Each one of us tries to raise a mensch. We work hard at it, modeling behavior and setting expectations. As parents we aim to hold our children accountable, analyze and discuss situations with them, role-play if we think it will help and make the most of any teachable moment. Character building is one of the toughest tasks we face as parents—even with lots of effort and making the most of all opportunities, we can only guide and teach them. We can’t always be next to them when the tough situations occur.
Part of my job involves meeting with each bar or bat mitzvah student to discuss their mitzvah project 6-18 months before the event. Recently, I had the honor of meeting with Max Goldenberg, the mensch that we all aspire to raise. As we were discussing the various tikkun olam and social action opportunities that would fulfill the Mitzvah Project requirement, Max shared something incredible with me.
Max attends a local public middle school. He noticed that there is one student who no one wanted to befriend—the “weird” child. Max decided that he would befriend this classmate. He sits with him at lunch, looks for him at recess and finds opportunities during the day to connect with him. In fact, not only does Max seek him out, he makes him turn around and removes the nasty yellow sticky notes on the child’s back that fellow students put there—“kick me,” “punch me,” etc. Not only is Max reaching out to the marginalized student, he is making a friend and taking a stand against bullying.
Max makes us proud. He represents the best of us and leads by example. It is a true tribute to his parents, family and community that he behaves this way in public, even when no one is watching. None of us have perfect kids, my kids are not angels. But we can aspire to raising menschen, we can hope to fill the world with Max’s and make it a better place, one Max at a time. _
Sue Penn is the mother of three, Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, president of Jewish Reconstructionist Educators of North America and a member of the Jewish Educators Assembly.
How to Talk About Bullying
Parents, school staff and other caring adults have a role to play in preventing bullying. They can:
• Help kids understand bullying. Talk about what bullying is and how to stand up to it safely. Tell kids bullying is unacceptable. Make sure kids know how to get help.
• Keep the lines of communication open. Check in with kids often. Listen to them. Know their friends, ask about school, and understand their concerns.
• Encourage kids to do what they love. Special activities, interests, and hobbies can boost confidence, help kids make friends, and protect them from bullying behavior.
• Model how to treat others with kindness and respect.