Hopefully a happy יום המשפחה (Family Day).

Five years in Israel, and this is the first one where “יום המשפחה” or “Family Day” has caught my attention. Well, it figures.

What used to be Mother’s Day here in Israel evolved into Family Day, including celebration of mother, father, grandparents, or whoever is taking care of you. It’s not a Hallmark holiday; there are no commercial gifts given. Children experience the most significant portion of the day at school, where they create paintings or art projects reflecting their families and in some cases, share photos of their families.

From what I gather after reading up, Family Day has actually turned into an inevitable problem. Israel is a place where getting married – even to a member of the opposite gender – can get very political very fast. Civil marriage is a sore topic and even two born-Jews trying to get married can run into issues.  Plenty of Israeli couples opt to not marry at all but remain ‘domestic partners’ with their own marriage contracts. Others are same-sex couples raising their families, born from a buffet of alternative methods. The divorce rate in Israel is sky-high, so single-parent families could arguably be ‘the norm’ in many communities.

So the inevitable problem of Family Day in Israel is when kids pay for not belonging to a ‘normal’ family. The most unfortunate thing is when kids are the ones who pay the price of ignorance, intolerance or insensitivity by being singled out, made to feel like less and mocked. Where is the education of children in tolerance and diversity? The concept of diversity being ok is so lacking across the societal board here, despite being such a multicultural society with a rainbow of histories and backgrounds… Why not start teaching children about it with Family Day?

Kids were only born; they didn’t commit to their same-sex lover or divorce their incompatible spouse. They didn’t feel like victims of the Israeli marriage laws and settle for living together unmarried. So why make the kids feel ashamed? Why leave children to defend societal non-norms and marital evolution?

Way to turn a happy occasion into a depressing State of family affairs.

Here’s a little piece of trivia, then. Israeli Family Day is held on ל’ שבט every year; random, no. It’s the yirzheit of Henrietta Szold, the American woman who founded Hadassah and started the first Youth Aliyah projects. She was known as ‘the mother of children’ for her work in starting the Zionist organization in Palestine that saved 22,000 Jewish children during the Holocaust.

Of course, Henrietta Szold had no children of her own, but hopefully she felt fulfilled, connected, loved and cherished by the thousands of children she touched with her work.

I wonder what she’d have to say about alternative families.