The Jewish Report Editorial

Feed our children positive narratives

  • Vanessa
Teach your children the history of freedom if you want them never to lose it, Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote in a piece published in the London Times at Pesach a few years ago. He said that freedom was won not on the battlefield but in the classroom and the home.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Apr 15, 2015

At least three times in Exodus, Moses instructs his newly freed tribe of Jews to pass on the miraculous story to the next generation of escaping Egypt and the exciting journey to the Promised Land. “You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the L-rd did for me when I came out of Egypt’,” Exodus 13.8, is one of them. The ritual of the seder is primarily focused on teaching our children about our heritage.

Well, Passover has come and gone and this week we will again be teaching our children the very important message of remembering and honouring the tragedy of the Holocaust as a way of ensuring that it can never happen again. We, as parents or even grandparents, are constantly sending out both conscious and unconscious messages to our children about the world around them, and what it means to be Jewish in it.

For the children of Holocaust survivors, of whom there are an estimated 200 000 in the United States alone, their parents’ experiences have had a substantial impact. A predisposition to post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulties in separating from family and a mix of resilience and vulnerability, are all part of the psychological profile of the children of survivors. Psychologist Eva Fogelman has termed it the Second Generation Complex.  

According to studies, some survivors could never discuss with their children the horrors they endured and so created walls of silence and an oppressive atmosphere at home. Others spoke too much of it and made their children feel guilty for the kinds of plentiful lives they would go on to lead. As a result, children of Holocaust survivors were found to be more prone to depression and anxiety through exposure to their traumatised parents.

This confirms the view of many psychologists that even when we don’t intend to, the way we engage with the world and how we perceive it, is transmitted to our children. What an intimidating notion. Indeed,-when we parents, are running the most important public relations campaigns of our lives where the correct “messaging and branding” is vital.

South African Jewry is less directly connected to the Holocaust than some other Jewish communities. This is not due to lack of awareness of its enormity or gravity, but because the majority of us are descendants of Lithuanians who came to South Africa well before the Second World War years and generally prospered, while our European brethren were sadly suffering.

And while our parents may not have passed on an anxiety of the ever-present possibility of annihilation to us, we likely assimilated the view that the world around us was not safe. We became adults in a country tainted by violence and inequality and, many of us, with a parental message that South Africa’s future was tenuous (have your takkies on in case!). 

Our own awareness of a sometimes traumatic past as a people and the current realities of rising anti-Semitism, Israel’s struggles and, more personally, trying to be Jewish in a modern world, are all difficulties we unwittingly pass onto our children.

This week our children may hear from us, or if they attend a Jewish school, then from their teachers too, about Hitler and the camp;, they will light candles, they will be told to stand proud as Jews and to be hypersensitive to acts of anti-Semitism.

Cautionary messages and teaching our children that our freedoms today are hard-won, are essential in a world of excess and too many choices. But we should ensure that our children are also processing the very positive aspects of being part of this fascinating tribe of people who have thrived wherever they have settled.

The world is not only out to get us; we, as a people, have made an astounding contribution to our societies; we live in a great democracy in South Africa - are the kinds of fearless, constructive and hopeful narratives our children should absorb. Only then can they go out and build bridges, succeed, lead and, as Lord Sacks says, be free.



  1. 5 Choni 21 Apr
    Unfortunately there is no positive message one can give to our children while they are living in exile, outside their only true land, EXCEPT that they should yearn with all their hearts to someday join their fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael. Maybe this is the message of the Holocaust.
  2. 4 David 17 May
    tiresome advice from a broken record -- When will Choni accept that there are millions of Jews in the diaspora who are not Zionistically inclined as he is ? ?
  3. 3 Choni 17 May
    David, Obviously you couldn't care less that the Diaspora is 'killing' 60,000 Jews a year through assimilation and intermarriage. At least this old "broken record' is trying to save even one Jewish boy and girl that fate by promoting Aliyah.
  4. 2 Yoni 17 May
    From Choni who lives comfortably in South Africa because Israel didn't work out for him.
  5. 1 David 19 May
    Interesting from Choni  -- We respect your opinion Choni but it's time you respected ours as well  ---  just wondering whether he understands the western belief of
      " Pro  Choice "  It applies in this sense too --  that's why we live in democracies.


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