Many Jewish families take their children to Israel to strengthen their children’s Jewish identities. I, as a Jewish mother, instead took my children to Palestine. Rather than touring the modern Israeli city of Tel Aviv, we toured the heavily occupied West Bank city of Hebron. Rather than going to Israeli resorts to float in the dead sea, we took infrequent “Arabic showers” where water for bathing is heated on the stove because fuel is too expensive to have continuous running hot water. Instead of going to the Ayalon Institute, a Tel Aviv museum of munitions productions from 1945 to 1948, we picked up the tear gas canisters and rubber bullet casings that scatter the ground in West Bank villages.
Why, as a Jewish mother would I choose this option for my children? Isn’t this a terrible choice for a children’s vacation and shouldn’t adolescent American Jewish children be shielded from the ugly realities of war and oppression, allowed simply to enjoy themselves in Israel without the knowledge of what goes on the other side of the Separation Wall?
Zionist narratives permeate Hebrew schools and Jewish summer camps across America. They teach Jewish children to celebrate the founding of the modern nation state of Israel and that mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Forces is an honor and sacrifice that Israeli youth make for the sake of all Jews throughout the world. As participants in Hebrew school and Jewish summer camp, my children have already been heavily exposed to this Zionist propaganda. I wanted them to see with their own eyes the truth of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and meet with their hearts and bodies the thoughtful and kind human beings, who are just like them, but suffer everyday from Israel’s military occupation.
The Sh’ma, one of the most important prayers of Judaism, begins with, “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One”. It goes on to says, “And you shall love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children,…”
For me, diligently teaching this to my children means passing down to them the responsibility to work for justice. This is especially important when injustice is being perpetrated in their names as Jews. It was for this reason that instead of simply taking my children to see Israel and pray at the Wailing Wall, I instead took them to see Palestine and protest at the Apartheid Wall.
*For clarification, our visit to Palestine/Israel included going to places of historic Jewish religious significance, such as the Wailing Wall, and was filled with incredibly joyful and rich experiences of human connection, historical meaning, and family bonding.
**A special heartfelt thanks to Katya, for joining us on this incredible journey.
** For clarification, our visit to Palestine/Israel included going to places of historic Jewish religious significance, such as the Wailing Wall, and incredibly joyful and rich experiences of human connection, historical meaning, and family bonding.