The Jewish Chronicle
The conversation we dread having
MY WIFE and I are pretty honest with our kids. Knowing that drugs, body parts, sexuality exist, I guess the hope is that being matter of fact will provide them with the facts when it matters. Sure there’ve been a couple of fibs along the way, “Of course the youngest (of five) was planned”, “We treat you all exactly the same”, “Your hair’s not ginger it’s golden.” But we justify those as for their own good. While preparing your children for adulthood, you simultaneously try protecting them as long as you can, and some truths can damage.
Some truths though, you don’t know where to begin. Every parent has conversations they’re dreading having with their kids, but for Jewish parents, there’s one you wish you could put off forever. A few weeks ago, I started watching Band of Brothers with my eldest, which then meant with my three eldest, and as the episodes ticked off, and we discussed the themes regarding the harsh realities of war, I knew I was getting closer to the episode with the concentration camp, and a conversation I didn’t want to have, I shouldn’t have to have, I had to have.
I mean, how exactly do you explain Jew-hate to your kids? What being a Jew means to them — tzedakah, candles and blessings, mitzvot, special meals, kindly old and kindly young rabbis, running around shul — in what sane world would anyone have a problem with any of those things, let alone want to kill them for it? It’d be easier if there was some justification, if you could go, “Well kids, you know how we all run the world… you know how I’m really rich but I just hide it very well… you know how every time Israel’s mentioned in the news it’s for something positive because we control the media…” Instead, I bumbled through as best I could, tainting the world, tainting that which makes them different, and by their confused eyes, exposing the maddening irrationality that antisemitism is.
It must be so strange for them, that after a childhood of us ensuring, in playgroups, nursery, and primary school, that no one’s seen as different, that ethnicity, sex, nationality, disability play no part in delineating between their friends, it turns out actually there are differences after all, they’re different. It could be argued that in some ways they’re fortunate, in the increasingly popular parlance, privileged. Unlike other groups, unlike their ancestors, unlike their more visibly Jewish brethren, it’s just a TV show that precipitates an unwelcome conversation about unwelcome realities. Sending my children to Jewish schools I sought to protect them from the mocking swastikas, sieg heils and gas noises of my own school life. But reality has been bleeding into our lives anyway for quite some time now, background noise buzzing away that you only notice how loud it’s become when pointed out.
It’s why when Wiley’s song Boasty, our summer anthem from a few years ago, comes on the shuffle I immediately forward it. It’s why I dragged them around dropping leaflets to ensure a political party, later found to have acted unlawfully against Jews, wouldn’t get into power. It’s why their parents were so distracted and upset at the time, why they spent so much time on social media arguing, highlighting, fighting to be heard. Why they were dragged on a Sunday to protest at the Houses of Parliament. Why there are close family friends that they no longer see. Why I might grimace after checking an incoming email, stumbling back into a conversation about Teen Titans as I try not to react to abuse from a racist troll.
Maybe some realities I’ll continue to conceal a little while longer. They can put the puzzle together in their own time. Maybe one day they’ll notice that it’s only their schools that have extensive gates and security guards. Their places of worship as well. And sadly they’ll understand why they’re necessary, these measures just to ensure they can learn safely. Pray safely. But when that happens, hopefully they’ll have learned another lesson to go along with the bigotry of ignorance. Something represented by the Book of Esther. Something represented by other books, as my son reads Keren David’s What We’re Scared Of, while I devour David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count. Something represented by the brave Jewish students in Bristol. They’ll learn that you can do something about it. And they’ll learn that we never have, and we never will, let the hatred