My oldest starts kindergarten this year, and one thing I did not anticipate ever thinking about was the possibility of anti-Semitism.
Recently, I have heard stories of it in our school district and it honestly is freaking me out. I was the “lone Jew” in my class going to my public school on the East Coast, but I never experienced anti-Semitism. Rather than being an outcast, my friends wanted to learn from me. My girls know they are Jewish and we are very proud of our Jewish heritage, culture and traditions, and I’m teaching them they’re unique.
But in preparation for starting school in the Midwest, I have told my daughter not many people are Jewish. I present the situation positively saying she can teach her classmates about our traditions and holidays, the same way they can tell her about their holidays. She knows we don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s not a part of our religion. This kicked off a conversation about Purim and Hanukkah being her favorites for the hamantaschen cookies we bake together and lighting the menorah.
As a kid, I certainly had Christmas envy, but I got over it when my best friends included me in their holiday celebrations like baking cookies and decorating their Christmas trees. I just took Christmas merriment as a fact of life every December. I envision my girls doing the same with their friends and I’m sure we’ll invite their non-Jewish friends over to celebrate our holidays too!
Still, especially these days, I cannot shake the thought of my kids becoming the potential target of hate because of our religion. I try to remember, so I can teach them, this kind of hate has nothing to do with religion. It’s about others not being able to tolerate something different than what they know. It’s not about us, it’s about them.
Furthermore, hate starts in the home, not in school. Nobody is born with ignorance; it’s learned. I certainly anticipate the school will have a fair culture and safe environment for students, but parents are accountable for what happens in the home and the attitudes they teach their kids. I teach my child about loving and accepting all different kinds of people (like different religions, ethnicities, and the LGBTQ community) and I hope other parents are doing the same with their kids.
I hope, but I can’t be sure. This is the moment I accept I cannot shield my girls from life, good or bad. I can only prepare them with how to react with love and sympathy. How sad must it be for a child to spew hate at such a tender age? What’s going on in their home life?
With all things in life, the best I can do is be an example for my kids, especially how to react in untoward situations while remaining true to yourself. The thought of someone hurting my child in any way makes a part of me fly into a hormone-fueled rage, but this kind of reaction will not solve anything.
Love is the answer, and finding the soft spot in my heart for another child who is in need of love too. Truthfully, I don’t know what I would do if I learn there is hate or bullying of any sort in school—but at the very least, I can pledge I will not fight hate with hate.