Israeli society is very friendly to children and very (even overly) tolerant of their behavior, as long as it is not dangerous.
Janus Korczak, a writer/teacher who worked to advance children’s rights, wrote that children are “individuals who are people–not people-to-be, not people of tomorrow, but people now, right now–today.” I think Israeli society really embraces that idea and treats children like human beings instead of tag-alongs. People strike up conversations with children all the time, notice when they need something, tell them when they are doing something wrong (instead of just telling their parents), and interact with them in a manner that shows that they are important and valued just as they are and not only for who they will become.
That’s such a big generalization, but I think it’s true. I hope a couple of anecdotes from today will illustrate what I mean.
Today I was riding the bus home from the shuk with Rafi, as usual, and he wormed his way through the crowd and found a seat while I got stuck in the front of the bus behind a huge logjam of people. At the next stop, enough people got off that I was able to find him, and I found that he had already made a friend, an older man who said Rafi took his seat but that now they were friends because Rafi was giving him cashews.
Another man joined us, and he was old and toothless and fake-cried when Rafi offered him cashews and he couldn’t have any. He gave Rafi pretzels. The first man gave me parenting advice (of course) and insisted that Rafi say thank you for the pretzels because (insert lecture about the importance of early childhood character formation). Rafi had actually already said thank you but since his mouth was full of cashews, it hadn’t been heard. The first man said he would be a good soldier and that I needed to teach him not to touch strangers so much. The second man said that Rafi was an Israeli child because he was stealing his hat (not really sure how that makes him Israeli, maybe because he was being so wild).
Actually, it was an overwhelming bus ride, and I was happy when our stop arrived.
Tonight we went out to dinner to celebrate Jeff’s birthday. Happy birthday Jeff! Our friends with two very active boys a little older than Rafi came, and the three of them were absolutely wild, dancing, pulling on each other, jumping, and even playing tag in the restaurant.
I was just about dying of embarrassment and told Rafi he could dance and play but no running and playing tag. But no one said a word to us, not customers, not waitstaff, and I should know by now that Israelis don’t hold back; if the kids were bothering someone, I’m sure I would have heard about it. One of our friends who was there, an Israeli, said that it was tame compared to how her family acts and they were acting completely like normal kids.
Now I know why children in Israel have such notoriously bad manners: children are junior members of society, and therefore natural childhood behavior is valued. For better and for worse.