My eldest son finishes school at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. After a half-hour bus ride, he usually comes home at about 5:40. On this particular day, I looked up at the clock and noticed it was 5:50.

“There’s probably traffic,” I said to myself. At 5:53, our“There’s probably traffic,” I said to myself. phone rang, once, and I must have been giving someone a bath because I didn’t hear the one ring. At 6:20, my son still wasn’t home. Someone had mentioned to me earlier that day about local protesting. I hadn’t heard about any other protests or traffic jams. Little did I know.

By 6:30, I was on the phone with another mother whose son usually rides the bus with mine. She wasn’t home, but her husband told her that their son had arrived a bit late, but was now home.

It was already 7 o’clock. Even if my son had walked home from school, it would take no longer than an hour. Where was he? I looked at my house phone and saw there was one missed call at 5:53. I dialed the number, no answer. I didn’t know what to do and kept calling my son’s friends to try to speak with one of them. Again, I tried the missed call. A man picked up. He had been on the bus when protests started, and everyone was forced to disembark. Yes, a young teenage boy (my son) had asked to use his phone. That was at 5:53—and about a 45-minute walking distance from our home.

We were at last able to get hold of a friend of my son’s. They had all been together on the bus. When they had to leave, the friends all walked home in one direction, and my son went alone in a different direction. No one had seen him since.

Now it was 7:30, dark, and my husband and I were really worried. I went out in the direction of my son’s school and combed the streets looking for him. There was no traffic. No protests. All the buses were up and running.

My imagination was running wild. Where could he be? What could be happening?

I returned home and went straight to a neighbor to ask them to help me call the police. It’s not that I don’t know the number and not that I can’t speak Hebrew, but in a situation such as this, you feel helpless and confused. They called the police, who, of course, asked to speak with me.

“My son left school three hours ago and hasn’t come home.”

“Where does he hang out?”

“He doesn’t hang out! He goes to school, comes home and then goes back to study.”

“What does he look like?”

“Brown hair, big hazel eyes, black pants, white shirt.”

“Let me guess, big black kipah?”


“We’ll send someone over to get his picture.”

I gave them our address and phone number, and began waiting for the police to come. My husband and daughter went out again to look for my son.

It was 8:45. Waiting for the police, a thought ran through my head: tzedakah (charity). I pickedI wanted to hug him—and scream at him! up the phone to call a charity organization to give a donation, and at that moment as I gave my credit-card number, the door opened and in walked my son.

I wanted to hug him—and to scream at him! I looked into his eyes and something held me back from yelling. He saw my face and himself went a bit pale. I told him that the police were on the way, where in the world had he been, why didn’t he call us, and does he know how much he made us worry?

“Let me explain . . . ,” he says.

My son had indeed been caught in a mess of protesters. He did try calling home (one ring) and actually thought that one ring was fulfilling his responsibility to be in touch. He then saw the police on horses, the protesters, the excitement. He separated from his friends and starting walking the other way. But he got caught up in the excitement of it. One hour passed and then another and another, and then he started to walk home. He didn’t realize that so much time elapsed, and that my husband and I would be worried BEYOND belief.

As he told his story, I suddenly understood that my son was a boy who did an irresponsible act, but he’s not irresponsible. He made a mistake, but didn’t mean to. He’s old enough to know that he should have tried harder to reach us. He saw my distraught face, and he understood upon seeing it how much we were worried, but he didn’t intend to cause any harm.

The police came (even though I called them to tell them that he returned), and I was actually glad because it left an impression upon him. I gave him explicit instructions about what to do in any future delays (he MUST keep calling us, our cell phones, until he actually speaks with someone, etc.). I thanked G‑d that my son was healthy and safe, and I gave a donation for appreciation instead of salvation.

A thought hit me. Many times my children do things likeThis child loves you; he’s not trying to hurt you. throwing their clothes on the floor, leaving their dirty dishes on the table, etc. I’m tired, frustrated and get upset with them. I give them a guilt trip. “How many times do I have to tell you not to . . . Why do you make me have to work so much? . . . Don’t you see that I’m exhausted?!”

The words of our sages ran through my head: “Judge every person favorably.” (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:6).

Judge every person favorably, every person, and that includes your kids. This child loves you, adores you; he’s not trying to hurt you. You do need to teach them responsibility and how to be sensitive, to know right from wrong. But it has to come from a place of education, and out of love and fairness, not out of anger or exhaustion because otherwise our words belittle instead of teach. They fall upon deaf ears. I think to myself how would I want to be taught? From a place coming from compassion or one out of judgmental criticism? This is not coming from me, but from the teachings of our wise and holy sages. They give us the tools to build and nurture our relationships, which is one of the most precious things that we have.

(As a side note: As the protests and traffic delays continue, my son now calls home right away and makes sure to reach one of us. Lesson learned.)