We are so fortunate to have our Beth Ami Community in these challenging times! There are so many admirable volunteers who share their time and talents with our children, families, and congregants. Thank you for being such amazing examples. You are showing us how to be and raise a Mensch.
What is is mensch? Someone who possesses the traits of decency, wisdom, kindness, honesty, trustworthiness, respect, benevolence, compassion, and altruism.
In actuality, however, these are not rare personality traits. They have to be taught and modeled. Here are some to to focus on and to teach our kids:
Kavod (Respect)
Kids should be taught to extend kavod to all people who touch their lives, not just mom and dad. Say “Kol hakavod” when a child, or an adult, does something well. Be open to situations where children of differing abilities are brought together. Model behavior that teaches children to be accepting and thus give kavod/respect to everyone.
This Jewish value implies a basic responsibility to do justice (tzedek) by sharing our resources with the community. Although it may require gentle nudges to get kids into the philanthropic spirit, encouraging them to put a small portion of their allowance in the tzedakah box on Shabbat or donating a few gently-used toys to those in need.
Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World)
This mitzvah reflects the reciprocal relationship which God established with human beings: it is our obligation to take care of the earth, and in turn, it takes care of us. Picking up trash at the playground, planting and watering flowers, and helping to care for household pets, all build a sense of environmental importance in kids.
Gratefulness is a fundamental Jewish value. True gratitude, however, encompasses more than obligatory thanks; it entails Hakarat Hatov, Hakarat Hatov is bigger than gratitude, it’s recognition for the things we have and the people we sometimes take for granted. Pointing out these to children by making comments like “Sara is such a good friend to save you a seat at lunchtime” or “it was so kind of Grandpa to help build your model airplane,” we help our children recognize and appreciate the intangible gifts bestowed upon them by others.
Gemilut Hasadim (Acts of Lovingkindness)
For us doing good deeds is not just a nice thing to do, it is what we do. Children may exhibit lovingkindness by sharing toys, cheering on a friend at little league, or inviting a lonely classmate to join the four-square game at recess. We can encourage gemilut hasadim in our kids by setting a climate of helpfulness at home, praising unsolicited lovingkindness on our child’s part, and modeling this behavior ourselves.
Slicha (Saying I’m Sorry)
We are human and make mistakes. It’s powerful to be able to recognize and self reflect. Children’s genuine apologies are often spontaneous. They may be a smile, a hug or an offering to share a toy. Having a conversation may be easier than insisting on an apology. A simple “I’m sorry” doesn’t show a willingness to changing our behavior.