(Kveller via JTA) – I don’t know what to tell my eight-year-old.
My 15-year-old was the one who told me about the horrific shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday morning. She’s got her phone set up for auto alerts from CNN, so she had the details before I did. Which isn’t unusual for her: She monitors the news, the commentary, the analysis. She’s not shocked or surprised – or even all that phased by it, really. This is what she’s used to.
Since 2016, my girl has lost her political innocence. People shoot Jews. They shoot everyone, really, but the fact that Jews are singled out is no surprise for her. She’s a high school sophomore coming of age in the era of Parkland and of the JCC bomb threats. Of Charlottesville. I think back, trying to remember when she became so inured to all of this. I think it was Parkland that changed things for her. It had to. How else would she have gone into school the next day? We’re raising a generation of kids who are so used to these shootings, they’ve accepted the horror. She’s waiting for the day when she’s old enough to vote, old enough to make a difference. She tells me that it’ll get better, her generation is going to be the most politically active one yet. I hope she’s right.
But my baby – my eight-year-old – I still don’t know how to tell her about what happened. I don’t want her afraid to go to synagogue, afraid to be openly Jewish. I don’t want her to think about what happened and relate it to what we do every single Saturday. I want her to dance into the synagogue like it’s the safest place in the world. Because for her, it is. Or, it was. She learned to crawl in the child care room. She plays hide and seek in the sanctuary and knows where the rabbi hides the lollipops she hands out after Shabbat services. She’s sat through her sister’s bat mitzvah lessons, her dad’s Brotherhood meetings and she helps me run the toddler program once a month. The synagogue is like home for her.
How do I make sure she’s not afraid when I am?
I converted to Judaism, and I’m not used to this. I find that my husband and my friends who grew up Jewish aren’t surprised by this. They’re horrified, they’re enraged – but not surprised. Not unlike my 15-year-old. Anti-Semitism has always been there, they tell me. It was always a part of the story, just not always as openly as it is now. I’m consistently shocked that this is happening today, in 2018.
My youngest daughter is still relatively innocent – as innocent as an eight-year-old with four older siblings can be, I guess. She’s well versed in the political world we live in, fluent in subjects that the average third-grader isn’t. I’ve never shied away from the tough conversations with any of my kids. We’ve talked about anti-Semitism, Anne Frank and the Holocaust. But she doesn’t know that on a Saturday morning, at a synagogue just like ours, someone came in with a gun screaming that all Jews must die.
She’s already growing up so much faster than I’d like. She’s already learned more than I ever wanted her to learn about how cruel the world can be. She’s seen the caravan of migrants, of children taken from their parents and sobbing. We can’t shelter our children from everything. I know that. This is her world – our world – today. I know how fast children can go from blithe innocence to turning on the CNN alerts and seeking out the news because we’ve taught them that knowledge is power.
But I don’t know how to make this OK for her. I don’t know how to raise a child to feel safe and secure and know that on a Saturday morning, at a synagogue just like ours, the unthinkable happened. For no reason, and with no warning. I don’t know how to explain it to myself.
Melissa Cohen is a mom and freelance writer living in central Massachusetts. She has been blogging since 2008 at melissaannecohen.com, and has been published in CJVoices, InterfaithFamily, Mothering and BlogHer.
Kveller is a thriving community of women and parents who convene online to share, celebrate and commiserate their experiences of raising kids through a Jewish lens. Visit www.Kveller.com.