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?