For the first six years of his life, my son knew Israel as a completely idyllic place. His trips there were nonstop fun and love and presents and candy with Saba and Safta and his other relatives. The "situation" was pretty calm during those years, and we felt comfortable traveling all around the country with him, exploring all that it had to offer. We have always known, of course, that someday we would have to figure out how to teach him that his dream world had some scary parts. Kids living year-round in Israel learn this organically over time, even if they live in a low-conflict area like Tel Aviv. They overhear grownups talking about it. They see glimpses on the news. They watch their older siblings and cousins go off to the Army after high school. They have drills in school. Kids teach each other about it in that mysterious way kids do. But kids living outside of Israel - even kids that have strong connections and travel there frequently - are naturally more insulated. If you only visit for two weeks at a time, there's a good probability of missing any major attacks, and every reason for parents to avoid discussing the issue with their kids. "When he's older," we said. "We'll deal with it when we get there."
And then Tzuk Eitan happened. We had already booked our tickets to visit in August before war broke out, and suddenly we were faced with a Hobson's choice. Should we cancel the trip and keep our son innocent of war for a while longer? Or should we go anyway and begin teaching him how we stand up for ourselves even in the face of violence? And if there are 10 or 12 sirens a day in Tel Aviv, what kind of vacation is that anyway? We want him to keep loving Israel, not fear it. At the same time, he will always be deeply connected to this land, and must inevitably learn all the ramifications of that.In the end, Hamas ran out of long range rockets before we got there. We gave our son simplified is instructions: sometimes there are sirens in Israel and when you hear one you must go to a "strong room." There were only three sirens in our area while we were there, two of which were at night when he was already asleep. (Conveniently, in the mamad a.k.a. Safta's guest room).But there were reminders everywhere that we would soon have to deal with this subject - particularly in the form of temporary mamad signage, like this one that greeted us a dozen steps from the airline gate:
At the time, our son barely read English, and his Hebrew reading was rudimentary. This year, his reading of both languages is stronger, and he is generally more interested in and savvy about happenings in the World. As parents, we read about each car-ramming and stabbing and riot, now not just in Jerusalem but in Tel Aviv and Petach Tikvah. Riots in Jaffa and around the Galil. More rockets from Gaza. And we realize that moment is all too soon. That moment when he understands the mamad signs. When he asks why there are sirens. When he hears about a stabbing. When he wants to go to Jaffa port and it's not safe to go that day. Maybe the next trip or the one after, the questions will come. And then, a whole new chapter begins.