An Israeli novelist on being a good mother and empathetic in hard times

Aylet Gundar-Goshen has previously said the trait she finds most irritating in others is, 'indifference to others’ suffering'
The Temple Mount/ Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas

Two days after the October 6 attack by Hamas militants on Israel, the psychologist and author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen went on the BBC to describe her family’s situation. She had been due in London to discuss her new novel The Wolf Hunt but news developments forced her to stay home in Tel Aviv.

But she did take a moment to speak to the BBC on the phone and the terms of the discussion struck me particularly forcefully.

While in a state of some anguish about recent events, Ms Gundar-Goshen was able to be clear-eyed about the human impact on all sides.

The sudden multi-front attack on Israel came as a huge shock to the country, remember. It happened on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, also known as the Ramadan War. That was when Israel and an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria fought from October 6 to 25, 1973.

Ms Gundar-Goshen described the fallout of the attack, mostly the trauma suffered by her children and her need to parent them in the “safe room” in her house. (She did explain, however, that her house, which was very old, did not have a real safe room – windowless and thick-walled – and for her family a safe room was simply going home and closing the door.)

The novelist, who has previously said the trait she finds most irritating in others is, “indifference to others’ suffering“, discussed the difficulties of ethical parenting in troubled times. She struggled, she said, as a trained psychologist and a mother, to remind her children that on the other side too there were children and families just like theirs. But she added, she felt it important to do so and in that small act of empathy she may have illustrated our deepest and most profound human trait.