Leah Bieler’s condemnation of Israeli children and their upbringing in these
pages cannot go unchallenged.
For those who missed the invective
rationalizing “Why I (still) haven’t made aliya” (August 15), Bieler, who lives
in Fairfield County, Connecticut, says it’s not the comforts of home like Trader
Joe’s and Ziploc bags, nor the complications of earning a living, but the
ill-bred Israeli youngsters who make it impossible for her to move here. She
can’t protect her children, whom she calls “her most precious possessions,” from
Israeli kids. In her judgment, these aggressive and unrestrained Israelis will
“grow up with few tools to respond to conflicts other than intimidation or a
fist. There is no question that children who grow up with the kind of stressful
learning environment learn less in school than their safer
Fairfield County does, of course, include Newtown, Connecticut,
where the horrendous Sandy Hook school massacre took place last
I grew up in Connecticut, too. I made aliya the week after
graduating from college, and have had the privilege, together with my husband
Gerald Schroeder, of bringing up our five children here. Thankfully, they are
all parents themselves, so I can look back with some perspective.
of my husband’s work, we twice spent a year in the Boston area.
children were very young the first time; our oldest was three. In the office of
the upscale Jewish nursery school where we had signed him up long distance, I
met the father of D, who was in the same class. We had come for different
reasons. Our family was staying in a hotel room. It was cold and
I wondered if anyone connected with the school who lived nearby
might offer Shabbat hospitality for one of the meals. We were willing, also, to
pay. The principal shook her head. Try the synagogue.
D’s father had been called into the principal because of his child’s
so-called violent behavior. He’d swung the hammer in the carpentry corner, and
his parents had been warned that he needed to shape up. Other children were
afraid to play with him and the school discouraged them from visiting.
Monday, we met D’s mother. They weren’t Shabbat observant and kosher like most
of the other parents in the nursery school, she explained, so she couldn’t
invite us for a Shabbat meal.
But she’d love to host us midweek. Did we
know why her son had been called in? she asked. If so, would we still want to
come? I can remember my exact words: “My children are from Israel. They know how
to deal with conflict.”
No one will argue that the Israeli environment,
with fewer teachers, counselors and lifeguards on duty, is rowdier than the
American, but somehow, early on, children do learn to stick up for themselves.
The children ours encountered in the US often sublimated their aggressiveness in
maliciousness – outright or subtle comments or body language. There’s an
American Jewish children’s book called Speak Up, Tommy about an Israeli kid in
America suffering from teasing from his fellow students. He only gains respect
when a police dog trained in Israel understands commands only from him. I can’t
read the book aloud because it’s so painful – a lot more so than a few
When we’re a richer, safer country, please God,
we’ll be able to provide small classrooms with much more individualized
attention for our children. In the meantime, our schools are no
There are certain compensations. Our children have devoted
friends – people who will put them up, lend them money, provide support through
thick and thin. Our children were reading the Bible in the original Hebrew by
first grade. The chronic argumentativeness of the Israeli environment, it turns
out, produces a questioning attitude that is prized among scholars and
The son who was classmates with D in nursery school was
sought by America’s top universities when he completed his Israeli education to
be part of inventive scientific teams. He chose MIT, and then had to expose his
own Sabra sons to the new schools in America.
They are deeply grateful
for the opportunities they had and the spectacular community they belonged to,
but all in all, they’re glad to be back home.
The difficulties of moving
here are real and needn’t be waved away. It’s easy to trade the good kosher
shopping of Trader Joe’s for a supermarket that will have yahrzeit candles
prominently displayed so you don’t forget them for Shavuot, and where they
announce on the loudspeaker that Minha is being held in the vegetable storeroom.
But having your children taking on the responsibility for the security of the
State of Israel in the army (what Bieler calls “many years spent with our hearts
stuck perpetually in our throats” doesn’t quite cover it) is tough. And true,
the average synagogue member isn’t even thinking about women’s access to public
participation, let alone providing an egalitarian service.
high-level Jewish learning opportunities for women (Bieler’s field is rabbinics)
proliferate here. Shabbat dinner invitations are ubiquitous.
egalitarian synagogues that do exist are often the result of efforts by American
immigrants or their Sabra offspring.
That’s what you can do after serving
the internship that’s called being an oleh hadash, a new and elevated
Despite the cracks about being an American – which don’t go
away, not for us, nor for Moroccans or Russians – we are delighted when tourists
choose Israel. But with all due respect, even those who speak Hebrew and come
often have elected not to be a part of building Israeli society from the
As one of my daughters, a child psychologist who was offended by
Bieler’s op-ed piece, said, “In America, the chances of you having an impact on
society are small. In Israel, we’re all striving to make this a better society
and even a small number of activists can make a difference.” That daughter, by
the way, was recruited to bring Israeli Judaism and customs to Berkeley,
California, for a year.
Speaking of customs, the difference for Jews in
the Diaspora and Israel isn’t, as Bieler implies, just minhag hamakom, a
question of local custom.
It’s about whether you have a marrow- deep
commitment to building the Jewish state or not.
Eating shakshuka and
listening to Army Radio – proof Bieler offers of her identification with Israel
– is a good start. But the newest program on Galgalatz is called “The Israel
Story.” If Bieler wants her children to be part of that, she’ll have to give up
the “buffer zone of an ocean” that separates them from the plot.
The author is
a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She
serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s
Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.