Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Whole New World?

            It was a Tuesday evening, much like many of the other Tuesday evenings of my year. I sat around a table in classroom one inside The Santa Monica Synagogue. Usually this picture involves many seventh grade students talking, interrupting, and being seventh graders. Today was different—today we were discussing Jewish responses to the death of Bin Laden. The mood in the classroom could have been a microcosm for America; some of my students wished they had been outside cheering with the crowds, others horrified that people would rejoice in the death of another. In the middle of that debate, one of the boys raised his hand. He is a boy who still looks very much like a child, even though has been Bar Mitzvahed, and he looked at me with the big wondering eyes that only a child can have, and said, “Manda, why do the terrorists hate us and what was the world like before this?”
I stopped.
What was the world like before this?
It was in that instance that things that I had known in my subconscious but never thought about rose to the surface. I looked at each of the children. They had been no more then three years old that infamous day when in a matter of hours our way of living had been dramatically altered. They had no memory of when shark infested waters had been our biggest fears. When you could bring just about anything onto an airplane. When wars were over there.
As I started to tell them the story of our history with Iraq starting with Bush Sr. and Operation Desert Storm, they listened, as they never had before. One asked me if I was scared during the Gulf War. I was shocked—why would I have been? I was eight years old and that war was over there. It was on the TV but I knew it would not directly affect me. It was not like the war was coming to America.
Only it has. These kids have been raised in a world of fear. They do not know an America at peace, an America without recession, and America that is not quite running on fear.
It is possible I am being kind to the 90’s—I know there were problems: genocides, countries with epic famines, wars, and so on. The difference is, there was not the sense of fear that there is today, all of these things were somewhere else. They were the things adults would talk about while kids were not in the room, and kids could live their daily lives.
As I finished depicting the 90’s to the kids, and all that led up to September 11th, in an attempt to answer this students question, he asked another, one that broke my heart, “Do you think we can go back to the way it was? It sounds nice”. My heart broke, because we can’t go back—these kids will never have a childhood where we are not at war, and not afraid. The best we can do, is take what we have learned and move forward, change our views, opt to be cautious but not afraid. This fear of the past decade has been suffocating, I understand it, at times I felt it, but that does not mean that we have not been suffocated. Between the war on terror, and the recession, it seems everything we do is ruled by the fears of what comes next. And now, symbolically we have killed the “big bad”, although we know that there is still evil out there. So we have a choice, we can continue, status quo—or we can say: dai*--enough, and move forward into a world where we are living instead of living in fear.

* dai=the Hebrew word for enough.