Early Childhood Parenting Young Children

My Jewish Child is Afraid of Being Hunted

Recently, my 3rd grader wrote a beautiful card to send to Israel and took it around the synagogue to gather signatures. It was sweet and heartwarming and I felt all warm and fuzzy and optimistic for a moment.
my stomach dropped when my 1st grader warned us not to sign our last names. This heart-wrenching fear of antisemitism from my daughter reflects a concern that Jewish parents around the world know all too well. The language she innocently used reveals a sentiment to which many in our community can relate

I don’t want the bad guys to hunt me. I don’t want them to know we love Israel.

-6 year old

Discussing Israel Right Now is Really Hard

When I sat down with each of my children to talk about the somber reality of the conflict in Israel, my emotions spilled over. While comforting me, my optimistic eight-year-old tried to offer hope. However, it’s those haunting words of my six-year-old, fearing being “hunted” for loving Israel, that impelled me to seek ways to help her understand and cope.

Developing Coping Strategies Amidst Antisemitism

Feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand, my first step was to turn to excellent children’s literature: “The Worry (Less) Book” by Rachel Brian. It is fantastic resource to help families explore how to manage anxiety. She explains that anxiety can sometimes be understood as a ‘false alarm’ our body sends when we perceive something isn’t safe- and it is our task to honestly assess the situation and deal with the anxiety or the threat as needed. This anxiety she is experiencing is woefully rooted in a real threat.  It became clear, however, that my challenge required a more robust solution.

We’re all Struggling

I reached out to a few of my fellow Jewish parent friends, and we all talked about how much we’re struggling. They offered hugs and validation which are enormously valuable but still not enough. No one has an answer to solve this impossible problem- and we in America know we have it easy compared to the families in living through these horrors. Our hearts are heavy and our children notice.

Antisemitism is in The Rise in America

I’m struggling with the loss of innocence my child is experiencing, and I’m struggling to develop appropriate coping strategies myself. It is exceedingly difficult to be present and responsive to my child’s concerns about anti-semitism when I’m staving off  the stirrings of a panic attack sparked by the fact that she has real reason to worry. The ADL has documented a 388% increase in anti-semitic reports since Oct. 7. I don’t feel equipped to be as present and responsive as I want to be as I witness and support her processing because I’m also struggling to cope with our current reality. The complexity of dealing with anti-Semitism and its effects on young Jewish identities calls for a deepened and well-supported approach to coping and resilience.

Embracing Therapy for Emotional Resilience

The haunting concerns of my daughter, who started to lock doors as a shield against her fears, prompted me to reinforce our emotional defenses. I called a LCSW who has helped our family before for a consultation, and we decided it was time for my kiddo to get that specialized support that she needs to build the skills required to navigate this world. I turned to therapy—a decision to arm her with coping skills for anxieties, not just about anti-Semitism, but for any of life’s overwhelming moments. My kids are well aware that I have a therapist to help me sort through my feeling and communicate clearly, and I’m grateful she was enthusiastic about talking to someone because modeling is important to me.

This step towards talk therapy is a testament to our commitment to nurturing not just resilience in facing anti-Semitism but also in all of life’s overwhelming moments. It’s a path I encourage within the wider Jewish community as we guide our children through these difficult conversations. I’m so grateful that the Jewish community has stepped up a lot in terms of the mental health resources that have become available in the last decade.

Inspiring Action through Ancestral Stories

Amidst uncertainty, we draw upon the hopeful stories of our past- and our tradition is rich with stories of miraculous resistance. One of my favorite stories to share has been through reading Concert In The Sand, the true story of the creation of the Israel Philharmonic through the gathering of exiled musicians from around the world. The action we take is steeped in love—teaching our children to embrace humanity, to pray for peace, and to walk proudly with their Jewish identity. It is through these actions that we raise a generation committed to making the world a more harmonious place for everyone. This process underscores the vital role of joy and community support in Jewish life as we face challenges and build towards a future filled with hope and peace.

The Restorative Power of Jewish Joy

I am grateful that my children deeply experience a loving Jewish community and I’m leaning even more deeply into those connections because it helps me feel less afraid.  We attend Tot Shabbat, nurture relationships with other Jewish families, and sing ‘Modeh Ani’ (a prayer of gratitude) in the minivan on the way to school. This joy is a pillar in teaching my children about the resilience and wisdom inherent in our culture and history. Am Yisrael Chai.

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