Learning by the Gun


January 16, 2003, 05:46 PM
Learning by the Gun

Paula R. Stern
16 January 2003

Some people write because they feel a need to express themselves for others. Others write because they need to work through inner feelings that otherwise would continue to plague them. I’m in this latter group. I write because the need to release the words overwhelms me. With each keystroke, the words, expressions of anger and sadness, frustration and pain, or even great joy and pride, all become crystal clear. Suddenly, what had so impacted on my life moments before, will gain perspective and enable me to deal with whatever emotions I’m experiencing.

Somewhere in the process of writing, you have to assign a title to your work. Usually, the title is a summary of what you have written, a catchy way to grab people’s eye and make them want to read. For me, the title comes near the end and sometimes not at all. I’ve written articles and sent them to newspapers and online magazines with the request that the editor help me label the piece. I’ve even come up with the stupidest title of all, “No, Never. Yes, Always. ” and was shocked when three different editors used it. I guess, like me, they couldn’t come up with anything better to describe our conflicting feelings about wanting to live in Israel always and yet never wanting our children to experience some of the daily occurrences here.

So, this morning, as I often do when I’m driving children to school, planning my day and thinking about work, I thought over a conversation I’d just had with my 15 year old. And, like they often do, the words began forming themselves into an article. This time, perhaps for the first time, the title popped into my head before the words. “Learning by the Gun.”

No, this wasn’t to be an article about those who live by the gun, and therefore are predicted to die by it. Nor was it to be an article for or against gun control. As I drove through my morning ritual of taking two children to school, stopping at the market and checking the mail, I thought about the scene my oldest son had described before shuffling off to bed this morning.

He’d been up all night, and the words came quickly. What amazed me was his acceptance of the situation that to me, with the lingering remnants of my American upbringing still intact, sounded surrealistic and foreign. Like all schools in Israel that have over a certain amount of students, my son’s high school hires a full time guard, who inspects each person seeking entrance. From early in the morning, until the last student leaves in the late afternoon hours, the guard sits at his post, watches the street and the children who play and learn within the fenced schoolyard.

Last night, at a special all-night learning session, the guard wasn’t there. The boys met at the school at 10:00 p.m. with their teachers to study. This is a Jewish tradition that encourages learning around the clock, throughout the week and months, unconnected to the normal time schedules we impose on ourselves. These special events are a way of teaching our sons to make a commitment that is not limited to a few hours a day. We are teaching them that our religion and our laws are an integral part of the Jew that they will one day become. My son started describing the night’s events to me, including the 1:00 a.m. barbeque, by explaining that there was no guard. That, of course, got my attention. Then he explained, “so you know who guarded us?”

One teacher sat with an M-16 all night, hand by the trigger, as he taught. Another also had a gun, though I don’t remember the type. The school is located on the northern edge of Jerusalem and even from afar, the lit building could be a magnet to attract a terrorist hoping to find a vulnerable target. I can picture the large room, full of tables and boys and books, and two men who were fathers and teachers and sometimes soldiers in the reserves, charged with teaching my son the facts of Jewish law, and the realities of Israeli life.

So, there you have it. Last night, on a quiet Jerusalem winter evening, my son learned by the gun.
Paula R. Stern is the Founder and Documentation Manager of WritePoint, a technical writing company.


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January 16, 2003, 05:51 PM
Two different worlds.

We're joining theirs, slowly, surely, and reluctantly.... :(

January 16, 2003, 05:55 PM
There you have it...........:(

Sad but it is going to become more commonplace.........

4v50 Gary
January 16, 2003, 06:05 PM
Without the gun, there would be no learning. Just ducking, scrambling for cover and lotsa screaming.

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