You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

Growing up in my predominantly secular post-Holocaust era Jewish family in the 60s, the Jewish values always shone through. My parents truly shaped my values, and only now, as an adult and engaged Jew do I realize how centered in Judaism those values were.

Many parents sing pretty lullabies to their children. My mother, a self-proclaimed "listener’s listener," whose tone-deaf and always out of tune singing (and nevertheless yielded to musically talented children) didn’t matter to me – she was my mother, and she was singing songs to me – would sing us songs like "We Shall Overcome" and "Dona, Dona." But there’s one song whose message she always stressed. It’s from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "South Pacific." Lieutenant Cable has fallen in love with Liat, a half-breed Tonkinese beauty. His response to the concern of others about "what will the neighbors think" is this song, with some of Oscar Hammerstein’s best lyrics:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Well, these words came strongly to mind when I read this article come across the JTA Feed:

Jewish, Arab students share negative views
An Israeli survey found that large numbers of Jewish high school students
view Arabs as uneducated,uncivilized or unclean and vice versa. The Haifa University poll from October 2004, which was presented at a conference at the university this week, interviewed 1,600 students across the country, with 75 percent of the Jewish students harboring negative impressions of Arabs. It also found that one-third of them were afraid of Arabs. "We have found a serious expression of stereotypical thinking on the Jewish students’ part regarding the Arab youth,"said Haggai Kupermintz, one of the researchers who conducted the survey. "These students come in with firm stereotypical baggage regarding the other, and in this case, this is the Arabs." Arab high school students also had negative impressions of their Jewish peers: The survey found 27 percent believed Jews were uneducated, 40 percent said they were uncivilized and 47 percent found them unintelligent. But while 75 percent of Arab students showed willingness to meet with Jewish students, less than 50 percent of Jewish students were willing to reciprocate.

That’s really sad. What are we teaching our children?

A few years ago, I overheard one my my religious school teachers (I’m a religious school principal) suggest to a class of teens that perhaps the incessantly negative portrayal of Egyptians in the Passover Hagaddah might influence the views of young Israeli and Jewish children. At the time, I thought it was a somewhat inaccurate and gross exaggeration of reality – surely today’s children could distinguish between the Egyptians of old and today’s Arabs and Muslims. Yet, over the years, I have heard young children, teens, and even adults, make ignorant comments that clearly betray making such distant connections. We connect Amalek, Haman and Hitler. It’s not inconceivable that a child could connect the Persian people (and thus modern Iraqis and Iranians) with Haman and the German people with Hitler, and make gross assumptions and generalizations about all of them.

I’m not suggesting we change the Hagaddah. Nor am I suggesting that we Jews don’t have both the right and the obligation to bring to mind all the wrongs done to us over the millenia. We do and should. "Never again" is more than a slogan. It is our inheritance. (Thank G"d we’re standing up against the genocide in Darfur, although it even took a while the for Jewish community to mobilize on that.) It is not wrong to teach our children that terrorists and oppressors are people who have transgressed permitted moral boundaries of human behavior. It is wrong of us to allow them to generalize about an entire group of people on the basis of the actions of some. And we must not forget how easy it is for anyone to get caught up in mob mentality. It does give one pause when even Arab Israeli MKs speak out in support of the terrorist struggle, and we read of the thousands of Palestinians at rallies insisting that they will not stop until Israel no longer exists. Yet if G"d would spare S’dom and Gomorrah for just 10 righteous persons, should not we? Can we be certain there are no righteous, peace-loving Palestinians or Muslims or IRA members or Iraqis or Republicans or Democrats or Christians or Jews, or Janjaweed, etc.? Our children must be carefully taught to hate and fear. Let us resolve to teach all of them otherwise.

Migdalor Guy (aka Adrian)

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About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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