There is No Good Way of Explaining Hate to Your Children

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My husband and I were both born and raised Jewish. We both identify strongly with our Jewish faith. Our children attend/ed Hebrew and religious school and all four will be Bar/Bat Mitzvahed (two down, two to go). Yet, for many reasons, the most prominent being that we had family members attending, we made the choice to send our children to an Episcopalian school. A school that explains in its mission statement: “Our goal as an Episcopal school is to nurture the spiritual development of each person and to welcome everyone to our community.” And for the most part, we have all found this to be true.

I truly believe that the anti-semitism which two of my children experienced at school has nothing to do with the school they attend. Anti-semitism can happen anywhere. I remember the shock I felt when my dad told me that he was called a “dirty Jew” in high school. I had not experienced anything like this until I was in the work force, attending a trade show for a public relations client. I was working my client’s booth with a salesperson, who during a conversation about sales, casually said, “Yeah, you do have to be really aware of those people who will try to Jew you down.” I stood there in silence, feeling like I had just gotten kicked in the chest and had the wind knocked out of me, and took a moment to think about how I would respond. I thought about saying nothing and just letting it blow over, but then I felt a very strong force pushing me to speak. “What do you mean by that,” I asked. “I am Jewish.” The look on this man’s face was one of shame and regret, and he quickly engaged in some frantic back-pedaling while I just stood, stared and let him attempt to squirm his way out of this very uncomfortable situation.

It is hard to explain to kids how to handle such ignorance. Like when my daughter, several years ago, came home in tears and told me how a boy had approached her at school around this time of year and announced, “Hey, it’s Hitler’s birthday today!” How do you explain to your child why someone would say something like this, let alone be connected to this type of information or feel the need to share it with anyone, especially someone Jewish? Or when she sat down at a lunch table next to a group of kids who started chanting, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” making sure that she could hear. How do you explain the “why” to my son who, during the Holocaust unit in his history class, was targeted by a boy who made horrendous remarks to him including, “Why don’t you go put yourself in an oven?” There is no explanation for why people hate for the sake of hating, or discriminate for the sake of discriminating. Did they learn this at home? From the media? We won’t know. I am sure they wouldn’t tell. But hate is out there. It bubbles under the surface, and unfortunately sometimes children are the victims as well as the perpetrators.

As parents, all we can do is to teach our kids tolerance, kindness and respect, but also give them the tools to stand up for themselves and for others if they experience or witness such injustices. I grew up in a home where all were welcome. Any person, of any color or any religion were welcome at our Passover seders, Hanukah dinners, or just to visit. My kids attend a school, where, all children are welcome, and the school does make it a priority to assure that every student actually feels this way. However, unfortunately, very unfortunately, for reasons that I still don’t comprehend or have the ability to explain to my children, anti-semitism, bigotry, racism and just plain hate will surface and distribute its poison, even in environments where tolerance is taught.

We talked about the tragedy in Boston at the dinner table tonight and how sad we all felt that a child and two others died, and that so many others were injured. I thought that maybe my younger children would ask, “Why?” But they didn’t. Maybe they already understand that there is no real answer to why people hate and why people hurt others. There simply is no justifiable explanation.

Comments

  1. It’s heartbreaking that our kids have to grow up with this hatred. Another student in my daughter’s class told a horrible Holocaust “joke,” and she told them she was Jewish and that the joke wasn’t the least bit funny. I’m proud of her for speaking up, but so saddened that the other kids at the table laughed. This intolerance and hatred comes from so many places, and you are right – there is no justifiable explanation.

    • It is sad that this happened to your daughter and that the other kids laughed. The fact that no one challenged the person telling the “joke” is almost as disturbing as the fact that the person told it. We experienced the same thing and I was shocked that other kids were fine being bystanders. I tell my kids that if they just stand back and watch someone do or say something mean to another kid, it is just as bad as doing it or saying it themselves.

  2. Julie, you have expressed so well exactly what I believe to be true . . . we cannot really explain hate to kids because it’s so impossible to understand it ourselves. I really love this post and will be sharing it.

    • Thanks, Nina. It took me a while to even be able to write about this as it was hard for me to process but I felt that it was necessary to share the messages with others. Thank you for doing that.

  3. I wish that knowing that there is hate and bigotry in the world wasn’t something that we just knew and accepted without reason. It’s true, but I wish that it wasn’t.

    • I wish for that too, Marta. But all we can do is instill good values in our own kids. Unfortunately, however, there usually will come a time when we have to explain to them or it will be apparent to them that there are those who will not be as open and accepting of others as we hope they are.

  4. As part of an interfaith marriage, we go out of our way to teach our kids about acceptance and non-judgmental behavior. It’s not easy, especially when they have peers who are taught otherwise. It’s funny you mentioned your seders and welcoming people of all religions, colors, etc. My parents were the same way, always inviting friends who were non-Jewish to our seders. It sent the right message to us and I try to do the same with my kids.

    • Emily, it is really hard when, like you said, when we know that other parents are not teaching acceptance and non-judgement when it comes to religious beliefs and race. But as a really good friend of mine said to once and I tell my kids all the time, “If you will be like them, who will be like you?”

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