Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When your kids find out it isn't always such a wonderful world

It's tough when they start to read beyond what we want them to see. We were still getting a daily print edition paper when Junior one day out of the blue turned around and asked "What's corruption?" And we were lucky it was as benign as that with all that's often in the papers.

After the Newtown shootings several American friends have asked me how I go about explaining this kind of evil to my children, how I protect their innocence, how I stop them from being afraid.

It's one of the toughest things about being a parent, the realisation that you can't shield them from the fact that horrorific things happen. The best you can do is try to answer their questions without getting into gory details, show them that it's OK to be upset or afraid (so many kids feel embarrased to show emotions like these) and hug them tight tight.

There are no easy answers for how to explain things to a kid, especially a bright kid who always has another "why?" or "how?" to ask.

I do think kids are more resilient than we often give them credit for. Junior knows that there are people living around us who want to kill us, I never wanted to have to explain that to her, but it's true and she picked up on it quite young, asking why we have to go through metal detectors and searches whenever we go to the shopping mall or train station, why all the schools and kindergartens have guard booths outside, why there are guards on the buses and trains. Kids notice these things, even if we unfortunately get used to taking them for granted.

I thought about fudging it but in the end I just came out with it that there are people who want to blow those places up and hurt us and the security guards are trying to keep us safe. It's a fact of life and she takes it in her stride.

When a terrorist broke into a family home and murdered almost the entire family in their beds with a knife I hid the paper, avoided news sites and the radio, but she heard the story on the radio while being given a ride by a friend's mother and came home to ask me about it. I told her the basic facts of what happened, that there were bad people in the world, but that there are also many many good people who are trying to help others, and that overall the good outnumber the bad. She seemed to accept that.

When a similar attack happened again recently, only the mother happened to be a martial arts expert and was able to protect her kids, suffering knife wounds, but forcing the attacker to run I talked about the story with my daughter. I think it was important for her to see the more positive outcome. We actually even met the woman by chance on one of our Jerusalem outings recently and Junior was excited to meet a real life heroine.

I wish she didn't have to know about such things, but I can't keep her in a cocoon. The important thing here I think is also that I answer her questions as best I can, I say I don't know when I don't know, but also I don't dwell on the news, don't let her get obsessed with it by not obsessing myself.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Letting the bullies win

Rosh Hodesh Elul was my nephew's bar-mitzvah at the Kotel. As we were walking to the women's section we passed a woman in a Tallit being escorted away by police for wearing a men's tallit. At the Kotel itself there was a group of Women of the Wall davening in multi-coloured tallitot (apparently only the traditional black and white ones were considered "illegal" on that occasion) with a stony-faced police officer standing right in front of them and filming their every action on video while another few officers stood facing the group of praying women just daring them to do something criminal like whipping out a Torah scroll. It would have been comic had it not been so serious.

They were singing a respectful and beautiful (and not overly loud) Hallel near the back of the women's section at the Kotel, in no way was it attention grabbing and in no way was it audible from anywhere near the mehitza or men's section (should that have been an issue).

The previous Friday night there had been loads of women in the Kotel women's section singing much louder at Kabbalat Shabbat, including a large group of uniformed female soldiers belting out a selection of vaguely "spiritual" NewAgey Israeli pop hits in lieu of formal prayer from the liturgy and a huge group from some Israel women's programme for Americans where the leader was not only getting them to practically shout out the greatest hits of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach during Kabbalat Shabbat but encouraging them to dance in a big wild circle right in the middle of the women's section, which unsurprisingly enough was incredibly crowded on an August Friday night.

If anything was a public nuisance that night, or possibly a hazard, it was this scrum of ladies insisting on their huge dance circle right in the middle of the already jam-packed women's section.

No police intervened (nor did anyone else) to stop these women from loudly singing Kabbalat Shabbat and even Israeli pop songs, and none of the many very Hareidi women also davening there complained, objected or any way approached these women to stop or in any way tone it down.

Sunday morning though the modest gathering of women saying Hallel together, some wrapped in prayer shawls, which admittedly, most Jews would consider men's garb, are suddenly public enemy number one, a threat to public order, so dangerous they have tense police hounding their every move and at least one of their number had to be arrested for the heinous crime of wearing a masculine style black and white tallit.

Meanwhile above the Kotel, on the Temple Mount, Judaism's most sacred of sacred places, Jews can't pray or even close their eyes or hum a tune because it "upsets" the local Muslims and they tend to get violent and riot when upset, so for the police it's easier to arrest the peaceful Jews who just want to pray at their most holy site. As a religious Jew I and many others are intimidated by the police of the state of Israel no less from going to visit the Temple Mount.

At the Kotel Women of the Wall upsets the Hareidi community and some elements within the Hareidi community get a bit violent and occasionally riot or burn trash cans when they do so, so for the police it's easier to just arrest the peacefully praying women who want to make a feminist, but peaceful, point.

It's called giving in to the bullies.

Now I'm aware that many of those who support the Women of the Wall and many of those who support the right of Jews to pray upon the Temple Mount disagree with each other theologically and politically, but the struggles they face for religious freedom are the same. Until both realise that it is in their mutual interest to pursue these cases of police injustice and downright brutality and the failure of the state to ensure that people of all denominations are free to pray peacefully at their sacred shrines nothing is going to change. The state will continue to pacify the bullies at the expense of protecting the right to worship for all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


I think I essentially have two reasons for posting this, in particular in the wake of the recent Gaza conflict I've had two lots of responses from friends and family overseas.

Some have said to me that Israel is an apartheid state, so of c
ourse the folks in Gaza have a good reason to shoot rockets at Israeli civilians

Others have said Israel should just "expel" all the Arabs or completely "separate" from the Arabs, and then "the Arabs won't make trouble".

Both positions show surprising ignorance about everyday life in Israel.

Fact is that in Israel on a day to day basis Jews and Arabs interact, shop together, work together, use the same public space, vacation in the same national parks and hotels, our populations are far more intertwined than the international media shows and in many way interdependent economically.

I will not pretend that the situation is perfect, only that it is far more complex, and I believe far better, than anyone overseas would realise if they just get their information from foreign media outlets.

The photos below are from Jerusalem, but they could also be any number of major Israeli cities, just walk down a street in Beer Sheva or Haifa or Kfar Saba or hang out at the mall in Modi'in or Tel Aviv, stay in a hotel in Eilat.