You don’t have to support Israel’s decisions, but please show empathy for your fellow Jews
On our drive home from Jerusalem, my kids and I head East towards the Judean Desert. On a normal day, it’s about a 20-minute drive, but if we take a short cut, we can make it home in 18 minutes.
As we drive down the large six-lane Sderot Haim Barlev, we can make a right towards the American Colony Hotel and continue through the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to shave two minutes off the drive, or take a left on Shimon Hatzaddik and drive through the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, and arrive in 20 minutes.
On most days, we take the shortcut. But with the Arab-Israeli violence these past few weeks, we didn’t feel it was safe to drive through Sheikh Jarrah. There had been Jewish motorists hit with stones by Arabs on the streets, and my children didn’t need to experience more violence.
War isn’t something you should have to explain to your children, except as a history lesson. “Why are they shooting rockets at us?” isn’t a question you should ever hear from your child as you race home after ducking into a building to avoid Hamas launched rockets. As unnatural as the conversation was, I explained to my son that someone that never met us, Hamas, wanted us dead because of who we were — Jews in Israel.
It is these conversations that make fathers wonder if they’re helping their children better process a traumatic situation or adding to the trauma when they hear the fury, frustration and fear in their father’s voice.
The lesson of people hating us wasn’t the only lesson I taught my children this week. I explained the situation between Jews and Arabs is complex. I taught them there were bad people trying to kill us, but there were also innocent people on both sides of this conflict. These people — men, women and children — were caught up in a situation they had no control over. Just as our family experienced air raid sirens and explosions, there were children in Gaza who were going through the same feelings we were experiencing.
Every parent has a responsibility to teach their children empathy towards other people. Teaching only about enemies and those we disagree with creates cold children unable to reach for a better world than military victory. To create caring and kind children, we must teach them empathy for other people.
Late at night, after my children had gone to sleep, and the news of air raid sirens going off and rockets launched from Gaza had begun coming in, I’d turn on my computer to read the news. There never were good headlines, the best I could hope for was Iron Dome hits and Hamas rockets missing their mark. I found it impossible to go to sleep, and I’d turn to social media to distract myself from my own fears. Unfortunately, I’d find hate-filled comments to some of my posts — and most weren’t from anonymous Palestinians, but from fellow Jews in America accusing Israel and me of criminal war atrocities. I’d fall asleep feeling abandoned by my own people.
I find it perfectly acceptable to be critical of Israel’s policies. American Jews can disagree with Israel’s strategy on Gaza, and even on my living in Judea and Samaria (what the world calls the West Bank.) They can fault Israel for the recent flare up with Hamas. An American Jew can advocate for opening Gaza’s borders and creating a Palestinian State where I currently live — and I can disagree with them.
What I found completely unacceptable was the inability of many American Jews to demonstrate care and empathy for their fellow Jews in Israel who were experiencing rocket fire and pogroms. Plain decency demands a show of concern for people under attack, but so many of my American Jewish brothers and sisters couldn’t express that decency towards their own people. Over the past week, my family and I received over 500 messages expressing concern for our family. As a father, it was heartwarming knowing we weren’t alone. At the same time, I can’t ignore the lack of sympathy so many American Jews had for their Israeli brethren.
What hope do we have as a people when we can’t disagree with each other but still express sympathy for each other’s trauma? Our people need to learn to disagree but still care for each other — if not for our own sake, then for our children’s sake. We need to model empathy for them, so they can learn how to express it for others.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator and political commentator who teaches Israel political advocacy and Torah to students in American high schools and colleges. He focuses on bringing a nuanced perspective to all issues. Rabbi Pilichowski lives with his wife and children in Mitzpe Yericho, Israel.