March 22, 2001
My 10-year-old daughter attends Hebrew school at our Reform synagogue. She recently reported that her religion teacher said that the Passover miracles never happened and that she saw a TV show "proving" that the splitting of the Red Sea was the result of a volcanic eruption. The teacher intends to show the video to the class. Meanwhile, my daughter is distraught and feels that she won't enjoy the seder this year thinking that the story of Passover is a fraud. I'm not sure what to do. -- Perplexed
This teacher has unwittingly offered you an opportunity to impress upon your daughter how dramatically different people's beliefs can be. She is entitled to her point of view. (Even though she should never have been allowed within a mile of your daughter's Hebrew school class -- or any other Hebrew school class, for that matter.) Your daughter is old enough to maintain, even defend, her own beliefs in the face of opposing ones. She may not (yet) be able to shoot back that there is as much "proof" for the "volcano theory" as there is for the biblical explanation of events, but your daughter must learn to follow her own compass -- religious or moral -- no matter how much external pressure is applied. Ask your daughter whom she believes, her parents and grandparents, or her teacher? Then get to work rekindling your daughter's faith.
As for the teacher, speak to her directly just in case your daughter somehow misunderstood the message. If there was no misunderstanding, then before the teacher can play the video and ruin Pesach for the rest of the class, speak to the director of the Hebrew school and demand the teacher's resignation. The director is also culpable and should be called to task for not having properly vetted her staff. To all you Hebrew school directors out there: class is in session. Do you know what your teachers are teaching?
Scared to Scold
I was at the supermarket yesterday and saw a mother slap her child hard across the face. I was horrified but I did nothing. What should/could I have done? -- Shocked Shopper
In a black-and-white world, the answer to your question is simple: keep moving because it's none of your business. How would you feel if a perfect stranger stopped you in the supermarket and offered unsolicited advice about how you disciplined your child? Or about the hazards of the junk food in your shopping cart? There are a lot of parents who still believe that spanking is the best way to teach a child a lesson they will not soon forget.
However, I will say that certain actions call for a reaction: you might not stop someone loading junk foods into her shopping cart, but it is your moral obligation to stop someone who is stealing them. A potchke may be about teaching your child a lesson; a solid slap is about a parent who is out of control. We've all been there, but as parents we are meant to model for our children that we can use our words instead of our hands, fists or teeth. Specialists long ago determined that spanking should not be used as a form of discipline. And finally, if you had any reason to suspect this child may be a victim of child abuse, it is your moral obligation to report the mother.
Short of following the mother around to determine if her behavior was an exception or the rule, I would have looked the mother in the eyes, reminded her she should pick on someone her own size, and continued on to the frozen food section.
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