I’m scared, and I have no idea how, or if, I should be sharing this fear with my children. With my daughter, specifically. She’s seven months away from her bat mitzvah. Luckily, it’s summer vacation and she’s not watching the news all that much. She’s not on Facebook like I am, with a newsfeed filled with reports of violence in Paris and endless updates about what’s happening in Israel.
See, I’m new to being Jewish. I wonder sometimes, five years after converting, if I’ll always feel somewhat new to being Jewish. I don’t have a protective, defensive shell built up. When I talk to my husband, to my friends who grew up Jewish, they aren’t shocked by the recent waves of anti-Semitism. They expect it, almost. One of the questions the beit din (rabbinical court) asked me before we went to the mikveh was why I would want to become Jewish. Why would I want to be a part of a group of people who were so often discriminated against and the object of so much hate? I replied that I felt like I already was Jewish: I was married to a Jewish man and raising Jewish children.
I didn’t really think it would happen. I thought anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. I knew the history, but I thought, naively, that the world was a different place now. There was the conflict in Israel, but that was half a world away. I didn’t expect to have to have these conversations with my children. My kids have had to defend their religion at school, where one little boy asked my first grader why the Jews had killed Jesus, and my daughter had several awkward conversations with another little boy who was legitimately concerned that she wasn’t going to heaven because she hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ in her life. My husband was attacked in the grocery store parking lot last year on Rosh Hashanah. He was wearing his yarmulke and apparently that was enough of an invitation for someone to start yelling at him about Hitler and that the Jews belonged in the gas chambers.
My kids were in the car that day.
So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I shouldn’t be so shocked at the reports coming out of Paris and Boston and all over the rest of the country. I shouldn’t feel so vulnerable when I read the comments that accompany the articles. But I am surprised, and I do feel incredibly vulnerable. I don’t know how much to tell my daughter. She’s months away from becoming a Jewish adult and I’m so proud of her. I’m so happy about her bat mitzvah and so proud of this maturity, but I don’t want her to feel like this. I don’t want her to know about what’s really going on in the world, I don’t want her reading about the crowds attacking synagogues and kosher stores in Paris (a city she’s dreamed of visiting).
How do you teach your child about hatred? How do you raise your child to be proud of her identity and not absorb the fear? I don’t want her to feel vulnerable and scared. I don’t want her to worry about being too openly Jewish, to hesitate before identifying herself as proudly pro-Israel, proudly Jewish. I don’t want her to feel afraid or like a victim. I want her Judaism to be a source of strength, not vulnerability.
Mostly, I want her not to expect it. I want her to feel like the world is this amazing, wonderful place and that people are good. I want her not to have that sense of “well-of-course-this-is-happening” that so many others do.
I want her to see the world the way that I did before converting. I want her to think of anti-Semitism as something that is a part of history, but a part of the past. Not her reality. Certainly not her future.
I know I don’t get to define Judaism for her. These things that terrify me are a part of being Jewish. This is her reality. It’s as much a part of being Jewish as having a really good challah recipe and knowing how to scrape candle wax out of the menorah. It’s just a part of being Jewish I didn’t think I’d have to teach her. But maybe she’ll be the one to teach me. She’s growing up Jewish, and her experience will be very different from mine. She’ll find a way to blend the idea that people are good and the world is a benevolent place with the reality that evil exists and the world isn’t always safe. And she’ll have to do it a lot earlier than I did. I just wish she didn’t have to.