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World leaders need a lesson in parenting

We are truly living through miraculous times. I’m not sure I’ve fully processed it all.

At 10:45 p.m., I got a message.

“It has started.”

Iran has launched the attack. The buttons have been pressed. The drones have departed and are heading our way. It’s not a feeling of urgency but rather of imminence. It’ll be a few hours, but it’s now irreversible.

And what’s this “it”? Well, that’s the thing. Nobody really knows. Maybe sirens won’t even be heard in my town. Or maybe I’ll have no house in the morning.

The enormity of it makes it surreal. We are eerily calm for the eve of what might just be the most catastrophic night of our lives.

And then I hear it. The frantic voice of the family member who heard it first, waking everyone up to run to the shelter. The explosions started before the siren. They continue overhead as we crowd with our neighbors, wondering how long this night will be.

And before we know it, it’s over. The all clear. We wait for a few hours to inform our relatives in America, who are still in Shabbat, that we are okay. Some time later, we head back to bed. It’s over. For now. The enormity of the miracle we just experienced is too recent to digest. The people looking back at history will have a greater appreciation for this open miracle than we do right now. It’s like looking up at a big building when you’re just outside. You need to step back if you want to truly appreciate it’s magnitude.

And then comes the big question. Will Israel retaliate? Everyone is so sure of the answer.

Of course! I hear from some people. And let them get away with it? Who do you think we are? How could we just leave it like this?

Why retaliate? I hear from others. We hit, they hit. We’re quits. Who needs more war?

Good arguments from both sides.

So what will happen?

GD knows. And yes, you can take that literally.

But a little lesson in parenting may help with some of the basics.

Lesson 1: Once you make a ruling, a breach is a breach.

President Biden. You made a mistake. We know you don’t want war, but you invited yourself into the fracas when you said, “Don’t.”

You see, if I see a small child taking a cookie, I can say nothing. The child may have permission or may have none, but by staying quiet, I’m actually allowing the child to have the cookie.

If I really don’t want the child to have the cookie, I’ll tell them not to. Of course, I’m assuming that the child will listen.

But I have to keep in mind the possibility that the child will disobey me. Once I have told the child not to, I have to respond with discipline once the child disobeys. This is no longer about the cookie. It’s about my authority.

I know what you were hoping for, President Biden. You were hoping that your ‘Don’t’ would be obeyed. But the minute it left your mouth, like those missiles leaving Iran, that word became irreversible.

Don’t is enough when they listen.

But when they don’t listen, ‘don’t’ becomes, don’t, or else I’m going to have to punish you for disobeying me.

Now, you could have said, I would much rather you didn’t. Then you would have left some room for autonomy. But you said don’t. And they did. The ball is in your court now if you want your authority to be taken seriously. And this is not a small child with their hand in the cookie jar. This is Iran with their hand in the missile jar. Can you afford to let them believe that America’s word is not to be taken seriously?

Lesson 2: The fact that the child missed, doesn’t mean it’s OK.

Israel. You guys did great. Thank you. You did an amazing job at protecting your civilians this time.

But Israel, does the fact that you saved us from the massive unprecedented attack, mean that the attack should go unpunished? If my child accidentally trips into me and I get bruised, I don’t punish them. The bruise is an unfortunate outcome and doesn’t represent the child’s behavior. But if a child tries to punch his parent and misses, the absence of the bruise is just fortunate and should not excuse the child’s behavior. If I respond to you harshly, it’s because of what you tried to do, not what you happened to do or not do.

I’m not calling for retaliation. It’s not straightforward. But can we please not make the mistake of judging the situation by how well we protected ourselves? And actually, by assessing what they tried to do to harm us?

Israel’s defensive capacity is not the question. Iran’s intent and behavior, very much is.

Lesson 3: The parental front must unite.

If you haven’t yet figured out that Iran’s war is against Israel and the West, then I have nothing to say.

But if it has finally become clear, then the parenting team needs to get on the same page.

The question should Israel retaliate, indicates a tremendous misunderstanding to my mind. The war is not between Hamas and Israel, nor between Iran and Israel. It’s between fundamentalist Islam, led by the Iranian regime, and everyone else who isn’t that.

My dear America. If you would rather that Israel stay out of it and not retaliate, that’s okay. But then you should. One parent can tell the other parent to stay out of the discipline, but only when they are going to do the disciplining on behalf of both.

If a child tries to burn down their parents’ car, it’s not about how one of them feels about it. They’ve both been targeted; they need to respond as a united front. If only one actually responds, it has to clearly be on behalf of both.

We can retaliate, you can retaliate, we can choose to drop it, we can retaliate together, but we have to be on the same page about what just happened here.

Last night, Gd was with us. Completely. We can take solace from the fact that He delivered us so entirely from the disaster that could have been, but wasn’t. To quote David Ben-Gurion, since we’re on the topic of leaders “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” Whatever happens going forward, we can keep in mind, that we have Gd, the ultimate parent, on our side. Leadership will play its role, and perhaps this is the greatest parenting lesson of all – but it’s not the ultimate decider of the fate of the Jewish people. GD is.

May He direct the decisions of all those in power. And may we truly see guided leadership and continued Divine intervention in the events ahead.

About the Author
Ilana Cowland is an educator, relationships coach, international lecturer and author of "The Moderately Anxious Everybody."
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