Therefore, mortal, get yourself gear for exile…” Ezekiel 12:3

My friend and colleague Danya Ruttenberg recently wrote a powerful essay called “Parenting for the Resistance” in which she describes one practice by which she is teaching her son to act against the norms of a Trumpian age. She packs a note in his lunchbox everyday with a specific ask. (Its a great piece and you should read it.) The essay reminded me of notes I sent with my daughter Shachar (who is now in college), when she went off on her sixth grade trip to Israel. I don’t often write about my children (and I got permission from her for this blog post), but Danya’s piece pushed me to realize that explicitly parenting for the resistance is now an obligation—and nobody can do it on their own, we need to start sharing best practices. [pullquote] Danya’s piece pushed me to realize that explicitly parenting for the resistance is now an obligation—and nobody can do it on their own, we need to start sharing best practices.
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My daughter went to a Conservative Day School until eighth grade. While there were many things to recommend it, I had given up on trying to impact the way they taught about Israel by the third grade. My partner and I relied on the fact that our conversations with Shachar, and the conversations she heard around our Shabbat table would be enough counterprogramming. (As Gershom Gorenberg has said: “If you don’t brainwash your own child, somebody else will.”) Every once in a while I got some hard evidence of success, like the time that Shachar told me that she asked her teacher: “But isn’t Yom Yerushalayim a sad day for the Palestinians?” [pullquote align=left] I wanted Shachar to experience Israel. To get to know a different country and culture. To spend a significant amount of time with kids whose day to day reality was very differen than hers. I was, however, wary of the educational lessons that might be imparted about Israel, the Occupation, and the Palestinians.
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In sixth grade, Shachar’s school (as many other day schools) have an exchange program with an Israeli school. A sixth grade class from Tel Aviv comes to Los Angeles for a week in the fall, and then the Los Angeles students go to Tel Aviv for a week in the Spring. The spring visit is very strategically planned to coincide with Yom Hashoah/Holocaust remembrance day (their first full day in Israel) and the back to back commemorations of Yom Hazikaron/Memorial Day and Yom Ha-atzmaut/Israel Independence Day. In between they spend a Shabbat in Jerusalem without the host school kids (because, apparently, there is no Shabbat in Tel Aviv).

I wanted Shachar to experience Israel. To get to know a different country and culture. To spend a significant amount of time with kids whose day to day reality was very differen than hers. I was, however, wary of the educational lessons that might be imparted about Israel, the Occupation, and the Palestinians.

To make sure that Shachar had an alternative frame to the one she would be given by the trip leaders and teachers, I did two things. First, I sent notes with her for every day of her trip. The notes themselves, as I remember it, were not my my idea. I think that the school suggested them to prevent or ameliorate homesickness. I wrote each note corresponding to the day of the counting of the Omer (the forty nine day period between the first day of Passover and the beginning of Shavuot), and cued to the activity of the day. The notes on the whole were to help her frame her experiences, and to push her to think about the trip also through a spiritual or religious frame.

The note for Friday April 24, the day the class travelled to Jerusalem read as follows:

Dearest Shachar,

Oh MY God!! ירושלים!! [Jerusalem] We have spent so many wonderful years in ירושלים! It is a place where you can connect to the chain that leads you all the way back to the beginning. To אברהם [Abraham] taking יצחק [Isaac] up the mountain and God telling him to stop. To Jacob’s dream. To the בית המקדש [the Temple]. When שבת [Shabbat] comes in in Jerusalem it is as if the whole world is resting.

ירושלים [Jerusalem] is also, as you know, home to many, many Palestinians who dream different dreams than you do but also dream of peace.

Today is the sixteenth day of the Omer. גבורה שבתפארת the courage in the beauty. Today is the day to courageously see the beauty of Jerusalem in all its diversity—as the beautiful city that is holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

We love you very much,

I very much wanted Shachar to be overwhelmed by the holiness of the Holy City, but at the very same time I wanted her to remember that the City was home to Jews and Muslims and Christians, to both Israelis and Palestinians.

For Monday, back in Tel Aviv at the Magen School, I wrote the following:

Dearest Shachar,

Good morning Boobah!! Is it as hard to get up in Tel Aviv as it is in Los Angeles? How are the two cities the same? different? Do you like walking to school? We are sending you massive hugs and tons of kisses.

In Magen today you will be having a ceremony for יום הזיכרון [Yom Hazikaron]. Some very good friends of mine were killed in Lebanon. That’s when I started understanding that war is never really worth it in the end. Please think of my friends during the ceremony.

Today is the nineteenth day of the Omer. הוד שבתפארת, the glory in the beauty. What beauty will you see today that is glorious? That you can glory in? What part of your own beauty do you glory in?

We love you so much and can’t wait to see you,

My hope was that Shachar would not be swept up in the glorification of war deaths, but that the human connection through me to actual people who died would have an effect of grounding the memorial, at least slightly, in the pain of the actual.

In addition to these notes I sent with her an article that I had written for the Daily Beast called “How I lost my Zionism.” I hoped that the final lines of that essay, which she read in Jerusalem, would impact her experience:

It is immoral to deny the Palestinian people a homeland. It is immoral to deny Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel full and equal rights de facto and not only de jure. It is immoral and delusional for the American Jewish community to indulge in conversations about whether or not the Palestinian people exists. The exuberant nationalist Zionism of my youth, of making the desert bloom and conquering the swamps, of building a country in an empty land against all odds is, of necessity, gone—shoved aside, as it should be, by the reality that is the real thriving State of Israel and the nascent State of Palestine struggling for existence. The challenges of the future are rooted in the reality of the present, the issues of justice, and not the myths of the past.

Shachar is now a young adult and making political (and other decisions) on her own. I am very proud of who she has become, and can never know how much credit I might take for any of her political decisions. I pray that she has the tools she needs for the dark period ahead.