Comment: The failure to keep our children safe

We thought we could see clearly and we would use our collective political clout.

uri grossman 298.88 (photo credit: IDF)
uri grossman 298.88
(photo credit: IDF)
When our children were young, I read them David Grossman's delightful book, Uri's Special Language. My children loved it and I loved reading it to them. The book helped me believe that I, raising young children through the first Gulf War and the Intifada, could understand their needs and keep them safe. Uri Grossman, that same young child with his own special language, was killed on Saturday by an antitank missile. He was buried Tuesday night.
And as the procession of funerals continues, I realize that our generation has failed at one of our most basic tasks: We, a collective generation of parents, have failed to keep our children safe. We thought we could. We, the generation now in our '50s, fought in the Yom Kippur War, the Litani Campaign and the 1982 Lebanon War. By the time we were soldiers, we knew that our parents couldn't keep us safe. They were displaced refugees or native-born Israelis overburdened by the responsibility of state-building. They had little time for self-reflection and little ability for cynical scrutiny. We, on the other hand, were free and proud Jews and Israelis. Hebrew came naturally to us; Jewish culture was woven into our social fabric and we had honed our political identities after the Six Day War in Sinai and in Lebanon. We, we thought, could see clearly and we would use our collective political clout. We would demonstrate, demand, establish extra-parliamentary movements, and strive to make things better. And we would do so without falling prey to simplistic messianic autism or knee-jerk, left-wing self-hatred. We would hold on to complexity, recognizing that there are no simple answers here. We would always remember that not all wars are the same and, when the time came, we'd know that this one is different. We would never allow ourselves to be captivated by vacuous demagogic statements about sacrifices for the future. We, who sacrificed our present, know that young people who die as heroes don't ever have the chance to live the normal, peaceful, unheroic lives that they deserved. David Grossman gave expression to many of our most sacred hopes. In Be My Knife, Grossman's character writes, "I once thought of teaching my son a private language, isolating him from the speaking world on purpose, lying to him from the movement of his birth so he would believe only in the language I gave him. And it would be a compassionate language. What I mean is, I wanted to take him by the hand and name everything he saw with words that would save him from the inevitable heartaches so that he wouldn't be able to comprehend the existence of, for instance, war. Or that people kill, or that this red here is blood... I love to imagine him crossing through life with an innocent trusting smile - the first enlightened child." No, we thought, we would teach compassion and enlightenment - in this world, on our streets, in Hebrew. In the early days of the war, David Grossman went North with Meir Shalev and illustrator Yossi Abulafia and read books to frightened, traumatized children in bomb shelters. As a cohort, we have made money, built careers, and even provided our children with options for the future. Despite it all, we refused to allow our inner and outer lives to be consumed or confiscated by the collective pain. We continued to wear jeans and we logged on into cyberspace as quickly as telecommunications developed. We encouraged our children to do things that our parents disapproved of. We're so cool we even embarrassed our children when we took them with us to demonstrations and vigils that they really didn't understand. In Death as a Way of Life, Grossman wrote that writing is "on the wall in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and Death." We believed, first naively and later politically, that there is another language: the language of Sanity. But that language has not kept our children safe. We who believed in Jewish normality have not been able to protect them from the wicked who still seek to destroy us. Neither have we been able to save them from our own nation's grandiosity, arrogance and shortsightedness. We have not brought an end to the Occupation and we have not been able to build a caring, just and inclusive society. Our children, already or soon to be in the army, are too smart and too mature for delightful children's books and carefree promises. These are the children who grew up in the Intifada, who watched their friends blow up in buses and they know that too many little Uris grow up to be soldiers who die. I can offer my apologies for my failures, but I want to offer more. I offer them our collective wisdom, wizened and maybe even slightly jaded. I promise to hold on to complexity, even if simplicity is more comforting. I promise to love them. I promise to love this country and this land. And I promise to never stop trying to make this land safe and just.