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Having ‘The Talk’ With My Jerusalem Kids

A six-year-old Israeli boy kisses his mother on his first day of school / Getty Images

My daughter’s pre-K is right opposite Jabel Mukaber, where the terrorists who attacked a Jerusalem synagogue yesterday lived. The children were in class watching a video when I picked up my little girl. The pre-K teacher, so poised and in control most days, was visibly shaken. “Don’t take the road by the traffic circle, take the other one, be careful of stone throwers.” I always take the road she is referring to. It’s the quickest way to get from my son’s school to my daughter’s.

“Please roll down the windows, Imma,” my children always ask from the backseat. I always do, and did yesterday, with reluctance. Routine is the only thing that saves us, Israelis often say. Routine, mixed with a bit of denial and a strong dose of naivete is what keeps a lot of us going at a time like this. My son is six and asked what the noise was outside my daughter’s pre-K. Firecrackers or gunshots, I wasn’t sure. Lots of chanting. And when I hurried them off the swings and slides to get into the car, a safe space where I could be in control, we saw tear gas sprayed up into the hills. While my daughter was complaining that we had to leave the park sooner than she wanted, my son persisted: “Imma, what is going on?”

Is this the moment when I have to have The Talk? It’s the Middle Eastern version of “where do babies come from?” that most parents put off, dodge or ignore. In these parts, the question is “where does this fighting come from?” I want my son to feel safe and secure, but I also want him to be informed.

“There are some people,” I say, “who think Jews should not live in Israel, and they want to fight to make us leave or at least make it very unpleasant for us to live here. The leaders of Israel, the police and the army will make sure that we are protected and it is safe for us to live here. The conflict is complicated and we are trying to find a peaceful solution to the problem.”

I didn’t love having to explain to my 6-year-old what tear gas was.

Children in Israel are cynical. They are the product of living in a country that is in a constant state of war. There is no way they can be shielded from the news. It’s everywhere.

As I picked up my son from school and asked him about his day, I watched fourth grade girls glancing at their iPhones and talking about how the terrorist attack might have been revenge for the hanging of an Arab on an Egged bus on Sunday. Since my family has only recently made aliyah, I’m generally happy that my son is picking up Hebrew so quickly. But yesterday I was happy that he didn’t understand the word “suicide.”

The school psychologist sent home a note recently about how the teachers in the classrooms will be having an open conversation with students about what they are seeing and experiencing. “The world of adults is the focal point of children’s sense of security,” the letter read. Assurances to our children that we are trying to find a peaceful solution to a complicated political reality is critical. I wish I believed we were.

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