Monday, March 31, 2003

Brutal Realities
Following the terrorist attack in Haifa that killed 17, including 9 kids, at the beginning of this month (Was it really less than four weeks ago?) Allison wrote that "Most Israelis believe in letting their kids in on the brutal realities of life here from an extremely young age". She didn't have comments on her blog at the time, and she was yet to publish an e-mail. I had quite a lot to say about this statement at the time, but I didn't. I somehow couldn't manage to organize my thoughts into a post to publish here. I was upset about the attack.

Next month is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust memorial day), Youngest reminds me, when I notice she is reading "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl". She tried to read it following Yom HaShoah last year, but it was still too difficult for her. Now she can't put it down. She'll be eight next month. I couldn't have read it when I was her age, but then she's far more intelligent than I am (and fully aware of it, unfortunately).

It's much better than an ordinary diary in which the writer says today I did such and such, she informs me. Anne Frank writes about all sorts of things that are happening to other people and in the world, she says, and not just about herself. Then she asks me how to pronounce the name Margot (Anne's sister). The book is without the dots and little lines that serve as vowels in Hebrew, as is the case in all books and printed texts besides poetry, ancient scriptures and those aimed at small children (like Youngest is meant to be).

When I was Youngest's age I didn't know about the Holocaust. It wasn't that I didn't know about the Nazis or World War II or that Germans had killed Jews or about concentration camps. I just wasn't aware of anything systematic. I had no idea of the scale. I certainly didn't know any details. I didn't know about The Holocaust. I was eight, for goodness sake!

This lack of knowledge was because I wasn't living in Israel yet. It was not down to anything lacking in my education. I attended a Jewish school and lived a very Jewish life. My parents were Zionist activists. It probably just wasn't thought to be appropriate that eight year olds should know too much about it.

When we made Aliyah, my first Yom HaShoah was quite a shock for me, and it took me a while to grasp it all. At first I was convinced the Nazis somehow managed to kill six million Jews all on one day - on Yom HaShoah.

Children in Israel grow up with the Holocaust. It's just as much a part of life as terrorist attacks.

Last night, I'm helping Youngest wash her hair and she asks one of those questions I dread answering. No, not about the birds and the bees, those I can handle.

This is maybe the place to explain that Youngest is one of those kids that regularly embarrass their teachers by asking questions they can't answer. I often have to consult a dictionary or an encyclopedia, before answering her, as well (or if I'm feeling even lazier than usual: "Ask Abba" (=Dad)).

I should have looked up yesterday's first question before answering and then it wouldn’t have gone where it did. But we're in the shower, aren't we?

How did Anne Frank die?

Oy vey. I know where this is going. This is not a child who will make do with a general answer, certainly not with an evasive one. Not that I would dream of giving her anything but a proper answer, it's just a difficult subject to talk about, especially with an eight year old (next month).

I think she died in Bergen Belsen, an extermination camp, I say.

How, exactly?

Of course, I don't remember that she actually died of typhoid, silly me, and I begin to tell her how people were killed in Nazi extermination camps. A discussion of gas showers, forced labor, Zyclone B gas, the selection process (and more) follows. She knows the basics (she already knows about the gas showers, for a start), now she wants a bit more information. Each detail is examined and questioned and elaborations are asked for. I'm not enjoying the conversation. In fact, I'm feeling slightly nauseous, trying to think how and when to cut off the stream of questions. What will be too much? Then she wants to know about other extermination methods. I tell her about mass shootings. She wants to understand it all properly and I find myself explaining exactly why gas showers are more effective than guns. I'm feeling a bit woozy. I'm tired and the bathroom is full of steam. She wants to hear more. Tell me about more extermination methods, she demands, but, by this point, hair washing and shower are finished, and I am depressed and feeling guilty. I've traumatized the child, she'll have nightmares, I think, as I send her off to put on her pyjamas, relieved that we didn't get round to death marches, beatings, starvation, scientific experiments...

Worried about what has just transpired (it's not even as if I allow the girls to watch violent programs on TV), I go and discuss it in whispers with Bish in the living room. I needn't have whispered. Youngest has already been drawn back into Anne Frank's secret hidden world behind the bookcase. Bish is exasperatingly unconcerned, as always. Worse, he's pleased. Youngest, he says, is so bright it gives him hope for the future of society.

Tfu tfu tfu. I'd rather she was less interested in these sorts of things and more interested in little girls' things, the sillier the better, at least until she grows up a bit.

It suddenly strikes me that she didn't ask any why's.

She's definitely much more of a "what?" child. When will the "why?" come? I wonder. Maybe the "what?" stage is actually easier, even though it makes me feel so uncomfortable.

She didn't have any nightmares. She's a very matter-of -fact girl. She took it all in her stride. If it had been Eldest it would have been a different matter. But then, it wouldn't have been Eldest, would it?

Today I asked her if I could tell you all of this. She thought about it for a bit and then agreed, for a price. The price? A kiss and a hug.