On Yom HaShoah, my 3-year-old daughter left gan with a memorial candle and a poem about the honor we show for the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Having lived in Israel for nearly four years, I was already a pro at just nodding at all the educational and cultural things that I thought were absolutely bizarre or inappropriate, so despite the fact that I thought exposing 3-years-olds to the Holocaust was horrific, I did just that. I just nodded.
As my daughter was carrying the “Holocaust package” carefully down the steps, the teacher called out to me, “And she needs more diapers and wipes; please bring some tomorrow.” I really had to bite my tongue not to wonder aloud what Piaget and Freud would have said about her exchanging the Yizkor candle today for the diapers the next day.
This Yom HaShoah scene brought me back to a poignant memory from our first year in Israel. My 8-year-old son returned from a class trip with a knapsack full of large paper black guns. The teacher had cut them out of oak tag so the boys could simulate the battle that took place on the historic Titora Hill. My son thought the guns were so great he collected them all for his home entertainment. Accompanying the guns was a notebook that he and his friends had compiled of renderings of various Israeli weapons. As my son unpacked his bag, my brain was screaming, “Columbine! Call the psychologists. What would the police say if they saw this collection of mock guns and rifle guides!” I withheld my American instinct, bit my tongue and feigned pride in his cultural and social integration. (Needless to say, I was thrilled when the next notebook he and his friends assembled was of Greek gods as taught by Percy Jackson—Yes, it’s a hit in Hebrew too!)
And just yesterday, a substitute teacher in my son’s kindergarten bounded over to me and exclaimed in the most jubilant manner, “Mazel tov.” I hesitated. Did I look post-partum?! My baby was 15 months old! What was the great news I had missed in my life? “His 6th birthday,” she explained. The look on my face must have given away that even the most celebrant Americans just don’t get into birthdays and their parties in quite the same manner as Israelis.
For centuries, immigrants have been dealing with the challenges of raising children in a new and different society. The language, the educational system, the fashions, music, pop culture, the nursery rhymes and the anthems; the food and the eating schedule, the birthday party gifts; the way the toilets flush, how you shower; when you go to bed and what you do in your free time; how you refer to your teachers, your professional goals… .
It’s all different and can be so jarring when you thought you knew all these things as a child and as a parent. (Preparing school supplies for my children still overwhelms me in a way that only fellow olim can understand. Israelis don’t understand what the big deal is—they understand the difference between the eight different kinds of machbarot requested, and Americans can’t even fathom to what I am referring.) One can never prepare for such “disconnects” and at times I mistakenly blurt out, “Well that’s just ridiculous!” Sometimes, I try to articulate to my children where we diverge and try to make the gap meaningful and educational, by explaining my perspective and values, but I also want them to feel comfortable in the world I brought them to. So I am silenced and nod more than I would have ever expected.
I imagine that over time I will feel more Israeli and less shocked by the different ways things are done, but history has shown that I, like other immigrants, will never truly get it. When we decided to make aliyah, we were told by a vatik with 20 years in Israel that the real disconnect he felt as a parent occurred when his son was deliberating his army service and he couldn’t even fathom advising him. “What could I say?” he explained. “Everything else in my children’s life had some semblance to my own experience—until the army. I did my research and showed my love and support but that was all I could do.” That hallmark event of army placement looms in my distant horizon and is so daunting that it has inspired me, for now, to try to just nod…and laugh when I can!
By Jordana Schoor