Since we moved from New Jersey to a kibbutz in Israel almost five months ago my children have been tasting freedom — and it’s a taste they like, along with chocolate spread and mitz-petel. But they''re depending on me even less since I started a full time job in April, and in fact, have become quite belligerent about doing things by themselves: from dressing to preparing food to walking to school on their own. My children are becoming a lot more independent here.
Which makes the anecdote I’m about to share even more interesting.
Over the past few weeks, we in Israel have moved through a series of three national holidays: Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-la G’vurah (known colloquially as Yom HaShoah), “Holocaust Rememberance Day;” Yom HaZikaron, “Memorial Day;” and Yom HaAtzmaut, “Israel Independence Day.” These holidays, for Israelis, are serious business.
In addition to sirens sounding for moments of silence causing cars to stop in the middle of the highway; in addition to ceremonies in our communities and schools; and in addition to the endless television programming memorializing the fallen and honoring the heroes, our schoolchildren have really been taught the real deal.
There’s no sugar-coating Israeli history in Israel. There’s no vanilla version of what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust or what Israeli soldiers faced during Israel’s various wars. It seems as if Israeli children are indoctrinated (and I mean that in a good way) from a very early age with an understanding of what has been required to safeguard this country we live in.
The day before the Yom HaZikaron/YomHaatzmaut school and work holiday, my oldest son, who is eight and a half and in second grade in a public school came home with an interesting report of his day. He shared with me the news as if it was ordinary, but to me, it was a story you’d only hear in Israel. Or, at the very least, it was a story that would only be acceptable in Israel.
A game my son often plays with his friends is called “Ganav v’Shoter,” which is pretty much “Cops and Robbers.” That day at school, however, they came up with a twist on the original. They called it “Yehudim v’Nazim.”
Jews and Nazis.
Half the kids were the Jews and the other half were the Nazis, he told me. (The Nazis were the “bad guys.”) My kid and his classmates were creative. Some of the Jews got to be “partisans” and had more freedom to wander to various areas of the playground and were also granted the ability to free the Jews who were captured: They weren’t in jail, though, those captured Jews. They were locked in the Ghetto.
Yes, a timely twist on an age-old game. But not unexpected considering the history lessons they were receiving that week in school and at home.
Can you imagine a game of “Jews vs. Nazi” in the States? Some place where the school psychologist wouldn’t be called in immediately or the ADL had any influence. I can’t be 100% sure it wouldn’t happen, but I think Holocaust education is only briefly glossed over in the States, if at all, and then only in older grades. It’s deemed inappropriate subject matter for young children. Right or wrong, I don’t know. But this is how it is. Not in Israel, though. Kids here, even during more peaceful times, need to understand the price and the impact of war.
My oldest son is fascinated with history and he''s a rough and tumble kind of kid. The stories he heard from his teacher these past few weeks or saw on the roll out movie screens behind the presenters at the various ceremonies didn’t haunt his dreams or leave a trail of fear. But, I do think he understands a little better the difference between living here in Israel and living in New Jersey; what living here means for him as a boy, and as a Jew.
I, on the other hand, couldn''t stop thinking about the soldiers who lost their lives. About the boys they once were. I became very present to the understanding that I am now a mother of three children who one day may be required to fight battles that take place far away from the playground.And suddenly, independence has a new meaning.