Ari Levin and Laura Waltman
On Oct. 10, our children went back to school. Our three children attend separate schools; our youngest, age seven, attends Kehilah Heschel, while the older two, ages 10 and 13, attend Hamilton public schools. That day was particularly challenging for the older two. It was supposed to have been the first day of their vacation for our son’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel. Our dream trip was called off when we awoke to the news on October 7 and our flight to Tel Aviv was cancelled shortly after.
The kids were apprehensive. How were they going to explain to their classmates why they were back in school when they were supposed to be on a well-publicized two-week vacation to Israel? Would their friends even know about the past weekend’s events? We emailed the teachers who responded immediately. They were supportive and compassionate consistent with many of our previous experiences.
Sending our two oldest children to public school has been a relatively positive experience. We’ve felt torn in our decision to choose public school over Jewish day school. For religious and educational reasons, it felt like the right choice for us. Our children have had great teachers and made many friends. They are very open about their religion, taking any opportunity to proudly teach others about our traditions. Many of their friends and classmates have never met or connected with someone who is Jewish before.
But even before Oct. 7, there were issues. Our son has experienced a few antisemitic incidents over the past two years. Whenever those occurred, we ensured the school was notified and that they addressed the situation. We would also report the details to the Hamilton Jewish Federation, which has been working closely with the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board to track and help address antisemitism. We were always met with an empathetic response and acknowledgment of concern. Unfortunately, that’s where the story always seems to end. There have been no discernible or communicated actions that have come out of any conversation that we’ve had with school board administrators to better safeguard our children.
October 10 came and went, and so has each day thereafter. Our children’s worries ease while, in the current climate, ours continue to grow. Ultimately, public school is just an extension of the greater community, the city, and the country we live in. Our children may be exposed to the realities of public discourse and antisemitism earlier than if they were in a Jewish day school. Post October 7, we are nervous about our children showing visible signs of Judaism. Do we tell them to hide this? We have already told them to avoid talking about Israel and the war in school. How do you teach your child that they will be a target of hatred just because they are Jewish?
Laura Waltman and Ari Levin are long-time members of the Hamilton Jewish community.