“Don’t You Have More Love for a Child than That?”

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]

Dear Anonymous,

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:
Home Alone
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.

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Comments

  1. SephardiLady says:

    Where I grew up, kindergarteners and 1st graders often walked to school in groups. Today, I wonder if that happens. Personally, I’m sad that we live in so much fear today in the US, and would be happy to live in a place where we could be more trusting.

  2. mother in israel says:

    Come to think of it, I walked the two blocks to kindergarten by myself when I was five years old.

  3. Jerusalem Joe says:

    what’s the big deal?
    when i was a kid we always walked to school alone, both in israel and in the american suburb.
    if our parents would have tried to join us i think we would not have let them…
    actually from what i see today, parents are way too protective of their children, it’s almost stifling.

  4. Yoel.Ben-Avraham says:

    We visited Canada between 1986 and 1991. The fear of letting a child out of your sight was almost pathological. Upon our return to Israel (in the dangerous “Occupied Territories”) our children, all under 13, could dissappear for hours. Eventually we had to set ground rules like, call us before dark. Otherwise we’d never hear from them. My personal summary of the differences between Canada and Israel: Israeli life empowers children, abroad they are forced to be dependent and relegated to ‘immaturity’ far past their teen years!

  5. SephardiLady says:

    In America, 20 years ago in our safe suburb, my best friend and I used to disappear hours in the summer. We’d ride our bikes, go to the schoolyard to play on the equipment or play ball, go to the library, and more. We’d just stop in for lunch or a snack and head back out.

    I feel bad that kids today need to be so protected. It contributes to a sedentary life. It really is too bad.

  6. kollel mama says:

    Wow. Nice answers. It’s sad though that it is the “norm”. It would look ridiculous if I would see a mother of father picking up their six year old from school. Pathetic.
    Oh, and ditto to sephardilady.

  7. I, too, remember “running wild” as a kid in the US- we’d all bike back and forth to eachother’s houses and my parents never knew exactly where we were.

    Today? No way. Not even in Israel would I let my little kids go it alone. Although many parents here do this, there are also many of us (even sabras) who don’t.

  8. mother in israel says:

    THanks KM and RR.

    The truth is that I let my younger kids go fairly young to school alone, but after their experiences and from what I have learned about traffic safety my first grader will definitely be escorted both ways in the fall.

  9. I understand the author’s perspective. It is stated more strongly as a value judgement than the situation warrants, but I can see why she would think that as an outsider.

    When I first came to Israel, I lived in an absorption center, and one of the very first things I noticed was how the children, some very young, were out on their own for long hours with seemingly no supervision or even basic checking in with parents or elders. Completely foreign to what I was used to.

    At present I commute to work and some of my fellow passengers are young boys on the way to yeshiva. They are not ideal travelers as they are, to say the least, youthfully rambunctious, but I understand as someone who has now lived in Israel some time that they are fine traveling to and fro by themselves and that everyone is watching out for them if need be.

    ~ Maya

  10. FYI Hannah, not sure why my name and URL came out on the same line. That’s not the way I entered it.

    ~ Maya

  11. I think it’s beautiful that you can let an 8 or 9 year old walk to school, safely, by themselves, or even with a [slightly] younger sibling. However, 5 year olds should not be taking the bus by themselves to school. That’s just too much.

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