Stuart Katz

White Jerusalem days and hard decisions: A parent’s dilemma

In over twenty-five years of being parents, I would like to think that Carol and I have done the best job that we possibly could. There have been many times that we didn’t know what the right decision should be in a given situation – but this morning we felt faced with perhaps one of the toughest decisions ever.   

After five days of being home from school due to the worst snowstorm in Jerusalem since we’ve lived here, our eleventh grader begged to go back to school. The school had made the decision to re-open today, and, as parents we didn’t want to discourage our daughter from going to school.  But we weren’t at peace with her going. She would be traveling on a bus with a driver relatively inexperienced in traversing roads raging with ice and snow, alongside other drivers who were perhaps even less experienced.

One question kept nagging at me: was it our place as parents to decide that she should be allowed to return to school, or was it our obligation to prohibit her from going? On the one hand, the Municipality of Jerusalem and the school administration had felt it was safe to invite students back. On the other hand, it was our daughter’s safety that was being gambled with.

To add a further dimension to our quandary, we struggled with the question of whether our daughter had the right to make this decision for herself, or at least strongly weigh in. I know that part of being a parent is knowing when to step back and let a child learn to make decisions for herself — even when they make the wrong one – and accept the consequences. I worked through that dilemma pretty quickly, though, when I decided that such consequences should not jeopardize my daughter’s safety. So in this case, Father knows best!

This feeling was reinforced when we heard the latest announcement from the Ministry of Defense last night: public transportation was being halted. Frustrated, I thought: public transportation isn’t allowed, but having children travel on school buses is? What is wrong with this picture?

We finally decided that if public transportation was operating again in the morning and our daughter still wanted to go to school, Carol and I would allow her to go. This morning when I woke up, I found out that public transportation was indeed operating, although on a limited schedule.  Our daughter really wanted to go to school. So – we let her. We did so with a less than full heart and with tremendous trepidation.

About ten minutes after she left, I was feeling even worse about my decision. I checked with Carol and said, “I don’t want her to go.”  Fortunately, the bus hadn’t yet shown up at the stop, so I didn’t have to literally chase her down. I told her that I wanted her home. To my pleasure she had reached the same decision while awaiting the bus with friends and texting others from school.

The irony of our struggle this morning is not lost on me. In the time of war, this wonderful land we call home is equipped and able to handle the worst that the enemy can offer, but a few inches of snow has kept the capital city in massive recovery mode.

The reality is that we normally feel quite safe in our homeland. Israel’s leaders put the citizens’ safety first every day and make the difficult decisions that allow our family to travel and live freely. This morning we felt called upon to make a decision that could have affected either the relative freedom or the safety of a loved one.

Yes, it was a morning of ironies. As my son pointed out to me, “You’re willing to travel throughout the Arab Lands and to the site of the recent typhoon in the Philippines – but to travel on some ice in Jerusalem, you won’t.” Unfortunately, he’s right.

However, in this case we went with our gut feeling and doing what we think is right. That is our job as parents, however unpopular our decision today may have initially made me with my daughter and perhaps the school’s administration. I hope that the administration understands that safety comes before education. Today’s lesson is not about tanach, chemistry or physical education. It’s about life and the value of it over every other consideration.

We’re not here to play G-d and will keep our children close to us during this time. I hope we made the right decision as parents and that G-d will continue to assist us in making such decisions in the future. Ultimately, it will still be G-d’s decision. And that is where I find some peace of mind.

About the Author
Stuart is a co-founder of the Nafshenu Alenu mental health educational initiative founded in 2022. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University Medical School. He serves as Chairman of the Board of OGEN – Advancement of Mental Health Awareness in Israel; chairman of Mental Health First Aid Israel and a partner in “Deconstructing Stigma” in Israel. He is on the Board of Directors of the Religious Conference Management Association. He has counseled over 7,000 individuals and families in crisis
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