As parents, we are constantly trying to inspire our kids and guide them into being the best possible human beings they can be. Along the way we are challenged by them, disconnected and often disputed - all from a place of unconditional love (obviously). In today’s day and age (and this is when I start to sound like my own mother) the question is how do we turn our kids into the mensch we envisioned standing before us on their coming of age, while keeping our cool as we dodge toys and cars being thrown at our face… This is my guide to how to turn your kid into a Jewish Mensch before he or she turns Bar/Bat mitzvah!
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We can’t help but spoil our princes and princesses. The most sinful of these days being their birthday, naturally. Literally showered with gifts, while you would hope and believe that they are grateful for every single one of them, it’s hard for your little ones not to take what they have for granted, especially if they’re used to the constant flow of presents and expect it. You’re not going to change your parenting habits, nor should you, and your kids might find it strange and even sad if one fine day you decided to stop spoiling them to pieces – especially if they haven’t done anything wrong to deserve such a punishment (and believe me, they will think it’s a punishment). But there’s another way and an opportunity among the piles of gifts to teach a lesson. In my family, we’ve created a tradition where on each birthday either a gift or a small donation is given to a charity. I like to focus on charities that provide help for Jewish families and kids such as WIZO USA or the Jewish Federations of North America but the list is endless and you and your kids can choose any one that is meaningful to you. This is a chance to inspire your child to learn about the good feeling that comes from giving to others!
Part of being a mensch is understanding that while you are very important, you are also part of a big, big world… with lots of other very important people. Travelling is the perfect way to expose your child to other cultures and sparking a sense of not just adventure but also compassion for the greater world around us. Learn about Jewish life in Spain before the Inquisition, or get a unique view of life inside Israel with community volunteering. Jewish kids all around the world have different customs and traditions, even different styles of kippot! Exposing your child to kids their own age from a different culture will teach them to relate to people from different backgrounds, developing their sense of empathy, curiosity, and adaptability. Getting cultured is a sure way to add another important block to building your mensch.
Your kid is probably waiting in great anticipation for the big two-digit Soiree – and possibly more focused on who he or she will dance with at the party than contemplating the meaning of becoming an adult. On their 12th /13th birthday your mensch will finally face the ultimate menschly challenge. In Jewish culture the Bar/Bat mitzvah is an extremely important symbol of life to come. It’s the time we let go (we’re supposed to at least…), push our little babies out into the real world and with a gentle nudge let them stand firmly on their own two, yet still very tiny, it seems, feet. But would we really be Jewish Mothers if we let them go (not too far- just onto the podium) without one last, very important, lesson? The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an important milestone in setting the tone for what is to come, use this as a platform to further push the lessons of Tikun Olam, Tzadaka, giving back to the community and always helping when the opportunity arises. Alongside their Torah lessons, guide your child into researching different charities and organizations that they can contribute to as part of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah journey. Once your child is passionate about a cause help them in creating a fundraising page or event where they can work towards a certain monetary goal that they will later donate to their desired charity.
Lead by example
There’s no I in mom (or dad for that matter… or aunt, uncle, grandma, granddad; I think I covered them all). It’s a cliché saying but it has some truth in it. Part of becoming a mensch is learning to establish a level of empathy and emotional intelligence that doesn’t only come out when you see the obvious elderly person struggling or poor child playing with a broken toy but also comes to life in the day to day interactions with our friends and family. If you make it a point to show your kids that it’s important to include people that feel left out, or to maturely apologize when you’ve done something wrong, it will help them in developing that personal sense of empathy and the internal compass that every mensch should have. In my home, we invite some people to our holiday dinners that live far away from their family. That’s a way to teach inclusion and exercising putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Whatever you choose as your way to lead, help your little ones learn the importance of being attuned to others by showing them.
To me a mensch is someone that is empathetic, compassionate, and patient with a strong sense of Jewish identity. There are infinite ways you can inspire your child’s inner mensch and there is no better time to start than today! Start with simple things like giving back to your community, discovering more about your Jewish roots or being patient with those around you. Remember building a mensch is no easy feat and you will even have the added benefit of discovering your inner mensch as you go about consciously helping your kids. So what are you waiting for? Get Mensching 😊