Israeli Defense Forces: The T-shirt Saga

June 23rd, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  12 Comments

I’ve written a little bit about how a fair percentage of the teachers at JP’s pre-K are observant Muslims. It’s not something I think about on a regular basis, but it came up again this morning.

JP has entered a strongly independent phase of late. He insists on washing his own hair in the bathtub, fixing his own breakfast (or at least assembling the cereal and milk mixture on his own), and choosing his own clothes. It is the clothing part that concerned me today, and not because of matching issues between shirt and shorts.

Some months back I took a trip to Israel to do research for my book on Jewish identity. Before I returned home I picked up some gifts for both JP and Ellie: a onesie for her, and for JP a green T-shirt with the logo of the Israel Defense Forces.

This was no sort of political statement, and I don’t think this is a forum to discuss my feelings about Israel, Jewish self-identification, issues relating to Palestine, or the Occupation. JP likes camo clothing and I bought the T-shirt without a second thought.

Then, today, JP decided to wear it to school. As soon as I saw him wearing it my heart sank a little. He’s very sensitive about his new independence, and I knew he would be angry and hurt that I didn’t trust him enough to let him select his own clothes. But the thought of him wearing it to school, in front of his very kind, but very Muslim, and quite possibly very Palestinian teachers, struck me as a pretty bad idea. I made him change out of it. Tears were shed.

It happened that today I brought Ellie with me to drop JP off at school. There was the usual chaos, the chitchat with other parents, a quick perusal of the classroom artwork. Also, the teachers, as they do with all the baby siblings, made a big deal about Ellie sitting in her stroller.

Walking out of the school, passing each smile educator in her hijab, cooing and smiling and making eyes at my half-Jewish baby, I couldn’t decide: had I acted out of sensitivity, cowardice, expedience, or all of them? Had I underestimated their character or accurately judged the limits of their tolerance?

No clue.


  1. Matt says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 11:33 am(#)

    The correct answer is “cowardice.”

  2. dadwagon says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 11:36 am(#)

    @matt: Are you so sure? As I implied in the post, I’m not interested in using my son and his clothing to make a political statement. Nor am I such an enthusiastic supporter of the IDF and its actions that I would want to make a statement in its favor, even if I was willing to talk politics by kiddie-proxy. –Theodore.

  3. Matt says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 12:23 pm(#)

    Fine, oversensitivity then. I’m just saying, you won’t know how they’ll react until they actually react—or don’t react. They’re public-school employees in NYC, they’ve got to be accustomed to the occasional IDF shirt, and to preemptively assume they *might* be offended by it is to underestimate their intelligence, sensitivity, and capability.

  4. dadwagon says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 12:26 pm(#)

    Well, first they aren’t public school, so that doesn’t matter. Second, I’m not contesting anyone’s right to wear the shirt. it’s a matter of whether or not it’s a good idea, particularly because I don’t think I’m a natural for a stridently pro-Zionist politica statement, which is what the shirt would be. –theodore

  5. Mahmud Almendi says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 12:41 pm(#)

    don’t buy Israeli propaganda then

  6. Matt says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 12:48 pm(#)

    I still don’t see why it would be a bad idea. If the teachers don’t care, then they don’t care. If they do, and say something about it, then you get to explain the shirt’s backstory and you all learn a little something about each other. If they care, and don’t say anything, but start being mean to JP, then you can blame me.

    However it plays out, not changing the kid seems preferable to a fight over his outfit. And isn’t the avoidance of conflict (and effort) the DadWagon way?

  7. dadwagon says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 1:59 pm(#)

    No, Matt, I’m still not with you. It would be one thing to have JP wear a yarmulke, which would be fine, and might result in an interesting conversation: religious garb meets religious garb. Think of it this way–there was that public school here in Brooklyn some years back where the students, I believe, were wearing t-shirts that read “intifada” (how’s that for propaganda, eh, Mahmud?). Those shirts weren’t designed as an opportunity for “backstory,” with the Jewish students in that school. It was, at best, an insult, and at worst, a provocation. –theodore.

  8. Lori says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 3:03 pm(#)

    Have to say that I agree with Theodore on this one – even if the teachers didn’t react or didn’t care, I wouldn’t want to put someone in a place of wondering if I, as the parent, meant it as a political statement or not, or pushing values on my kid – basically everything already discussed! I guess that labels me a ‘coward’ too – but I’d rather err on the side of not offending anyone.

  9. dadwagon says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 4:46 pm(#)

    @Lori–since you agree with me, you are quite clearly right. –theodore.

  10. Matt says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 4:52 pm(#)

    @Ted: Tell you what, when JP outgrows it, give it to me. I’ll dress Sasha in it—by then it’ll be vintage, and stripped of any political meaning.

  11. dadwagon says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 4:54 pm(#)

    You’re welcome to it, but frankly, the notion that anything having to do with Israel and its role in the world will be “stripped of political meaning,” strikes me as unlikely, now, in the coming years, or at any point. –theodore

  12. Matt says:

    June 23rd, 2011at 4:58 pm(#)

    I’ll think about that next time I pick up a couple of keffiyehs at Urban Outfitters.

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