Never mind the news, I told my children. Here’s some ice cream

To shelter your children or build their resilience is the dilemma Jews face


The New West End Synagogue is pictured in Bayswater, West London on March 3, 2009. The synagogue is to receive money from the English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) as part of a £15.5 million plan to support urgent repair work to 150 Grade I and II listed places of worship across England. AFP PHOTO/Leon Neal (Photo credit should read Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)

October 12, 2023 14:07

Getting the kids out of the house and to shul last Saturday was — as it always is — a bit of a harried hullaballoo, and I was too busy bribing them with promises of ice cream afterwards to look at the news beforehand.

So when we arrived at our synagogue I was a little bemused by the extra security outside, alongside the usual single guard. A bag search? For Simchat Torah? Really?

OK, whatever, let’s just get inside already. We sat in our usual seats and I whispered to them that the rabbi would call them up to dance around the scrolls, and they are all still young enough to be excited about that. But when our rabbi stood on the bimah, she looked unusually solemn.

“As you will have heard already, Israel has been attacked this morning,” she began. That was how I found out. The rest of the service was devoted to prayers for Israel and stern instructions to the children about security at the synagogue: yes, it was nice to hold the door for strangers, but they mustn’t do that when walking into the synagogue now.

Bags would be searched on arrival. Report any strange people hanging around outside immediately.

“When do we dance?” my four-year-old whispered to me.

“Is the rabbi worried about kidnappers?” asked one of my eight-year-olds.

“I think it’s about burglars,” his twin reassured him.

“People are fighting, but it’s very far away, you don’t need to worry,” I replied, my natural instinct to jazz hands away their anxieties kicking in.

Then, when the service ended and they went upstairs to their Hebrew lessons, I hurried to the café around the corner to read the news and find out how badly I had lied to my kids.

Any parent who knows where the line lies between teaching your child about the real world and not traumatising your child is a more clued-up parent than me. How to explain to children the kidnapping of whole families by terrorists, siblings randomly picked off and murdered? Or a 12-year-old dragged off to Gaza by men in masks?

I couldn’t, so I didn’t, and when I picked them up from Hebrew lessons I avoided the specifics and hid in vague generalities: yes, kids, Israel is at war, and yes, people are dying, yes, even children, but Israel is very far away, and come on, we’re going to get ice cream now. Oh wait, we need to go through security first.

“But why, if the war is far away?” one of the eight-year-olds asked.

“Ice cream,” I replied.

On Sunday, I got up early so as to intercept the Sunday Times before my older children picked it up to read the sports section. I quickly read the news section in my bedroom with the door closed, stuffed it into the bathroom bin, and then took the censored paper downstairs, free of photos of screaming Jewish children being carried off by Hamas.

This was fine, I thought, like the dog in that meme, drinking coffee in hell. All I needed to do was get up at 6 a every day to get to the paper first. No problem.

And all I had to do for me, I told myself, was avoid Twitter so as to not see the rent-an-armchair-generals airily sharing their theories about how this was the natural and normal response from the underdog against the evil oppressor.

Only literal idiots on the far left expressed support for Hamas, a far-right terrorist organisation, I thought, and I did not need to have those idiots’ banging around my brain.

Just be glad that Jeremy Corbyn, who once described members of Hamas as “friends”, isn’t the UK prime minister, I told myself, and get on with living in the real, non-X/Twitter world.

That afternoon, a friend texted me about the Jewish community vigil for Israel, planned for the next day, and I posted the notice on Instagram, where only people I know personally can follow me. Some sent emoji hearts. Others sent emoji sad faces. And others sent other things.

“I’m so disappointed that you posted this, Hadley. I thought you were smart?” wrote one woman who I’d met twice through a mutual friend.

“It’s really upsetting to see you fall for this Israeli propaganda,” wrote a former neighbour.

More upsetting than reading about a mother searching for her teenage boys who had been kidnapped by Hamas? I thought.

“Just ignore it,” I told myself. But the thought of these people — who justify the kidnap of Israeli children — looking at the photos I post on instagram of MY children upset me so much that I blocked them.

To clear my head, I took the kids to the park and on our way we walked past the synagogue and there was a crowd protesting nearby. I turned the kids around, but I knew then I couldn’t ignore this, and I couldn’t shield my kids from it either.

The next morning, I lay in bed and heard the older ones open the door to get the paper from the doorstep. I went down about 20 minutes later and got them ready for school. Over breakfast, one of the older ones asked me to stop getting the paper delivered.

“It’s too sad,” he said.

“It is sad, but sad things happen, and you should know that,” I said, either building up their resilience or giving them a lifetime of therapist fees to pay.

When we got to their school gate, I took them aside and told them that it was possible some people might say things to them about Israel, or might say mean things about Israel.

But they should know there is no justification for what was happening in Israel, and they shouldn’t be scared of saying that. Then I promised them ice cream after school and kissed them goodbye.

October 12, 2023 14:07

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