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Jewish Journal

Mommy, What Is a Terrorist?

by Peni Bouskila

May 23, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Last month, I boarded a plane to Washington with my 5-year-old daughter, Shira, so that together we could attend what turned out to be the largest gathering of support for Israel in recent decades. Yes, I was the one who made the reservations and booked the tickets, but it was Shira who took me to Washington.

You see, it all started on the Eve of Passover, when Shira was helping me set the seder table, and we heard the shocking news of the "Passover Massacre" in Netanya. When she asked me what was wrong and why I was so upset, my first instinct was to not answer, or to somehow gloss over it. But I could not do that day, for after all, "this night is different than all other nights." On all other nights, we may hide the truth from our children, but on Passover, when children ask questions, it is our responsibility to answer with honesty and integrity.

So I sat down with Shira, and we talked about Israel for a little while. That night, Shira listened to many passionate discussions around our seder table about what was going on in Israel. The next morning, she listened to her father deliver a sermon and appeal to raise money for the victims of terror in Israel.

When she saw how many people stepped forward with donations, she wanted to help. She came to her father and suggested that the synagogue open a play area with toys for children, and that we charge admission, and "all of the money can help the people in Israel." Over the next few days, her curiosity about this topic was increasing, as were her questions.

Once again in the spirit of Passover, I felt it was my duty to teach my child, so together we attended the Israel rallies at the Federal Building, so that she may see with her own eyes how a community comes together to show their support and strengthen one another.

Then came the e-mail announcing the Washington rally. I told Shira that this rally was being planned, and that thousands of people from all over North America would be going. Her response to me was, "Are we going?"

My dilemma was not is it safe or can another two people attending really make a difference. Instead, my only consideration was the educational value of this experience for Shira. After all, she is only 5 years old, and would this trip really impact her life?

We went, and the rally was incredible. There were more people than we could have imagined, and the atmosphere was positive and even inspirational.

I put Shira on my shoulders and asked her what she saw. With the excitement that is unique to a child's voice, Shira answered, "Mommy, there are a million gazillion people here, and they all love Israel." Mission accomplished, because all I really wanted was for Shira to see how many people truly do love and support Israel.

Upon returning to Los Angeles, Shira went back to school, wearing a bracelet she had acquired at the rally. Her teacher asked her to tell the class about this bracelet, and Shira read the inscription: "Anya Kazackov -- Died June 1, 2001 -- Age 16." Shira then said: "Yes, she was 16 years old, and now she's dead. She was killed by a bomb from some terrorists."

Shira's teacher was outraged that my husband and I were teaching her these awful ideas at such a young age. Her teacher approached me with masterful educational suggestions, such as when my child asks me what terror is, I should ask her if she's ever felt terror from one of her friends on the playground, or when asked about a bomb, I could answer that a bomb could mean that if everybody has a bad time at a birthday party, then the party "was a bomb."

I looked this "Jewish educator" in the eyes, and I wondered if she would make the same remarks to my little nieces who live in Efrat. And in the spirit of Passover, I also wondered if she would teach her students that the Ten Plagues, including the death of the firstborn, were nothing more than a magician's tricks at a birthday party.

In her classic poem "Children Learn What They Live," Dorothy Law Nolte writes, "If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness." I am confident that at this critical stage in Israel's history, and in a post-Sept. 11 world, being honest and truthful with our children will help open their minds and hearts to issues beyond the next birthday party.

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