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Talking with our Kids About Israel

Dear Families, There are no words, too many words, and not enough words. As we prepare for Hebrew School this week, I wanted to let you know how we would be addressing the events of this past weekend and the ongoing crisis in Israel. On Tuesday we will share a one sentence headline that there is a war happening in Israel, prior to singing and praying for peace as part of our Tefillah service. On Wednesday the 3rd - 5th grade will follow a similar plan to the younger students on Tuesday, but we will also mention the loss of life and include a place holder for mourners' kaddish. Children who may have questions or other things to share will be invited to come chat with me 1:1. On Wednesday 6th and 7th grade will have an open space to talk about how they are feeling as part of our Tefillah, which will focus on prayers for peace and comfort found within the siddur. It will not be a discussion designed to learn facts, but to validate feelings. As with the 3rd - 5th grade, my office door will remain open. Our primary job at PSJC Hebrew School is to create a safe and joyful space for Jewish learning and living. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to be in touch. Below you will find some words of wisdom from a few of my colleagues, as well as the message that Rabbi Carie sent out to the community last night. Throughout this week there will also be opportunities to gather in person. Please make sure you check your email tomorrow morning for updates on those events. May there be peace within your walls, security within your palaces. יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך Aileen


My colleague Beverly Lerner from Makom Community provides some useful guidance in how you may choose to talk to your children about Israel in the coming days and weeks. Use fewer words. No really, fewer. It could be as simple as sharing, “You might hear about there being a war happening in Israel. Let me know if you have any questions.” Choose those words carefully. It’s okay not to say “kidnapped” or “rockets” when you’re talking with younger kids. They may not need details on the Iron Dome or where the rockets came from, unless they ask about it. When kids ask questions, answer the question they asked as literally as possible. When my 5 year old kiddo asked me, “What’s a war?” I told them, “It’s when people hurt each other because they think it will solve problems.” Both my kids reflected on how absurd that sounded! ...It’s powerful to share with kids that we’re having feelings, and it’s also worthwhile to remind them that the feelings of adults are never their responsibility to address. That could sound like this:I’m worried about friends I know in Israel living through a war. And I will still always be your safe grownup to talk to about anything. My feelings are never your job to fix. Sit in the quiet. After you share something like “There is war happening in Israel.” Wait for them to respond with feelings or questions. Or just follow the kids’ lead when they are ready to go back to watching TV or working on their art projects. They’ll come back to you with questions as they are ready over the days and weeks ahead. Parents of middle school students: You may want to additionally ask them what they’re hearing at school and offer to validate their feelings or help form responses if they want to. That could sound like this: Are you hearing anything at school from kids or teachers about the war in Israel? [They share.] Oh. That sounds tricky. How is that sitting with you? Did you respond? Do you want to if it comes up again? I’m always here to chat with you about whatever is on your mind.


From Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal, Central Synagogue Teens: Give them the facts, as much as you can, but more importantly, help them to find sources of news that they can trust, and teach them to ask questions about everything they see, especially on social media but in traditional media as well (true about Israel, but also always true). There are some horrible images and videos out there, so make sure you are on top of what your kids are seeing and monitor their mental health around what they are seeing and hearing. Remind your kids that you can help them process what they are seeing, and ask them to tell you or another trusted adult if they see or hear things that are difficult or that they don’t understand. Teens don’t always want to communicate, but this is a moment to keep checking in. Middle and Elementary School: Your kids likely know what is going on or they will hear about it in school or online. It is better if you are the one to tell them, so that you can give them a foundation for what they are hearing around them. Answer questions honestly, but don’t give more details than they need. Do not let them scroll social media unattended. There are a lot of terrible images and videos out there, and your kids will need context and support for what they are seeing. If you have family or friends in Israel and they are safe, reassure your child. If they are not, be honest about that too, with the right level of detail for your child. Lying about hard things makes it much worse when the truth comes out. Assure your children that they are safe. Early Childhood: Your kids likely know something is up, especially if you are upset. Be careful with news, podcasts, phone calls, etc and try, as much as you can, to keep things normal for your kids. If they ask questions, take a deep breath before you answer and try to answer with only the most necessary and straightforward language you can. Do not lie, but you do not need to give all the details. Assure them that they are safe. Parents: Give yourself some grace. This is a constantly changing, extremely traumatic situation. The best you can do is good. You are the expert on your children and your students and you will know what they need. This is hard.

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