'It's lovely, but why deliberately omit Israeli children?'

Toddler video superstar ‘Ms. Rachel’ launches Gaza fundraiser, dividing Jewish moms

The children’s YouTube sensation raises $50,000 in hours for Save the Children fund for kids in Gaza, Congo, Sudan and Ukraine; online forums for mothers bash absence of Israel

Ms. Rachel, the hit children's video educator and singer-songwriter, in a clip from one of her videos. (Screenshot via YouTube/ JTA)
Ms. Rachel, the hit children's video educator and singer-songwriter, in a clip from one of her videos. (Screenshot via YouTube/ JTA)

JTA — The children’s YouTube sensation Ms. Rachel has ignited a controversy among Jewish and Israeli moms — and it’s not about screen time.

On Monday, Ms. Rachel — whose real name is Rachel Griffin Accurso and whose bright voice, overalls and pink headband are instantly recognizable to toddlers and their parents — announced that she was creating a fundraiser to benefit children in conflict areas, including Gaza.

“The idea is, I’ll make videos for little ones, and all the money raised on my end will go to Save the Children’s emergency fund, which will go to children living in conflict in Gaza, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine,” she said in the video announcement. (Griffin Accurso refers to children as “little ones.”)

“Hopefully I can make little ones smile by giving them a personal video, and then the money will go to help more children living in unimaginable circumstances,” she added. “Children should never experience the horrors of war.”

So many people took Ms. Rachel up on her offer that she paused sales through the website Cameo, which allows celebrities to sell personalized videos, after selling 500 videos and raising $50,000 within hours. “Didn’t think I could love Ms Rachel more, but look at you taking a stand,” one commenter wrote on TikTok, where Ms. Rachel has 4.3 million followers. (She has nearly 10 million followers on YouTube.)

But the announcement was less popular among some Jewish and Israeli fans who saw Ms. Rachel’s advocacy for children in Gaza as taking sides in the seven-month-old Israel-Hamas war.

“When I saw her fundraiser, it really triggered me,” Moran Gold, a Jewish mother and multilingual speech therapist who teaches language and reading to young children, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Israeli children and firefighters participate in a drill that simulates a fire in a kindergarten following the fall of a rocket in Amuka, Northern Israel, April 2, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“I feel that it’s lovely — and I want to emphasize this: I think it’s lovely for an educator to try to bring light to children in Gaza or in Sudan or in Congo or in Ukraine — but I don’t understand why it’s a deliberate attempt by her and her team and Save the Children to never mention Israeli children,” said Gold, who also posts educational videos on social media. “And that includes Arab children, Jewish children, Druze children, Christian children and all other children that live in Israel.”

Save the Children is a nonprofit that aims to protect children around the world from violence and disease and improve their access to education. Its emergency fund supports children’s needs in areas with active humanitarian crises, including war zones.

The group does not work in Israel, although its website points visitors to other charities that do. In the fall, it also issued multiple statements about the situation in Israel and Gaza, including one expressing concern about the status of child hostages.

Save the Children did not respond to JTA’s request for comment, and Ms. Rachel declined to comment for this story.

Criticism of Ms. Rachel’s fundraiser also flared on Instagram, where she has 2 million followers and where she disabled comments on the announcement post after a flurry of angry messages. Now, anger about the fact that the entertainer is not raising money for Israeli children, too, can be seen in comments attached to other, unrelated posts on her account.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Ms Rachel (@msrachelforlittles)

“What about Israeli children Ms Rachel,” one reads. Another says, “What about the hostages?!!!! do they matter.” A third reads, “What about children in Israel? How about the the [sic] children hostages??? You ‘care’ about the children except if they are from israel! Shame.”

Hamas took dozens of children hostage when it invaded Israel on October 7, and dozens of children were also among the 1,200 Israelis killed. Most child hostages were released during a temporary ceasefire in November, but two — Ariel and Kfir Bibas, 4 and 1 — remain in Gaza, among roughly 130 Israeli hostages, of which a significant number are understood to be dead. Within Israel, thousands of children were among the hundreds of thousands evacuated from their homes in the south and north because of the war. Roughly 80,000 Israelis are still unable to return to their homes.

Children living in Gaza, meanwhile, have experienced seven months of war that has required most people living in the enclave to leave their homes, some multiple times. United Nations statistics show that thousands have been killed, though figures are provided by the Hamas-run health ministry and the exact number of dead has not been verified. Many children and their parents do not have reliable access to food, medical care and safe accommodations. The United Nations and humanitarian groups such as Save the Children are meeting some needs.

Ms. Rachel’s fundraising for Save the Children, which she said she joined as an ambassador in September, is going toward blankets, food, and psychological support, according to language on Cameo.

The debate over Ms. Rachel’s fundraiser carried over into private Jewish women’s Facebook groups, where the discourse reflected a widening divide in the broader Jewish world. Some expressed concern that the fundraiser excludes mention of Israeli children, while others argued that aiding children in Gaza does not imply that one wants Hamas to prevail in its war with Israel.

“We’re talking about children who don’t have access to water, to hygiene and sanitation. They may be living outdoors in a refugee camp, they may not only be orphaned, [they may] have nobody — no adults looking after them,” Hailey Zislis-Gaus, a public health specialist based in Scotland and the mother of a 9-month-old girl with whom she watches Ms. Rachel, told JTA.

“These are really, really dire circumstances and it doesn’t take away from the pain and displacement and death and destruction that has happened in Israel,” she said. “We can hold two things at once.”

Displaced children pose standing at their tent on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2024 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Zislis-Gaus, who said she was familiar with Save the Children from her past work in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, said she had learned about Ms. Rachel’s fundraiser in a nearly 50,000-person Facebook group for Jewish women and had been discomfited by the response.

“I noted just initially that this sparked really serious outrage and there were really terrible things being said about her,” she said. “But there were many people deeming her some kind of, like, ‘Israel-hater’ or ‘Hamas apologist’ or ‘antisemitic.’ Lots of terms being thrown around. Some people went as far as to encourage people to kind of essentially cyberbully her, which was quite shocking to me.”

In a post following her initial announcement, Ms. Rachel seemed to allude to critical feedback when she mentioned child hostages.

“Children should never experience the horrors of war — nor be killed, injured or taken hostage,” the post said. “These are grave violations of children’s rights. Children have the right to clean water, food, medical care, a safe place to live and education. We need to get aid to children and their families. We need the hostages home safe. The violence has to end. Children have rights. We should be ashamed of how children around the world are suffering when we could wrap each and everyone up in love.”

For Gold, the allusion offered little comfort.

“Why is it that in the one post that you vaguely mentioned hostages, you don’t say the word ‘Israel,’ as though it’s like Voldemort from ‘Harry Potter’?” she asked. She added that she felt that Ms. Rachel’s approach was at odds with the values of her educational videos.

“When you’re a teacher, if you have 25 students in your class, you’re supposed to take an interest in all of them,” Gold said. “You don’t uplift a few children at the expense of others, even if you feel that their situation is more dire.”

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