Last Wednesday I had to have the ‘talk’ with my kids. Their questions came fast and furious and I was overwhelmed even though I knew this day would eventually arrive. I wished I was talking about fallopian tubes and penises but instead I was talking about anti-Semitism. My children wanted to know why someone wanted to blow up their Hebrew School. Why did someone call a bomb threat into the Sabes JCC in St. Louis Park? This was a much more difficult ‘talk’.
I remember when my mother first had the ‘talk’ with me. Not the sex talk (I’m 44 and she still hasn’t had that ‘talk’ with me). The sex talk could be avoided, the anti-Semitism talk could not. The talk usually begins when you learn about the Holocaust in Hebrew School, or when your grandparent calls the person who cut them off in traffic an anti-Semite. We learned early as road rage was practically invented by my grandfather. (He also taught us to curse, thanks Grandpa.) Anyway, the anti-Semitism talk is always dicey and truly hard to explain, especially to a 9-year-old. Why do people hate Jews? I honestly have no idea… Why do people hate Gays, Muslims, African-Americans? I DON’T KNOW. Still, hate exists and last week I had to address it.
I’ve read articles and had many guests on my radio show about how to talk to your kids about terrorism, how to make them feel safe, how to speak to their age level, etc. It’s still hard to explain something you don’t really understand. So I did something that will make all the psychologists cringe. I gave my kids my honest answer about how to deal with anti-Semitism.
Understand and accept that you are different, and that’s ok. Our ‘difference’, our Jewishness, is something to be celebrated. Not everyone is going to like that, too bad for them. (My mother said it differently to me about 35 years ago, “You’re a Jew in a Christian world, life is never going to be easy, some people are always going to hate you, get used to it.” Thanks mom.)
Anti-Semitism has existed since Jews have existed. Hate has always been part of the human experience. It’s unfortunate, but it’s real, and I can’t explain it. I continued to my children, it’s our job as Jews to fight against hate (Tikkun Olam is a tenet of Judaism meaning ‘heal the world). We should educate and model kindness, acceptance, and love. Will that eradicate anti-Semitism and hate? It hasn’t yet, but it doesn’t mean that we will ever stop trying.
My harsh reality was delivered through my own realization and acceptance that being different is ok. I’m Kosher, I eat different foods than you, that’s ok. Public schools do not have off on our high holidays, so my kids have to miss school to go to synagogue, that’s ok. I use all my vacation days to be home with my family on Shabbat (Friday night), some people think that’s crazy, that’s ok. Mom was right, it’s not easy, but that’s ok.
I will never be able to explain hate, but resilience… we Jews got that down. When someone threatens to blow you and your classmates up, that’s when the s*** gets real, even if you’re 9 years old. My kids lost some of their innocence last week. They also gained some awareness of who they are in this world. That’s not just ok, that’s good.
This week I wish we will all celebrate our differences and know that it’s ok!