On Saturday, July 29, I took my seven-year-old twin daughters to the large Gome Junction protest, the northernmost protest against the judicial reforms in Israel.
These protests have been occurring for 30 weeks in a row at junctions and in cities across Israel. Since the beginning, I have disagreed with the current government’s attempts to weaken Israel’s judicial branch. My American civics education, along with my Jewish upbringing in justice and Tikkun Olam, instilled a firm belief in democracy and the need for the balance of power in a functioning democracy. To be honest, I haven’t attended protests regularly, but this past week, with the passage of a basic law that removed the high court’s ability to strike down laws based on “reasonableness,” I felt the need to put my beliefs into action.
But why take seven-year-old children? As a parent, I believe it is my job to explain what is happening in the world to my children in an age-appropriate manner, whether it is where babies come from or why we cannot go to Lebanon (despite seeing the border from our kibbutz). I would rather my children hear about issues affecting our lives from my husband and myself, not only from the outside world. This has led to multiple explanations about why there are protests and protest signs around our kibbutz. It has even included a lesson about Israel’s multi-party election system in contrast to the USA’s two-party system, demonstrated with Lego figures (yes, I probably went too far down the rabbit hole with that one). I believe I need to expose my children to these concepts in ways they can comprehend, not just discuss them. I can also thank my neighbors for leading by example, because they have been actively involved in the protest movement from the beginning with similarly aged children. Watching my neighbors gave me the strength to act on my values.
So, what was the experience like for my daughters and myself? First, I will admit that I’m not a huge fan of crowds and panic at the thought of finding parking in a small, crowded location (this has prevented me from attending previous protests). Luckily, the protest organizers sent through WhatsApp a map of where to park and we easily found a spot. While walking to the protest, we saw people of all ages standing on all the corners and median of the junction. There were young parents who were wearing their babies, older adults sitting on stools, kids, college students, teenagers, and more. My daughters were handed noise makers (which we hid the next morning) and bumper stickers. There was a children’s corner with face painting and markers to decorate flags. My daughters loved getting their faces painted with Israeli flags (this was probably the highlight for them). Along one side of the road, multiple tables were set up selling T-shirts with slogans like “Resist” and “Freedom in our Land.” I relented to my daughters’ requests for a T-shirt and purchased an oversized one for each.
The protest itself consisted of lots of noise, chanting, flag waving, periodic blocking of traffic (one lane each time for approximately 10 minutes), and three short speeches. The speech that touched me the most was delivered by our neighbor, Chen, a child psychologist. I think my daughters also were impacted by this speech, because it was given by someone they know well (he is the father of their friend and they have known him since they were babies). Chen explained that one of the first words children learn to say is “no,” which marks the beginning of a long process of developing independence. To help their children develop into emotionally healthy adults, parents must learn to negotiate with their children’s “no” – when to give in and when to explain why they disagree with them. The “no” turns to rebellion when children feel unheard, mistreated, and disrespected. Chen continued by comparing this process to the current protests against the government. The protesters feel their “no” to judicial reform is being purposefully ignored by the government, just like rebellious children whose “no” is not respected. Chen concluded by encouraging the crowd to continue rebelling until their voices are heard.
The protest ended after an hour or so and my daughters and I were ready to go home. The crowd was a little overwhelming for us and it was getting close to their bedtime. However, we agreed we would go together again the following week. As I tell my children regularly, I am lucky to be their mom and I’m lucky that I could share this experience with them. I hope it has made an impression on my daughters beyond getting their faces painted, but only time will tell. For myself, I felt that I was living my values and providing my children an opportunity to see how one can protest peacefully, respectfully, and powerfully.
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Liz Dovrat is the daughter of Barbara Dudley, Jewish Community Relations Council chair. She has written previously for Jewish News on life in Israel with her family.