Aterrible thing has happened. Jewish terrorists firebombed a Palestinian house, and a little baby is dead, an entire universe broken.
Throughout Israel, the condemnation echoes across cities, through deserts, over hills, and along rivers, through small towns, and shopping malls, over coffee, at the kids’ preschool.
But how empty is that echo.
It is no longer enough to condemn these attacks, and say we are brokenhearted. This will not change anything.
It is no longer enough to merely seek the perpetrators and bring them to justice. They are merely the noxious pus of a deep, festering wound.
It is not enough to say that we, the Jewish people, the people of Israel do not condone these acts carried out by mad people, with “hate in their hearts.”
Because people don’t simply “have” hate in their hearts.
It doesn’t “just happen.”
Hate stems from fear — some real, some imagined, and it begins with our kids.
I have two kids. A sweet girl with scabby knees who scales the monkey bars and wants to be a mermaid when she grows up, and a beamish boy who loves to sing and take apart watches and old radios and put them together again. My kids go to a school in the middle of the country. It’s lovely. They learn to folk dance and take care of bunny rabbits. My daughter can read — and she reads to her brother before bed each night. Next year, she’ll learn to play piano, and he’ll take a class on how to build robots.
But you know what’s missing? Arab kids.
And that’s a big problem.
The good news: The schools in Israel do not promote racism. There are no songs or prayers calling for us to destroy our enemy. And our kids are told that “hating others who are different is bad.”
The bad news: Teaching that hatred and racism and bigotry are wrong is not enough. It’s too conceptual, theoretical, too cerebral. It’s a no-brainer with no practicum.
Because our kids grow up separated from Arabs. And all they learn is what they glimpse on forays for hummus at Samir’s in Ramle, and it isn’t enough. All they learn is what they’ll see on TV when there’s a war, and that’s too much.
And yes, it works both ways. Arab children grow up separated from us, fearing us and hating us.
Our kids don’t even have the words.
Yes, it’s true: Most Israelis know a few words in Arabic. “Open the door!” “Put your hands in the air!” “Drop your weapon, or I’ll shoot.”
And sadly, yes, these phrases are necessary when you’re in serving in the IDF because, yes, Virginia, there are terrorists. And yes, they want to kill you.
And yes, you can learn Arabic in school — or you can choose to learn French instead. But it isn’t mandatory. (“Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up in the army, heh heh.”)
And yes, children in Israel might trace their fingers around the script, the loops, the curls, under and over, and back again, they might know a few words (certainly the dirty ones) but when we can’t speak the other official language (let me repeat, the other official language) of our shared country, how can we ever expect to get beyond the necessary commands “Open the door!” “Put your hands in the air!” “Drop your weapon, or I’ll shoot”?
So yes: Damn right I want more for my kids than “the basics.”
But more than just words, I want them to have a real opportunity to meet Arab kids — kids who may pray differently, but who probably enjoy the same snacks. Kids whose first words were in a different language, but probably love swimming in the same big blue sea. Kids who may be shy at first — as my kids will be, too — but who will find common ground because kids always do when given that chance.
We need more from our leaders — not just condemnation, we need mandatory programs that force us to get to know one another in a safe environment, where trust begins.
Even on the smallest scale, it can save a universe.