Anti-Semitism has always existed, of course. But lately we were reminded of just how jarring it is, how terrifying and how close, with recent vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis, plus the bomb threats called into Jewish centers across the country. Closer to home, a swastika was painted on an Arlington bike path a few days ago. And these are just a few examples.
So what do we tell our kids? How do we explain these acts as something that can be interpreted and resisted, maybe even through faith? Rabbi Rachel Silverman from Sharon’s Temple Israel shares ideas.
For young kids, Silverman recommends Dr. Seuss‘s “The Sneetches and Other Stories,” an illustrated, lighter-hearted look at prejudice and how silly it is. For a less allegorical take, she likes “The Whispering Town,” a story of a Danish family who shelter a Jewish family during the Holocaust despite their neighbors’ suspicions.
On checking in after school
“I’m a fan of using language about being an ‘upstander’ rather than a ‘bystander,'” Silverman says. “When we talk to our kids about their days, instead of just asking how school was, we can ask questions like, ‘How were you an upstander today? How were you kind today?'”
While this might not directly relate to anti-Semitism or prejudice, it sets the stage for courageous behavior should the situation arise, even if it applies to something as ordinary as a spat on the playground. (And hopefully it only does.)
On Judaism’s teachings
“The Torah reminds us many, many more times to protect the stranger, the widow, and the orphan, the most vulnerable members of our society. It tells us about this more than keeping Shabbat, keeping kosher,” Silverman says. “It’s a hard commandment to follow, but the many reminders demonstrate how important it is.”
Leviticus 19, verse 18, teaches us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This might seem obvious, she says, but “the Torah includes loving one another as a mitzvah precisely because our actions don’t indicate that it is obvious for us. At times, it’s easier to keep Shabbat, make sure our weights are fair and to build a parapet around our roofs than it is to see the humanity in others. Many of the mitzvot are checklist-like; we take care of them by doing them once, or once in a while, and can check them off our list. Not so with loving one another,” she says.
On exposing kids to differences
It’s helpful to talk about being an upstander and to explain why anti-Semitism is wrong. But also try to live it. Expose your kids to people who aren’t like themselves, too, whether it’s through volunteering or travel or reading. Do whatever feels comfortable for your family, but exposing them to diversity will make them appreciate their own.
Silverman likes this quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
: “I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Then I realized that it’s easy to love your neighbor because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose color, culture, or creed is different from yours. That’s why the command, ‘Love the stranger because you were once strangers resonates so often throughout the Bible.”