A piece I wrote for the Forward about Shavuos can be read here.
“Nahoul” is a giant bee, or, better, a man in a furry bee costume. He is one of the intended-to-be-lovable characters on “Pioneers of Tomorrow,” a children’s television program produced in Gaza.
In a recent episode, Nahoul encourages a boy from Jenin to attack his Jewish neighbors. “Punch them,” he advises. “Turn their faces into tomatoes.”
“If his neighbors are Jewish or Zionist,” Rawan, the little girl host of the show adds helpfully, “that goes without saying.” Nahoul then advises throwing stones at “the Jews.”
A bit later in the program, another little girl shares her hope to become a policewoman, so that she can “shoot the Jews.”
“All of them?” the host asks with a smile.
“Yes,” the other girl replies.
Nahoul is likely to meet the fate of other cuddly animals – like Farfour the Mouse, a rabbit and a bear – that were previously featured on the program only to suddenly disappear, the show’s little viewers being informed that each character had been “martyred” by Israelis.
The airwaves in Gaza are tightly controlled by Hamas, the de facto government, and “Pioneers of Tomorrow” is part of that violent and hateful group’s effort to educate the region’s children about what Hamas considers their civic and religious duties.
They educate and we educate.
It might seem a novel thought, but it’s really an obvious one: The surest way to understand a society lies in the entertainment it offers its young.
American culture qua culture is largely aimless. If it has ideals, they are high-sounding ones like “freedom” and “individuality” but which generally translate as “do what you will” and “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Reportedly, much of the programming aimed at American children pays homage to the same.
Children’s fare in the Orthodox Jewish world is also telling. And although it does not use television as a medium, it’s voluminous. Whether in the form of books, compact discs, MP3s or cassette tapes, there is an astounding array of memorable musical offerings, characters, stories and performances that convey the ideas and ideals that inform the community, and that reflect its essence. Jewish children are taught about Jewish history, about love for other Jews and for Eretz Yisroel, about the beauty of Shabbos and the meanings of yomim tovim, and about the performance of mitzvos; about the evils of jealousy and loshon hora and about the importance of Torah-study.
And then we have Hamas.
Shavuos approaches. My wife and I will miss having our children with us. (They’re all either married or in yeshiva –yes, the marrieds invited us to join them, but their father is a hopeless homebody.) But when I go to the beis medrash on Shavuos night, I’ll remember all the Shavuos nights spent learning Torah with the little boys, later young men, whom we were privileged to raise, and all the subtle teaching of both them and their sisters that went on around the Shabbos table, and throughout the weeks and years.
And I will remember one Shavuos in particular, quite a few years back, when I was learning in a nearby shul – packed with others, many of them fathers and sons too – with one of our sons, then a 12-year-old.
We spent most of the night engrossed in Gemara. We began with the sugya of tzaar ba’alei chayim in Bava Metzia, which he was studying in yeshiva, and then continued with the sugya of Yerushalayim nischalka l’shvotim in Yoma, which he and I were learning regularly together.
Dovie seemed entirely awake throughout it all, and asked the perceptive questions I had come to expect from him.
The experience was enthralling, as it always was, and while it was a challenge to concentrate (at times even to keep my eyes from closing) during Shacharis, Dovie and I both “made it” and then, hand in hand, walked home, where we promptly crashed. But before my head touched my pillow (a millisecond or two before I entered REM sleep), I summoned the energy to thank HaKodosh Boruch Hu for sharing His Torah with us.
That silent prayer came back to me like a thunderclap a few days later, when I caught up on some reading I had missed (in the word’s most simple sense) over Yomtov. Apparently, while Dovie and I were learning Torah, the presses at The Washington Times were printing a story datelined Gaza City.
It began with a description of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Abu Ali, being “lovingly dress[ed] by his mother in a costume of a suicide bomber, complete with small kaffiyeh, a belt of electrical tape and fake explosives made of plywood.”
“I encourage him, and he should do this,” said his mother; and Abu Ali himself apparently agreed. “I hope to be a martyr,” he said. “I hope when I get to 14 or 15 to explode myself.”
My thoughts flashed back to Shavuos and to my own son, and I thanked Hashem again.
© Hamodia 2014
POSTSCRIPT: It turns out that we will indeed be away from home for Shavuos, in Israel, for the bris of Dovie’s and his wife Devorah Rivkah’s firstborn . May we all know only happy occasions!