“Mom, how come God allows them to shoot rockets? Why doesn’t he just stop them? Mom, what would happen if a rocket hit our home? Mom, what if Ari’s dad has to go to the war? Could he die there? Can children also die? Mom, what if the siren goes off when you are outside? Why are they throwing stones at the light rail? Mom, why? Mom, why?”
As a mother (or father), at some point – sooner or later – you are faced with difficult questions. Questions like, “Where does the wind come from?” or, “Why don’t dogs speak like us?” But when you are a mother in a country like Israel, you are also faced with much, much more difficult questions. Questions you don’t know the answers to – or even when you know the answer, you don’t want to tell your child. And then there are questions that you don’t have an answer to, no matter how much you wish you did. All you can say is, “I don’t know,” and hope that will be enough.
We live with our children in Jerusalem, where it has been relatively quiet and peaceful – at least compared to some cities near the Gaza border. Our children have not had to get used to sirens or rockets. Not until last summer. Before the rockets, there was already severe unrest in the nearby Arab neighborhoods. There were demonstrations, the light rail stops were burned down, rocks were thrown, and fireworks were shot at the police. Our children knew there was something unusual going on in the city, but luckily most of it was happening in the late evenings, when they were already asleep in their beds. My husband and I stayed up, sitting on our balcony and listening to the noise coming from the other neighborhoods. And we were thinking about how to handle the situation: How much we should tell the children? Were we in any danger? Were our children in any danger, physical or emotional? Then Operation Protective Edge began, and the rockets and sirens made it clear to our children that something was indeed going on.
That was when the difficult questions really began. Our children are old enough to understand that hearing sirens and going to a shelter is not just some fun new game. And of course they could see that their parents were really worried. We were not worried so much about our safety, though, but about our children’s sense of security. Would they feel safe despite all the things going on around us? Would they feel safe even when we didn’t have the answers to their questions? Would they still trust that we had the situation under control when at times even we didn’t feel that way?
Trusting. Having trust. Can I, as a mother, trust that God has everything under control? Can I trust that God will keep me and my family safe? Can I trust that he has a perfect plan and that we are in his hands? And even if I can trust, am I able to pass that trust to my children? Am I able to assure them that God will take care of everything, that even though Mom can’t promise that the rockets won’t hit us, we can still trust God to protect us?
I know that I wasn’t and am not alone with these questions. Unfortunately, there are many mothers and fathers here in Israel who have had to face the same questions. Some of them have had to live with this situation for years. For some of them – like us – the situation is new. But all of us are faced with the same challenge: how to assure our children that we can always trust in God, and that God does keep us safe. We cannot promise our children that nothing bad will ever happen to us. We live in a world where bad things do happen, even to believers. But at the same time we can trust in God, who has promised he will look after us. He has promised that nothing will happen to us without him knowing and allowing it to happen. We, as the parents, can also ask God to give us wisdom. We can ask him to give us the right words when we answer our children’s questions. And we can ask him to give us the wisdom to know how to protect our children from information that is too much for them to handle. Most importantly, we trust that he will protect our children’s bodies and minds.
For years, Caspari Center has held Shabbat school teachers seminars in order to help train teachers and give them fresh new ideas. In seminars Caspari held this fall and winter, there were some lectures and workshops on subjects related to the security situation in the country. Many of the children in Shabbat school classes have questions similar to my children’s. Some of the children, especially the ones living in southern Israel, may have experienced real trauma. Some of the children have lived months and years under rocket fire from Gaza, and they have had to get used to the sirens. Since the teachers are not the only ones dealing with the children and their questions, for the first time one of our seminars in the south was also open to parents. In the seminar, the parents and teachers were given some valuable tools for handling the situation with children. One of the important messages was to always tell children the truth about the situation (taking into account the age of the child), so that they won’t use their imagination to fill in the gaps. And most importantly, the parents and teachers were reminded to help the children trust in God, no matter what the situation is.
I was sure that our children would have some trauma after all they went through during Operation Protective Edge (which here in Jerusalem was nothing, really, compared to children living in Tel Aviv or southern Israel). When we were abroad visiting family last summer, while the war here in Israel was still going on, the first thing our children told their grandparents was, “They were shooting rockets!” and the second thing was, “We have a new kitten!” A few weeks later, there wasn’t any more talk about the rockets or sirens. When a friend of ours purposefully tried to find out how traumatized the children were, she had to have a long, long talk with them before they mentioned the rockets. So it seems that God did protect them and their minds. And we, as parents, can have that same trust in God.