“Help.” “I feel lost.” “I do not know what to think or do.” “This may not be okay in the end.”
These are things every parent feels from time to time. A lot of the time, in fact. But they are precisely the sentiments we almost never want to show our kids. They look to us for security, for serenity, for solace. To know that they are safe in the world, and that by extension, the world is and will be safe for them. At least until they are able to navigate it themselves. During this reflective and confessional High Holiday season, and on the 14th anniversary of 9/11, I confront here the brutal fact that I often fail to deliver that sense of security — yet realize perhaps we all have?
The search for parental security and assurance consumes much of our kids’ life energy when they are young, and it remains there even as they get older and try to pretend otherwise. Much of what I have been writing over the past months in the series has been an effort to figure out how to do this. How to show my boys that they are safe in a complicated world, and that I will make it so. To know that I will get hard questions or face hard issues about that safety and hopefully have a sense for how to respond. Especially when it comes to Israel, which we now plan to visit in December.
I have been writing in large part to find a way to portray not a hollow, masculine, often senseless illusion of security – for that is what a Netanyahu-focused response would revert to – but a solid and sentient footing that can take root in exactly what is uncomfortable and needs to be worked through over and over again. Safety through struggle, reflection, and reassurance, rather than force, bravado, and avoidance.
It is terribly hard to do, and those voices – “Help.” “I feel lost.” – are ever present, bringing me to an overriding sense of failure.
That sense of failure and being lost will shadow me in synagogue in the coming weeks, driven not only by the reality of the world around us, but the specific words of three luminous figures: President Obama, David Grossman, and the author of the Hineni prayer. Words that tell me that I need to find a new way to portray security to my kids, to convey the uncertainty of our world, yet all the while to compel us to action in this world that fast feels like it’s slipping away and should be something we shield ourselves from rather than engage with.
Can I actually find these words? Here is what I will try to work from.
President Obama said not too long ago, when speaking of climate change and quoting Washington Governor Jay Inslee,[pullquote align=left] “We’re the first generation to feel the impact…and the last generation that can do something about it.”
[/pullquote] That feels precisely true of Israel and Palestine. Put this one simple way, when you talk about when peace will truly come to the region, many people will say you will need 100 years. Time enough to let the changes take effect and become reality over time.
Depending on how and what you count, it can be said that we have now had more or less 100 years of this destructive and violent policy of division, of conflict, of Occupation (indeed ,The Economist called the broader conflict “The Hundred Years War” back in 2009). And the result of this policy very much a reality. And it is not at all safe or okay for anyone. We can realize that completely now, and this extended generation of parents and children may well be the last who can truly do anything about it.
David Grossman realized this (again) when responding to the murder by arson in August of Ali Dawabsheh. He said in this grippingly honest piece that the rampage of the extreme right is very much the outcome of policies of Occupation, taken to new levels by Netanyahu, where “there are two kinds of people, and the fact that one is apparently subordinate to the other means that is naturally also inferior to the other.” And as a result, their mere existence justified their murder to the settler who committed the act.
Grossman concludes with words revealing an incredible sense of fear, of insecurity, of question:
For decades now, Israel has turned its dark side toward the Palestinians, but that darkness has infiltrated its own internal organs. This process has greatly accelerated since Netanyahu’s victory in the last election…Terrifying acts like the burning of a baby are ultimately a symptom of a much more profound illness. They signal to us Israelis how very serious our situation is. They tell us, with letters writ in fire, that the path to a better future is closing before us.
All the more direct for me, given that this was written in the aftermath of a horrific example of how parents struggle to keep their children safe, written by an author who himself tragically could not keep his son safe from death during military service in Lebanon.
So President Obama tells us we are the last generation who can bring change, and David Grossman says the time for that change is evaporating fast. Can I actually convince my kids they are safe in this world, safe enough to be a part of making that change?
I don’t know.
Perhaps the most stirring prayer of the upcoming High Holiday liturgy is the Hineni, where the leader of the congregation sings, as this wise rabbi has said, not with or to the congregation, but for them. Asking that the failures and sins of the leader not be borne on those being led. That the leader be allowed to facilitate teshuvah for everyone present, even though the leader needs it as well. And that Hashem still bring about peace to the world, even though those asking for it are imperfect.
[pullquote] So too do I stand before my own children at this time in the world, where so much action and healing are needed. Because I and so many others have failed, have sinned, and have brought us to this point in history.
[/pullquote] I hope they will see that I can say to them — “Help.” “I feel lost.” “I do not know what to think or do.” “This may not be okay in the end.” – and still somehow have them feel safe and secure knowing that my wife and I will always do all we can to protect them, to teach them, and to show them the path toward achieving what we ourselves didn’t reach.
Just as the Hineni author and every chazzan who recites it yearn for the assembled to reach a place in themselves and in the world beyond where the chazzan alone could take them, may my children do the same.
Hineni, for my boys and for this last/first generation.