Candy is a big thing on Shabbat mornings in Jerusalem. There’s the “candyman” at synagogue who always has a stash, the toffees thrown at the bar/bat mitzvah child after they finish reading their haftarah, gobbled up by children who dive for them moments after they are thrown. (The sliced apples I diligently peel and pack in Ziplocs for my kids is a scant second best to these sugary delights). And now it has come to the streets.
This week when we were walking home from synagogue, a man passed by my family and started divvying up sweets to my three kids. “I’m not their dad,” he said in a scratchy voice. So therefore I can ply them with sweets before lunch? I thought to myself. When he tried to shove the little toffee into the hands of my sleeping 2-year-old in the stroller, my todah (thank you) turned abrupt. My husband and I swiftly pocketed the stash, not giving it to our two other kids.
My 6-year-old protested. “I want the candy!”
When my husband deferred to me, “Imma will explain,” explain I did.
“Listen, Tamir. There are different kinds of people in the world. There are people in your family or friends and teachers who love you and care about you and only want what’s best for you. And then there are other people who you don’t know, and who don’t know you. They aren’t really thinking about what’s best for you, and so we don’t accept gifts from them even if it’s something we really want. OK?” I didn’t really expect him to agree.
The “no taking candy from strangers” policy of my childhood is ingrained in my maternal DNA. Images of darkened vans parked outside of schools, and grainy black-and-white pictures of missing children staring back at me on milk cartons as I slurped up cereal for breakfast in my grade school years still haunt me.
But now that we moved to Israel, I am thinking about whether I am overreacting.
It’s a different culture. Helicopter parenting is not a thing here. Parents give children strong roots, and children grow wings. They walk to and from school on their own from a young age and take on responsibility to care for younger siblings. My friends here even laughed with me before we came. If a child is alone on the street, they said, another adult will most certainly come up to her to see if she’s OK, and then spend the time to take care of her until they can track down her parents or caregivers. They aren’t strangers–think of them as temporary babysitters, they joked.
And now my son, whose main motivation was to get his hands on that sticky something in crinkly wrapper, sensed my ambivalence and said, “But Imma, in Israel there are no strangers, everyone cares about everyone else.”
My heart smiled. Yes, this is the Israel I want him to inhabit, especially in his early years. The Israel where he feels a sense of family and belonging. The impulse to say, “Shabbat Shalom,” to everyone you pass on the street because we are all connected. It is so much of why we moved here.
But rest assured, I still didn’t give him the candy.