Rebecca Wolf remembers when she first learned about the Holocaust. She was about 8 or 9 years old and in Hebrew school.
“I don’t think that my parents were informed that they were going to be teaching us about it that day. And I remember being really traumatized and horrified about it,” she said.
She doesn’t want the same for her kids, ages 5 and 6, and is already thinking about how she and her husband will talk about antisemitism with them.
“We just want to make sure that they establish a really strong Jewish identity and really love Judaism and feel confident in who they are and have the emotional maturity to understand those issues before we really introduce any information about antisemitism or the Holocaust,” she said.
Jewish parents have been having these conversations — how to talk to their kids about antisemitism — more and more over the last few weeks as antisemitic outbursts circulated online and physical attacks occurred after the recent spate of violence in the Middle East.
Rabbi Mendy Deitsch of Chabad of the East Valley has nine kids between 8 and 23 years old. He’s had many of these conversations.
He and his wife try not to focus on antisemitism when they speak to their children, but rather their kids’ self-confidence, Deitsch said.
“When someone does something antisemitic, instead of you hiding and running away, you should stand strong,” he said. “If you have a certain self-confidence — you know who you are, you know where you’re going — then don’t worry about anything else happening around you.”
His older children have experienced antisemitism directly. Recently his 16-year-old daughter attending high school in New York, experienced it — and was “shaken.”
“I tried to gently explain to her that, unfortunately, in the world we live in, you have people that like you and people that don’t,” he said. “And they don’t like you not because there’s anything wrong, it’s simply they’re mostly uneducated, misinformed, misdirected.”
His kids are visibly Jewish in the clothes they wear. He often thinks about their safety, but as he tells his kids, antisemitism is nothing new. “As long as we have faith and we’re strong and confident in who we are, don’t walk around with fear. Walk around proud, and you’ll be fine.”
Anat Schure has a 16-year old daughter and an 11-year old son.
Last month’s violence spurred discussion in her home, especially with her daughter who was surprised to see the volume of antisemitic and anti-Israel posts on social media.
“She’s always known that it (antisemitism) occurred. But it never really hit her so personally until recently because of how people were reacting to Israel on social media,” she said.
Schure helped her daughter process her feelings and did her best to remind her that what’s online is not fully representative.
“While she may be flooded with one side at the moment, she needs to keep in mind that there is another side that does support the Jewish people, that does support Israel and helping the Palestinian people,” she said. “Unfortunately, the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish comments were louder than those supportive of Israel and helping the Palestinians.”
The conversations with her son were more about making him aware that antisemitism exists and could happen, even in his own community.
“I personally think there’s a way to be transparent with your kids in an age-appropriate way,” she said.
Jennifer Starrett is having “open and honest age-appropriate conversations” with her 7-year-old son.
Growing up, her parents didn’t really talk to her about antisemitism. “I never even knew or really believed that there is this much hate in the world.”
With kids of their own, Starrett and her husband feel strongly about having the difficult conversations, even at a young age, especially since Starrett is “pretty out there in the Jewish community” as a social media influencer.
She began educating her son about hate last year as the Black Lives Matter movement became more known. She told him how some people dislike others based only on the color of their skin or their religion.
She explained to him that “as someone who is Jewish, and people know that you’re Jewish, you might hear people talking badly.” She also told him it is important to let an adult know if he hears anything like that.
Starrett’s son could tell his parents were concerned during Israel’s recent conflict, so she talked to him about their family in Israel and that Israel is a Jewish state.
She tried to frame the conversation in a positive way — around what can be done. She talked about the importance of being proud of being Jewish, and making sure their friends know that just because they’re Jewish, they aren’t so different from anyone else.
Even with her 3-year-old daughter, Starrett tries to focus on similarities.
“When the kids say, “Oh, that’s different,’ we try to turn it around and think about what is similar,” she said.
Hillel Newman, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Southwest of the United States, told Jewish News it is a scary time and every parent has to decide for themselves what works best for their kids and family.
The rise of antisemitism is “of course, a grave concern,” he said.”When people legitimize indiscriminate attacks against Jews in Israel, the result will be indiscriminate attacks against Jews on the streets of the United States.”
Newman, who lives in Los Angeles, has an 11-year-old son. “My son lives the reality. He understands what’s going on,” he said. Newman said he is glad his son is proud of his Judaism and proud of being an Israeli. JN