Shooting From the Hip

“You’re not in trouble,” I reassured him. “I’m just curious.”

Eitan was sitting across the table from me. He was still wearing his pajamas, as he usually is when we eat breakfast, and his hair seemed to think that it was still in bed. His almost-six-year-old face looked nervous, as though he did not believe that I only wanted to talk. He had just started to tear off a new piece of his French toast to dip in the syrup on his plate when I asked the question.

“I don’t know,” he said quietly and took a bite.

I didn’t blame him for feeling uncomfortable. Trudy and I have had a number of discussions with Eitan where we were just trying to understand why he was behaving a certain way. My social work instincts told me to avoid the word “why” so I wouldn’t come across as confrontational or interrogative but I could tell that Eitan was still on the defensive.

Plus, this particular situation was… well, it was different. Even if it wasn’t.

I was asking him about a note I’d found on my phone, which I knew I had not written:

I was also thinking about the fact that I found the note the day after seventeen people had been murdered by an eighteen-year-old young man at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

I returned my focus to my sweet, innocent boy sitting across from me. Eitan’s cheeks showed the slightest shade of pink and I thought I saw his lip tremble. He gazed back at me for a moment before tearing off another piece of French toast. Eitan wasn’t fidgeting the way he usually does when he has been caught doing something wrong but it was plain that he did not want to maintain eye contact.

“Eitan, I promise you’re not in trouble,” I said softly. “Do you remember what made you write that note?”

Eitan shrugged. “Because I thought it was funny when Han Solo shot Greedo.”

I paused to think of what to say next.

Trudy and I have been consistent on the “gun issue” since Eitan was little. We have not allowed any toy guns into our house, aside from water pistols. We didn’t buy Eitan a toy gun when we visited the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona and we’ve talked with him about the differences between real bullets and the projectiles that some of his toys shoot. And I was very careful to speak with Eitan about the differences between the Stormtroopers’ blasters and real-life guns before we watched Star Wars together for the first time a few months ago.1

I sighed.

“You’re right,” I answered. “I thought that moment was kind of funny too because of what Han and Greedo were talking about and because it’s a movie. I bet Greedo didn’t think it was too funny to get shot, though.”

Eitan looked down as he chewed. “No, probably not,” he said.

My lips shifted into a half-frown, much like the emoji I use all too often in my text messages.

“Do you know why I was so surprised to see that note in my phone?” I asked.

He looked up at me, but didn’t answer. His eyes still showed a hint of fear.

“Well,” I started again, “do you remember what guns are used for?”

“To shoot people?” Eitan asked meekly.

“Yeah,” I answered. “And what happens when people get shot?”

I could barely hear him as he spoke.

“They die.”

“Right,” I said, my half-frown returning. “Or they get hurt really badly. That’s why Mommy and I don’t want you to play with guns or pretend you have a gun. Because we don’t like the idea of people getting hurt or of you pretending to hurt people. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” he said, nodding.

“Good, I’m glad,” I said. Then I added, “Again, I’m not mad. I promise. I just wanted to make sure you understood how Mommy and I feel. Plus, guns themselves aren’t necessarily bad; there are some people who use guns to hunt for food.”

“Right,” he said, starting to smile. “And police officers use guns to keep us safe, right?”

“Right,” I said, returning the smile. “People who use guns just have to be trained and we have to be really careful around them.”

I changed the subject at that point, feeling confident enough that the message had gotten across. I’m not worried that Eitan will grow up to be a serial killer or that he’ll shoot up a school but there have been so many mass shootings2 and terrorist attacks3 since Eitan was born that the idea of him playing with guns makes me sick to my stomach. I know that I can’t control what he does at recess at school or when he’s playing with his friends; I wouldn’t want to. Eitan will make those decisions as he grows and learns more about himself and the world around him. Trudy and I are just going to have to keep having these conversations with him as he gets older to make sure that he’s making informed decisions and considering the consequences of his choices.

He’ll have to take things from there.

1. I know I wrote once that I was going to wait until Eitan was older to show him Star Wars. I wrote that piece over a year ago, though, and Shayna and Trudy were both not feeling well one weekend this past fall, so he and I watched it together while they slept.

2. Aurora. Sandy Hook. Orlando. Las Vegas. Parkland.

3. Paris. Barcelona. Malmo, Sweden. And these two footnotes are just off the top of my head without doing additional research.

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday night, my family and I attended a Shabbat dinner at our local synagogue. Shabbat – the Sabbath day – is observed on Friday night through Saturday evening in Judaism. It commemorates the seventh day of creation, when the Bible says that God rested after having spent the previous six days creating the world. Jews observe the day by taking a break from their regular, day-to-day activities to pray and spend time with family and friends.

The dinner was sponsored by the synagogue religious school and preschool and my wife happened to be one of the organizers for the event. Approximately forty families from the synagogue school community came together to pray, eat and enjoy each other’s company. The event started with the usual Friday evening prayer service and then led into the Shabbat meal. Parents shepherded their children into the synagogue ballroom, where tables had been prepared for the meal. The rabbi led the group in singing Shalom Aleichem,1 recited the kiddush, the blessing over the wine, and helped all of the parents recite the ritual Shabbat blessings for their children.

The evening was beautiful. We got to spend time together, not only as a family of three, but as a community. My wife and I end up working into the evening so frequently that eating dinners together as a family are rare occurrences during the week. Shabbat, though, is a sacred time that we use to be together as a family. The dinner at the synagogue gave us the opportunity to reconnect, not only with each other, but also with our friends.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday evening, in Paris, France, at 9:20 PM, local time, two bombs exploded moments apart at Stade de France, a stadium where France was playing Germany in a soccer match.2 Over the next half hour, terrorists carried out additional attacks using bombs, shrapnel and assault weapons at four different Paris restaurants and Bataclan, a small concert hall where the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, had been performing. By the time the terrorists had been subdued, 129 people had been killed and over 350 people had been wounded. The world watched as information began to emerge about the terrorists and the lengths to which they had gone to create fear and to publicize their messages of hate.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Even though the attacks began around 4:20 PM Eastern Time, I had not heard anything about them until much later in the evening. I came home a bit early from work that afternoon so that I could spend some time with my wife and son before we had to leave to get to the synagogue to finish off the last-minute preparations for the dinner. In fact, it was not until at least halfway through the actual dinner – probably around 8:00 or so – that I heard anything about the attacks.

It was a flashbulb memory, to be sure. I know that, years later, I will be able to remember the exact spot where I had been sitting when Trudy told me about the tragedy that had taken place in Paris earlier that day. I will be able to feel my elbows leaning on the table and my chin resting on my fists as my eyes, tired from the week of work that had just finished, stared lazily into space and then suddenly became laser focused.

I’ll remember the feeling of ease and relaxation that I always appreciate so much during the singing of the Shabbat evening prayer services. I’ll remember the connection between Trudy, Eitan and me as Trudy and I placed our hands on Eitan’s head to give him his weekly blessing. And I’ll remember the way my shoulders suddenly tightened and my heart sank as I heard the news.

I’ll remember wondering how it was possible that people could be inflicting such terrible pain at the same time as such wonderful experiences were being created. I’ll remember wondering how people could perpetrate such terrible acts at all. I’ll remember feeling utter sadness as I realized that I was starting to feel somewhat numb to the idea of this type of a tragedy, since I had already lost count of the violent acts that had been carried out in the few years since Eitan was born.

Most importantly, though, I’ll remember the silent determination, the internal resolution, to keep teaching Eitan about love and respect for other people, no matter what evil they might try to carry out against him or anyone else. I’ll remember that Eitan has a pure, empathetic heart that is destined to make the world a better place. I’ll remember how thankful I am to have my family and my friends around to help me try to make sense of the circumstances that some people face on a daily basis.

I’ll remember reinforcing my decision to help Eitan see the best of times, even when it feels like the worst of times.


1. Shalom Aleichem is a Hebrew song that portrays the singers welcoming angels into their midst to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat.

2. My notes about the timeline of the attacks came from here.