When you were a child, what was your favorite color? I distinctly remember the discussion my first-grade classmates had about favorite colors. Most of the girls declared that red was their favorite. I had an innate streak of Israeli davka-ness in me, way before I became an Israeli, was determined not to be like everyone else so I declared that my favorite was blue.
In Israel, for many children, red has become an issue – for very different reasons.
The siren that warns us of incoming missiles is called RED ALERT. In the north, because our enemies are a little further away, we have a whole minute to reach a bomb shelter or safe room. Israelis who live near the border with Gaza have just 15 seconds.
The siren I hear when there are missiles sounds like this:
In the south, near Gaza, the alert is different. The time it takes for the siren to increase in volume and for the human ear to register that the sound it is hearing is a siren are precious seconds the citizens of southern Israel do not have. That is why the warning for incoming missiles for southern Israel is different – there, instead of a siren, the words COLOR RED are blared out:
COLOR RED means RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.
Yes, we have missile defense systems but they do not always work. A successful missile interception means that the missile exploded in the air rather than exploding on the ground. This means that also when the defense system works, burning hot metal is falling from the sky. This can damage, injure and even kill.
When missiles are incoming, you do NOT want to be outside.
The original siren for the south used the words RED DAWN (Shachar Adom). The problem with that is that there are children, both boys and girls who are named Shachar (which means dawn in Hebrew). In consideration of the trauma and stigma this could create, the army changed the siren to the words COLOR RED.
How do you think children who grew up hearing this warning feel about the color red?
When we visited Kibbutz Alumim, social worker Esther Marcus told us about small children who started avoiding red. They didn’t want to wear red, use red for coloring or play with red toys. Can you blame them?
It is a horrible feeling to be a grown-up, a parent, knowing that your children have had their innocence stolen away, simply because they are Jewish and live in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. Children’s thoughts about colors should not be dictated by a terrorist organization. Children should be free to play outside, free to walk from their home to visit a friend, without having to worry about where the closest bomb shelter is.
But that is our reality. So the question then becomes, what can we do about it?
We want our children to grow up free-spirited, with strong wills and good mental health (who doesn’t?). We want our children to grow up kind and generous, not fearful, bitter or full of hate – even for the people trying to kill us.
Israelis go to extraordinary lengths to make this possible and, for the most part, we succeed.
Israeli children know that Gazan children are raised on hate but they still hope that one day Gazan children will learn that Israeli children can be good friends to play with. That’s why many Israeli communities, on the Gaza border, have held kite festivals, flying kites with messages of peace as their answer to the kites with messages of death and destruction we receive.
Even if these kites have no effect on our enemies (and they don’t), they have a positive effect on our children. Instead of allowing this symbol of childhood innocence to be stolen and completely perverted into a symbol of violence and war, children learn that it is up to the flyer of the kite to determine what it will mean.
For this reason, Esther Marcus wrote a children’s story about the color red. When we visited Kibbutz Alumim, we went to the kindergarten and she read the story to us with the children. It is both inspiring and gut-wrenchingly horrifying to witness the effort necessary to keep our children well balanced.
The story is about colors. Each color has its own qualities and they all feel happy and self-confident. Only the color red begins to cry, devastated that everyone is afraid of him. He says: “Even the cats and dogs run to hide under the bed when they hear my name!” Then the other colors come to comfort Red: “Wait a minute, said Blue, the opposite is true! You warn them of the rockets and give them a chance to run to the safe place!”
After the story, the kindergarten teachers asked the kids what their favorite colors are. Interestingly a number of them said white (which includes all the colors of the rainbow and in Israel is associated with purity and often worn on holidays). One girl told us shyly: “pink.” A boy shouted with confidence: “RED!”
Esther and the teachers then asked the children: “And what is the most important thing to have when it comes to colors?”
At first, I didn’t understand the question. When I heard the kids answer and understood what these grown-ups are teaching them, I wanted to cry.
This is how, in an impossible, unbearable reality, Israeli children grow up to be kind and good, optimistic rather than being bitter or hateful, understanding the consequences of a dangerous reality and still hoping for a better future.
Can you guess what the children answered?
“A rainbow. The best thing is a rainbow.”
If you are interested in buying Tzeva Adom (in Hebrew, with or without an added English translation) or would like to find out how you can help the people of Kibbutz Alumim contact Esther Marcus at: Esthermarcus610@gmail.com