When My Teen’s Questions About Israel And Gaza Upset Me

I’ve cried myself to sleep many nights since October 7th. Not only because of the ongoing devastation in Israel. But also because the progressive space in which I have long situated myself so quickly became a comfortable home for anti-Israel sentiment because of Israel’s war with Gaza, which, under the guise of Palestinian support, also morphed into outright anti-Semitism – Jew-hatred.

For me and many of us, it was shocking how quickly it all rushed to the surface. I was unmoored and heartbroken. And then, wonderful kids, purposeful, passionate, smart, and curious teens in so many of our families, turned to their parents to challenge us about Israel’s actions, the well-being of innocent Gazans, and whether the Jewish community and its ties to Israel reflect their values. They were bombarded with visceral social media and community messaging, and so many parents have been left reeling.

And so I offer a reframing. We all have much to learn here. If we open a space for shared listening, there is room for us (both in our home and in the House of Israel). Our children are living so many of the values we instilled in them:

  • To look with compassion upon everyone and seek peace
  • To listen to others’ stories and voices and advocate for those in need

How, as parents, can we explore and face our family’s different views about Israel and even Judaism with respect and deeper connection? Give yourselves grace. We are in pain because this is deeply important to us. Rather than approaching your family member with a challenge or data, pause to listen. What can we learn about our loved ones, and what propelled them to their conclusions? What can we share with respect about our own shifts in realization about our connection to our Judaism, or Israel or the world? What had we not grappled with before October 7th? And what does that propel us to understand differently about ourselves and the world now?

So many of us have felt very safe as Jews throughout our lives, and because we never considered ourselves among those in danger or in need of particular protection, we did not build the muscle to expect or teach about anti-Semitic dog whistles or being held differently accountable than other communities. Perhaps that is why many of us were shocked when the hatred came knocking and so quickly permeated vast public spaces. Perhaps that is why so many do not easily make the connections between our People’s past and present or the generational triggering that has shaken our older but not our younger generations.

With so much unmooring, please allow yourself the space to not have answers. Contrary to popular opinion, most of the deepest truths sit in the uncertain gray space. And let your loved one know that there is room in both this Jewish world and your home for loving, respectful – even if difficult – dialogue through which you can learn together how to navigate our new world.

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