My heart hurts. Have you heard the saying that you are only as happy as your saddest child? Well, my saddest child isn’t sad; my child thinks that this is the way the “real world” is, and to me, that is so sad. We are Jewish. We identify with our heritage through prayer, yes, but also through language (those Yiddish words that get thrown into our everyday speech in my house), through food, through friends, through family stories, and through community. Well, not that last one for him. If school is his community – where he spends 10 months a year – then his community is not does not want Jews to be included. In fact, what he is experiencing is anti-Jewish. Anti-Semitism is alive and well in our “happy bubble of goodness” or however the town slogan goes. On a daily basis, kids use “you’re Jewish” as an insult. He hears, “hey, Jew!” as he walks down the halls, and recently, two Senior boys made fun of his “Jewish” last name and commented on his love of money (he wasn’t aware of that stereotype, so it didn’t make sense to him). In fact, he really doesn’t understand what’s so bad about being Jewish.
My son likes our rituals of spending Friday nights with family and celebrating Shabbat, he knows that we are generous with what we have, whether it’s time or money, by participating in community action to better our neighborhood and the larger outlying community, and he enjoys participating in the regional Jewish youth group and connecting with other people with similar backgrounds. But he also appreciates the differences between him and his friends. He doesn’t tease them for not being allowed to sleep out on a Saturday night because they have church in the morning, he doesn’t berate them for showing up to school with ashes on their foreheads on a Wednesday in April, and he certainly doesn’t poke fun at them because they believe that Jesus is the messiah, even though he has been taught that the messiah has yet to come. In fact, he has studied other religions, visited a mosque and toured an abbey. He has tasted Hallal meat and learned what it’s like for women to wear hijab. You see, in my house, we talk about everything with a curious mind. When we encounter something we don’t know or don’t understand, we learn about it instead of making fun of it. I don’t teach hate in my house, but unfortunately, others are teaching it in theirs.
I might sound dramatic, but I strongly believe that if you are not teaching your children to embrace all of humankind, you are teaching hate. Are you making Caitlyn Jenner jokes? Do you call neighborhoods “bad” because of the skin color of those that live there? Then you are teaching your children to hate; to treat those that are different as less than. No one deserves it, especially my child. He is the light and love of my life and to see him submit to the idea that the world hates him based on his religion, including the kids in his classes and at his lunch table hurts my heart. It makes me want to go into that school and dare those jocks and stupid idiots to make fun of me. It makes me want to call up their parents and invite them to my home to see that Jews live no differently than they do. It makes me want to email the deans at the colleges to where they were accepted for the fall and warn them that the bigots are on their way. I am pissed! But, I won’t do that. I won’t fight hate with hate.
Instead, I will handle it mindfully as I have been practicing in so many aspects of my life. I am going to start a conversation. I am starting with the powers that be at my child’s school, but I will extend it to the rest of my community – both actual and virtual. I will start with this question: How do we change the culture of our community? This discussion needs to take place. Families and schools must stop teaching hate and start teaching love. You heard that right: My opinion is that if you are not teaching children to love, honor and respect others that are not like them, then by default, you are teaching them hate. If you are telling Jewish jokes in your house, then your kids will repeat them in school. My kids have heard them. If you are making fun of people who are not of your race, religion, stature, or sexual orientation, then you are teaching hate. And if you hear others do it and don’t stand up for the butt of the joke/comment, even if they are not present, then you are perpetuating hate.
For the sake of my child and so many other people, cut it out. Stop it. Right. Now.
Instead, choose love.
We need to teach this in school, even if it’s not mentioned in the Common Core curriculum. It starts with educating the administration, and needs to trickle down through the staff, and then to the students. Kids spend so much of their lives in school that it is the perfect place to have a regular conversation about embracing differences and celebrating the many cultures that make this country what it is and what it was designed to be – a place where all who are oppressed could come to live in peace. Whether it was deliberate or not, both of my children have been singled out by teachers and misunderstood by administrators because of our religion. And I am sure that I am not alone in my experience. Diversity is not part of our curriculum, so it is not being taught, and that is going to change, mark my words. Our schools need help. We need a culture change. It’s not just about raising kids who can figure out the diameter of a circle or repeat the dates of all of the world’s wars, these kids need to graduate school as good people with strong moral character. If they are not learning it at home, they should be learning it at school or nothing will ever change. Children can bring these lessons of sensitivity and diversity home and start a conversation, and maybe change some minds. We need to teach kids to choose love over hate every time. Let’s give peace a chance for real.
Let’s begin to live mindful lives. Let’s consider what it feels like to be on the other side of the snide comments, the snickers, and the jokes. Instead of staring at someone who is different, or laughing at them, why not engage them in conversation. Become a curious observer. Ask questions, read books, and expand your mind to include others who don’t fit into your definition of “normal.” I would rather these kids who torment my son ask him (or me, or my Rabbi) about his heritage, rather than perpetuate a stereotype.
I realize that I may have hit a nerve with some of my readers that are used to my non-judgmental nutrition advice and allergy-friendly recipes, but my nerve has been hit and I needed to share my raw feelings with you. Do me a favor, don’t judge me or come at me – start a conversation with me and do it from a place of curiosity. Let’s teach our children by example and #ChooseLove.