I just received the following anonymous comment on my post What’s Your Excuse? Leaving children alone, revisited:
Hi. I just came across your blog by accident, but then again maybe it wasn’t an accident. I just returned from a 12 day trip to Israel with a tour group. I love Israel and the Israeli people.
While riding through Jerusalem one morning on the tour bus, I saw a lot of children walking alone. I’m assuming to school because of the backpacks they had. As the bus continued through town I remarked to my husband everytime I saw young children walking alone. Some holding on to one another, others talking carelessly and others, no more than 5 years old, walking alone. The more children I saw alone the more upset I became. At one point I thought I would cry. I even prayed for them while passing through.
I was shocked to see how young some of these children were knowing they were all alone. I don’t think I ever saw children walking with adults.
I wouldn’t think of letting my child walk alone to school everyday.
It just broke my heart. It may be your custom but something I couldn’t do. I don’t understand how anyone could let their child walk through town alone. And to leave a baby in bed alone in the house…..Isn’t there a law against this. If this happened in the U.S. and you got caught you could be sent to jail. I can’t imagine leaving a baby alone in bed and leaving the house for a 20 minute trip into town to pick up another child. It just breaks my heart.
Don’t you have more love for a child than that? Is this your custom? Do all parents and sitters do this?
Concerned in the U.S.
[edited for spelling]
First of all, let me assure you that what you saw is a cultural phenomenon that has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism. There are several reasons for it.
1) Israel is considered safe for children. True, there is a level of false security as we unfortunately have our share of pedophiles, rapists and of course terror attacks, not to mention traffic accidents, but kidnappings and abductions are virtually unheard of. I myself regularly walk alone at night, which I never did comfortably in the midwestern city where I grew up. When I am in the mall I need to watch my children to be sure they don’t get lost or go up the escalator alone, but I don’t have to hold their hands tightly for fear that they will wander off, be picked up by strangers and never be seen again. Of course there is a risk but not to the same degree.
2) Parents need to leave for work before the children leave for school, and because it is “safe” they go by themselves. Many children also take school busses.
3) In many communities the age at which children are entrusted with younger siblings is appallingly low. I have heard of 5 year olds sent to bring two and three year olds home from the bus stop. Because of the large number of closely spaced children in some communities, this has become an accepted norm there.
Thanks for inspiring me to do a little research. The website of Beterem, an organization dedicated to child safety, states that under Israeli law, children under the age of six may not be left alone. In the US and Canada, the minimum age is 10-13. Beterem is trying to have the law changed and recommends not leaving children alone under the age of 12. (Unfortunately the website is only in Hebrew.) That babysitter was breaking the law by leaving the baby alone (by the way, the kindergarten is half a block from the child’s home so we are talking 5-10 minutes, not that that excuses anything). Beterem also recommends that children be at least nine years old before being allowed to cross streets and walk to school alone. For what it’s worth, in my neighborhood, most children under 9 are either brought home by a parent or babysitter or attend an afterschool program.
Israel sees itself as a child-loving society, and the birth rate is much higher than in Europe and even the US. Even many secular Jews have three children or more. I have written other posts about whether Israel truly values its children:
Leaving Children Alone
Does Israel Support Family Values?
Women’s Hospital Center Devalues Mothers
Thank you for visiting both Israel and the blog, and for your comments and your concern for our children.