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Showing our kids the ‘real’ Israel

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Dear Ella,
I’m very excited. This year, we are spending the High Holidays in Israel with our extended family. However, my daughter is more than a little freaked out. She’s petrified and does not want to come with us. She has always been fairly uninterested in Israel and then U.S. President Donald Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and it was impossible not to see all the reports of the clashes, fighting, killing, fires, missiles, flaming kites, etc. Watching CNN made it seem like I was taking my kid to a war zone that we would never exit alive.
I want her to see the real Israel, where I was born, where so much of our family lives, where my parents went after surviving the Holocaust. I want her to have the same attachment I have. How can I get her to accept this trip without dread?
Israel Strong

Dear Israel Strong,
For such a tiny country, Israel is front and centre in the media more than most places, and it’s rarely a positive story. Positive stories don’t get ratings, yet Israel’s conflict makes for great ratings. (Remember that much of the mainstream media follows the motto, “If it bleeds, it leads.”)
It was only a few weeks ago that Toronto was making international headlines with stories of a shooter on one of its busiest streets, the Danforth. Three months before that, the city was again infamous for a van mowing down pedestrians on Yonge Street. The news repeats that this summer is one of the worst for gun violence. Would your daughter consider Toronto a place she would never want to visit?
As long as you practice common sense, your daughter will fall in love with Israel like most who have an opportunity to experience it. Israel is something that cannot be explained. You need to experience the country’s beauty, history, life, food, shopping, technology, beaches, boardwalks, markets and culture. There is no place on Earth like it and she will have to experience it for herself to understand it.
You’d be smart to arrange a proper tour with a knowledgeable guide. Israel is a unique country, it must be experienced personally to understand. Nothing could be more meaningful than spending the High Holidays ba’aretz.


Dear Ella
My husband Gary and I are in the middle of an ugly divorce and my eight-year-old daughter is caught in the middle.
Maddy, our only child, has been brought up in a traditional Jewish home. Now that we are apart, Gary has gone back to living a non-observant lifestyle with his gentile girlfriend.
We have a temporary custody agreement in place and he wants to take Maddy for Rosh Hashanah, because it’s his day and she’s off school. He plans to go to the cottage. The High Holidays were always an important time when we went to shul as a family and had Rosh Hashanah meals together. How do I get him to put her best interests before his own?
Keep the Faith

Dear Keep the Faith,
Unfortunately, you don’t have a say in how your soon-to-be-ex lives his life. The best-case scenario is that the two of you can put Maddy’s best interests ahead of your own agendas.
This is a confusing, emotional time for everyone. Maddy’s safe, familiar world has been turned upside down.
The best thing for Maddy at this time of year would be to keep her routine as consistent as possible, however Gary has to hear that from a professional, not from you. You’re going to have to get used to Maddy having a very different lifestyle at her dad’s home than she has at yours, but with the holidays around the corner, you might appeal to her dad’s love for her, so he’ll try to put her needs first.
Offer him extra time with her on a different date. Show that you are willing to compromise.
Seek professional help for your daughter as soon as possible, perhaps a guardian ad litem who will advocate for what’s best for Maddy.