understood that compared to them my granddaughter’s scenario was child’s play.

What do you say to Israeli children?
To those whose lives have been pummeled to smithereens?
A friend volunteering at the same facility calls to tell me that a seven-year-old asked her: Right, Tzahal (Israel Defense Force) is here to protect us?
That’s right, she answered. Then the boy pointed to a 5-year-old girl and said: It didn’t protect her family. They’re all dead.

What do you say to Israeli children?
How do you react to a gut-wrenching statement like that? Even if we were trained and armed with the professional tools for handling the Oct. 7th attack, just hearing the little boy’s response and looking at him takes the wind out of you.

What do you say to Israeli children?
To those who come from Sderot, where the time frame to reach a safe room or shelter from the moment the siren sounds is a paltry 15 seconds. They’ve been living this reality for years, but now the missile shooting is relentless! I’m quickly briefed about the 14-year-old I’ve been assigned to, who has been at the facility for a week. This is the first day he’s gotten out of bed to join the program. He appears, a small smile on his face. A lovely boy, a man in the making. His favorite subjects are math, physics, and English. He’s a competitive amateur athlete, part of a soccer team and he teaches me the meaning of the soccer term CM. But his first love was swimming. He shows me a video clip of a winning meet, and I wonder if the pool is still operable. If the soccer field he trains at is still being seeded and reseeded? I dare not ask.

What do you say to Israeli children?
Those who had to flee the city of Ashkelon, once the oldest and largest seaport of biblical Canaan, now subjected to non-stop missile fire.
I’m sitting with a bashful fourth grade girl. She wants to learn English.
Let’s draw a face, I say teaching her the words eyes, nose, and mouth, patting her on the back while noticing how small she’s drawn the face, how tight she holds the pencil. Then I suggest we draw a tree. Her lines are straight and rigid, but I tell her they’re beautiful. Suddenly she takes a green crayon and says to me Alim – leaves. She begins to draw freely. I let out a sigh of relief and say: את מרגישה יותר חופשיה – you’re feeling freer, more relaxed. She asks how to say חופשיה in English. Free, I reply. She smiles broadly, and with each swirl that she draws, exclaims out loud: Free!

What do you say to Israeli children?
That life has become a very Grim(m) Fairy Tale? That there are no fairy godmothers with magic wands to make the nightmare disappear? That their naïve childhood has been cut short? That even though there are thirty children held in captivity, a similar scenario will never happen to them? Will there be a happy ending? I’m counting on it. We all are. But this is a story I will never write­. Because, what do you say today, tomorrow, and the next day? The next week, month, year?

About the Author
Tami Lehman-Wilzig made Aliya in 1977 with her husband, Professor Sam Lehman-Wilzig. She is an award-winning author of 13 published picture books, and three more on the way over the next two years. Her books include “SOOSIE, The Horse That Saved Shabbat,” “Keeping the Promise,” “Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles,” and “Passover Around the World.” You can find out more about Tami and her books by visiting
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