Writing
9 months ago • Oct 9, 2023

Talking to kids about Israel

By
Rabbi Ronit Tsadok and Rebecca Berger

Dear Families,

Our hearts are shattered by Hamas’s brutal coordinated terror attacks, including the slaughter and kidnapping of hundreds of Israelis.  Click here to listen to Rabbi Brous’ reflections on this past Shabbat.

As parents, it can be difficult to know how to speak with our children about what is happening especially as we ourselves are trying to make sense of the continuing tragedy. The following are resources and suggestions for family conversations. We plan to take time in Limudim tomorrow to talk about Israel. Please see below for what those conversations will look like in each class.

We also want to assure you that our highly skilled security team is in direct conversation with the Community Security Initiative (CSI) of the Jewish Federation. We have full confidence in their ability to keep us safe.

Talk to your kids. 
Some of us might worry that bringing up difficult topics with our children can be scary or even traumatizing. Dr. Sivan Zakai, a thought leader in Israel education, writes: “Research has shown that watching traumatizing events on repeat can be very unhealthy for children, but talking to children about troubling current events doesn’t make kids more traumatized. It actually helps them cope with living in a world in which troubling current events occur. Help your children learn to navigate the shards of our broken world; the first step is a conversation.” Read her article, How to Talk to Kids about What’s Happening in Israel Right Now, for suggested language for kids of all ages.

How to Start a Conversation. 
Kids pick up on our emotions and it can feel disconcerting to them if they don’t understand why their parents are sad/anxious/afraid. In her book “Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be,” Dr. Becky Kennedy offers this advice for how to talk about hard truths: “I often say something like, ‘I want to talk about something that we’ll all have big feelings about.’ Say this slowly and with eye contact. Afterward, take a deep breath—this will ground your body and also give your child an opportunity to ‘borrow’ this regulation from you in a tough moment. Next, use real words to describe what is happening…After you’ve delivered a hard truth, pause. Before giving more information, check in with your child. You might ask, ‘How does it feel to talk about this?’ or say, ‘It’s okay to be sad about this. I feel sad too.’”

What to Say to Young Kids. 
Tell the truth, but keep it brief. You might say something like, “On Saturday, fighting started in Israel. There are a lot of people in Israel and in America who are working hard to end the fighting and keep everyone safe.” Answer kids’ questions honestly, but they don’t need to know a lot of details. As much as possible, keep them away from news, social media, and podcasts that might scare them. Assure them that they are safe.

What to say to Elementary and Middle School Kids. 
Our kids have likely picked up that something is going on (whether we tell them or not). Students who were in the IKAR service on Shabbat morning might have heard our rabbis speak about the situation. Ask your child what they know, and answer their specific questions with basic facts. Try to speak with nuance. For example, explain that Hamas – a terrorist group – does not represent all Palestinians. Assure kids that they are safe. Speak honestly about what is happening with your friends and family in Israel.  Try to keep kids away from the news and social media. Encourage kids to come to you or other trusted adults with questions or for information.

Limudim tomorrow 
We want to create a supportive space for your children to share their feelings during this time and will take a few minutes at the beginning of Limudim for each class to have a brief discussion. After establishing guidelines for courageous conversations, here is how our teachers will approach the conversation tomorrow:

  • K-2nd: Teachers will let kids know that this weekend fighting started in Israel. Many people are thinking about Israel and there are a lot of adults in Israel and in America who are working hard to keep everyone safe. Teachers will assure kids that they are safe. Teachers will invite kids to share their feelings and offer blessings or hopes for Israel.
  • 3rd-5th:  Teachers will share that on Saturday, Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, attacked Israel. Many Israelis and Palestinians have died. People are still fighting. They will invite kids to ask questions and share their feelings. Teachers will assure kids that they are safe and invite kids to share hopes or blessings for Israel.
  • 6th-7th:  Teachers will share that on Saturday, Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, attacked Israel. Many Israelis and Palestinians have died. People are still fighting. They will invite kids to ask questions and share their feelings. Teachers will assure kids that they are safe. They will end with blessings for Israel. We know that middle school students have greater access to social media and the internet and many have likely seen graphic and horrifying photos and videos circulating. We will speak about the importance of turning to parents and teachers for information and to ask questions.

We will also gather as a school from 4:45-5:00 on the rooftop to sing Hatikvah and offer blessings for Israel. Parents are welcome to join us. We look forward to seeing your children tomorrow and being in community together. May the one who brings peace on high bring peace to our people and all people. Amen.

With love,
Rabbi Tsadok and Rebecca