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What our kids learned this summer

They learned that three boys were kidnapped; they learned what an RPG is, and they learned something else

The questions children ask are always very telling, and they often tell us what is going on in the world around them. The questions asked by Israeli children this summer offer an early glimpse into the impact of war, the possibilities of a less polarized people, and the opportunity we now face to create important change for the future.

This summer’s questions began with…

“What does it mean that someone kidnapped three boys? Who are these people? Why would they do something like that?”

As time moved on, it became…

“What did they do with the boys?”

”What does solidarity mean? Why wouldn’t we always behave this way?”

And eventually…

“Why did they kill them? What did the boys do wrong?”

When the rockets began raining down, a whole new line of questioning began.

“Why are they shooting at us? Why are we always cancelling our summer plans?”

We grasped at ways to stop this mess in moral and non-violent ways. As did our children.

“Why can’t we turn off Gaza’s water and electricity until they stop firing?”

“If they are allowed to bomb our homes, why can’t we do the same to the homes they are shooting from?”

Our children expanded their vocabularies and, by doing so, lost pieces of themselves.

What’s a shell? An APC? RPG?”

But there were also some very positive things that our children were able to experience. They witnessed the entire nation mobilizing to help each other, to support soldiers and their families back home. They even took part in this unprecedented wave of solidarity and brotherly love.

The beautiful thing is that this movement of good felt so natural. We didn’t really ask questions. Instead, we acted instinctively, with our hearts.

But now it’s our responsibility to carry those feelings forward to ensure that our children continue to benefit from the experience, though we do face a natural challenge. With Operation Protective Edge behind us, the tougher questions will begin.

“Why did we go in to Gaza when we did? Was the outcome worth the price? Who was responsible for the mistakes that were made? Who really won the war?”

Here, we are likely to begin pointing fingers and shifting the blame to those different to us. It’s always easier that way.

Those innocent (and appropriate) questions may be answered with cynical attacks, and our children will digest every word. They will use our answers to define who is good and who is bad, who is ‘one of us’ and who is ‘against us’. When left unchecked, these judgments lead to actions as our children play out the sweeping criticisms that ashamedly originated from our own mouths.

So, while it is important to question, and even criticize, the mistakes made during the tense summer of 2014, we must catch ourselves now before it becomes disrespectful, bitter and out of check. Our children need to remember the positive outcomes like solidarity, charity and generosity that arose during this time.

Hopefully, the New Year ahead will offer opportunities for lighter questions. But, as a general rule, we must ensure to challenge respectfully and constructively so that we, together with our children, can arise stronger and more unified from every experience, ready to tackle the next challenge, whatever it may be.

We know that Israel faces numerous hurdles ahead, and we have learned time and time again that we will always be stronger together.

About the Author
Yoni Sherizen is a director of Gesher, a Jerusalem-based organization devoted to bridging the differences between Israelis and strengthening a shared Jewish identity.
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