I spend a good portion of every summer in Jerusalem with my family.
husband and I are fluent in Hebrew, and my children are catching up to us every
day. They have only ever attended camp in Israel, know much more Israeli popular
music than American, and sometimes have a hard time coming up with the English
word for melafefon (cucumber). In the states we watch Israeli TV, listen to
Galgalatz on the radio, and eat shakshuka way more often than burgers and
As a result, every summer I am asked the same question, often
numerous times: “When are you guys making aliya?” Good question.
as though I haven’t thought about it thousands of times. It would be complicated
to make a go of it financially. And as any American who has seriously considered
aliya knows, it involves the possibility of having to forgo many of the comforts
of home – from Trader Joe’s to Ziploc bags(!) to crisp, snow-covered winter
mornings. Despite our facility with Hebrew, we will never be as comfortable or
eloquent as we are in our native language. As committed egalitarian Jews, our
religious life would be an exercise in ongoing cognitive dissonance. Our
children would have to go into the army. With four children, that would mean
many years spent with our hearts stuck perpetually in our throats.
have become accustomed to being looked upon as a spoiled Diaspora Jew when I
encounter situations that I still contend deserve attention. As when I was
derided for demanding a different hotel room in Eilat when the one I was given,
carpet still squishy and soaked with backed-up raw sewage, was just too
unhygenic for me to bear. Or the time I was given a car seat for my
nine-month-old which was so old it no longer had any buckles. Or straps. When I
complained I was called an “American princess” for demanding, you know,
Even so, I feel confident that we would manage all of those
challenges as they arose. The thing that stops me in my tracks, the one thing
I’m really not sure I could handle, is the idea of sending my kids to Israeli
schools. During the cooler months, at their excellent pluralistic day school,
all four are leaders. They are independent thinkers and are not afraid to stand
up for themselves. My eldest just completed her term as president of the student
body. I rarely have to speak with teachers about problems, in or out of the
classroom. And then they come to Israel for camp.
After a few days, the
complaints begin. They love camp, but there is this one kid who continually
pushes/ punches/kicks them.
They show me actual bruises.
the camp, something I almost never do the rest of the year, to ask what can be
done about this.
Inevitably I get some version of the same
“They’re kids. That kid kicks everyone. Your kids aren’t being
singled out. Just tell them to stay away from him/her.”
This week, we had
to bring my daughter to the doctor for a sprained wrist, the result of arm
twisting by a boy who had already kicked and punched her, while counselors
rolled their eyes.
My children, who speak Hebrew and are confident and
assertive in their other lives, enjoy camp but are a little bit afraid, all the
It hinders their ability to make real friends and to truly feel a
part of things.
I know that coming to another country and another culture
requires our bending to the minhag hamakom, the customs of the place. But
physical violence and intimidation should not be the norm with our
Imagine that this was happening among adults at the office.
Imagine every day when you came to work, one of your office mates suckerpunched
you. Imagine your boss’ response was, “ This is Israel. That’s how we do things
here. He punches everyone. You’re just going to have to learn to deal with
That doesn’t happen in Israel because adults would never tolerate
it. But it does contribute to a culture in which aggression and intimidation are
more common than should be acceptable.
Too often, the response to this
kind of behavior is for adults to shrug their shoulders and say, “Kids today are
so different. We never would have behaved that way in my day.”
children only continue with that kind of behavior because they know that their
actions have few consequences.
Complacent teachers, counselors and
administrators and even lazy parents who don’t want to do the hard work of
teaching our kids how to behave like decent human beings are largely responsible
for this culture of “acceptable” violence.
Yes, I’m talking about you,
mother who sits on a park bench and smiles as her 10- year-old pushes my
five-yearold off the swing and onto the ground. And these children will grow up
with few tools to respond to conflict other than intimidation or a fist. There
is no question that children who grow up with this kind of stressful learning
environment learn less in school than their safer peers.
kids are not naturally less violent than their Israeli counterparts.
while there certainly are, and will continue to be cultural differences, the
part that is the most frustrating is how adults in charge seem so quick to throw
up their hands, to give up on children who so need their guidance. Some people
will say that I can’t complain about any of this if I don’t live in Israel and
work to change things. And if I could figure out a way of doing just that while
shielding my own kids... but I can’t.
So here is my own inadequate
contribution. When I’m in Israel, I will continue to fight for a more civil
society, especially when it comes to children. We shouldn’t allow cultural
“bullies” to have the final say as to how we treat each other. Even as Israel is
our home, (my summer one, for now) we should not be embarrassed to assert that
some of the values we brought from elsewhere remain important to us.
have no question that eventually my family will find its way to Jerusalem. Libi
bamizrach – my heart is in the East. There are so many reasons why I would like
to pick up and move today. But, for now, I’m maintaining the buffer zone of an
ocean until my most precious possessions are big enough to defend
The author has an MA in Talmud and Rabbinics and lives and
teaches in Faifield County, Connecticut.
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