My Kids Can't Sleep

My Kids Can't Sleep

A boy walks through a door at night in a dark alley of the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem.

SourceEthan Welty / Getty

Why you should care

Because all kids have nightmares, but some, unfortunately, are real.

Shoshana Kordova is a former editor and columnist at the Israeli daily Haaretz. Her writing has also appeared in Smithsonian, Quartz and the New York Times blog Motherlode.

I’ve put the kids to bed and am watching a recent YouTube video showing the security camera footage of one of the latest stabbings in Jerusalem, about a half-hour drive from my apartment in Modi’in, when behind me I hear one of my daughters open the door of her bedroom. I quickly, guiltily switch tabs before she can see a man being hacked to death while standing at a bus stop.

“I’m scared,” says my oldest, who’s 8. “What are you scared of?” I ask.

“I’m scared of the Aravim, of the ones who want to kill us,” she says, using the Hebrew word for “Arabs,” a word she’s been hearing a lot at school lately. “Did they come to Modi’in?” she asks. “I know there are good Aravim and bad Aravim, but did the bad ones come to Modi’in?” I freeze for a moment as several thoughts follow one another in quick succession.

I would say yes, pirates are real, but they only attack ships in the ocean, so they’re not interested in coming here. What do I tell them now?

 

I hate that there’s a reason for us to be having this conversation. I cringe when I hear patronizing terms like “good Arabs” and “bad Arabs,” yet I’m relieved that she doesn’t think all Aravim are born with a silver knife in their mouths. I think about repeating our previous conversation about how Jews and Arabs and everyone in the world sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things and how most people try to do mostly good things but some people do very bad things. I want to be able to say “Everything will be OK” without feeling like a liar.

Until recently, the villains who kept my kids awake were pirates. “Are pirates real?” they would ask again and again. And every time, I would say, yes, pirates are real, but they only attack ships in the ocean, so they’re not interested in coming here. What do I tell them now?

Finally, I say, Jews and Arabs live and work all over Israel. There haven’t been any attacks in Modi’in. Yet, I think (but don’t say out loud). There is no reason my four daughters, ages 2 through 8, need to raise their alert level to whichever color represents paranoia.

The stabbings began in early October, sometimes three or four a day; it has been hard for even those of us who live here to keep track. Someone in town began offering a free self-defense class for women. I signed up. The instructor talked a lot about being alert and running away from a bad situation as quickly as possible. I asked for tactical suggestions about what to do if we’re attacked when we’re out with our kids.

I was hoping for some foolproof plan of action. Like, if an attacker runs at you with knife raised, throw your invisibility cape over all four of your children while deflecting the blow and use the bat signal to summon rapid assistance. If he sneaks up on you with a side thrust and both the cape and the bat signal are in the diaper bag you left at home, then have your 2-year-old and 4-year-old throw a double tantrum at full volume while your 8-year-old plays the flute and your 6-year-old unleashes her best whine. The instructor offered no such formula.

When I worked in a newsroom, keeping up with the latest terror attacks and air strikes and peace plans was part of my job, but my children have a much narrower existence, as children do. They squabble over who gets the white bowl at breakfast or practice judo throws on each other at dinner. But what my children want to know — what they need to know at this point in their lives — is not “What are the proximate and ultimate causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” but “Am I safe?”

And in response to that question, I’m not sure there is much I can tell them that will really help, any more than there is any one guaranteed way to protect my children. Because as much as parents — especially here in the turbulent Middle East and Paris and San Bernardino — might seek one, there is no magic formula; there are no magic words.

One thing I do know: Next time my kids wake up in the middle of the night, scared that people will kill them, I will do what parents everywhere do: give them a hug and a kiss, tell them I love them and tuck them back into bed.

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