As a parent, it can be daunting to raise our children to be the best versions of themselves. Between the hyper violent digital world to the hate-filled incidences around the country (and even the world) to even the negative interactions our children have with their peers, parenting is extremely difficult in today’s times. Our job is to raise ethical children who are taught Jewish values in hopes that they will make our world a better place for themselves and for their own children (l’dor v’dor).
The great sage Hillel once said, “In a place where there are no humans, one must strive to be human.” How can we, as Jewish parents, teach our children to be mentsches, to be the upstanders in society? We need to directly teach them how to live up to our Jewish values and show them what these values look like in action. Here at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot (SHM), we show our children, the next generation of Jews, how to live Jewishly by upholding our core values, what we call the 4 M’s (mentsch making, making meaning, memory and mitzvot). Every year at SHM, our community unifies around a theme and the theme is interwoven throughout all programs. And as we are beginning this new program year, we will all be participating as part of “The Kindness Campaign.”
In Hebrew, the word for kindness is chesed and our Religious School program will engage all our students in acts of chesed throughout this school year. But, how can we engage such a large supplemental school in meaningful acts of chesed (kindness)? It’s simple- build chesed into our culture!
Imagine starting off your Sunday Judaica morning, standing as a kehillah (community) as everyone around you gathers to sing Hatikva, the Jewish people’s national anthem. While singing, you see a 3-D Tree of Kindness blossoming with “Chesed notes” hanging as “leaves” from the tree. Imagine the sanctuary being filled with the sounds of children praying, with the knowledge of the prayers resonating within each child. A student sees another student showing chesed during T’filah, so they pass them a “Chesed note”, so that they can add it to the Tree of Kindness. Now, imagine the ruach (spirit) that fills our Kraut Education Center on both Sunday mornings and Tuesday afternoons as more than 320 students, plus parents and others, come together for Jewish education and community. A Madricha (student volunteer) notices a student showing chesed to his teacher, so the Madricha hands him a “Chesed note”, so that this too can be added to the Tree of Kindness.
This is just a quick glimpse into our Religious School kehillah (community). Interwoven throughout these Jewish experiences are opportunities for others to recognize acts of chesed (kindness). Every month, we will be having a “Kindness/Mitzvah Day” where the school will engage in different acts of chesed, focused on different Jewish values, such as Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming strangers) to Hakarat haTov (gratitiude) to Rodef Shalom (pursuing peace) to Shmirat haTeva (taking care of the Earth). Throughout the school year, our students will actively engage in chesed many times and will be helping animals, the Earth, Israel, the homeless and those less fortunate.
As a parent, this is what I want my children to be learning about- how their kind actions can positively affect the world in which they live. At SHM, our goal is to teach through example and show our children how they can be the best versions of themselves. Let’s all spend this year (and every year) being our children’s first teachers and showing them how to “do kind.”
HEATHER ROSENTHAL IS THE e Director of Youth Education at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot and a contributing writer to jlife magazine.