After last week’s column, “Pre- Super Bowl- It’s Not Too Late For An Invite,” I received numerous e-mails from parents applauding the content of the column. Some e-mails were from parents whose children have been left out. Some e-mails were from parents whose children always get invitations, but just felt for the children who did not. I hope that I was able to bring to the fore an issue that affects many children. One parent responded by sharing the social exclusion that occurs around Purim costumes- a topic I have covered before as well. |A group of girls decide to wear the same costume, and inevitably someone gets left out.
One e-mail that I received was not at all about children. It was by a parent who shared that this issue of “being left out” does not only relate to the children, but also spills over to the parents as well. One example she gave was the bar/bat mitzvah carpool. As parents scramble when their children are in kindergarten to create bar/bat mitzvah carpools, (okay, I may be exaggerating...but only a bit), there are always families that are left out. Whether it is a family that moved in after kindergarten or simply someone who is not well- connected, it is another example how we can make more conscious efforts to include others.
Years ago, when I spoke my shul Sisterhood opening event, I spoke of how each one of us can remember the first time we came to Shul as strangers, and someone stopped us to say welcome and introduced him/herself. Even at a shul event like that day, many of us reached out to someone we did not know before and offered her a seat. How lonely it is to come into a room and not be offered a seat. How isolating it can be when we each stick to our groups and don't welcome in the “new girl.” There is so much focus today on bullying amongst children and particularly social exclusion- leaving people out. Who are the models for this behavior of our children? We are. Do they see us welcoming in a new person in shul, and including someone standing alone in a conversation? When your daughter asks, “Hey, Mommy, did you know that woman?” You find a teachable moment and respond, “No, but she was feeling excluded, so I included her.”
Aside from modelling, what is the secret to raising children who are inclusive? The answer can be found in the parasha we read this past Shabbat, Shemot 22:20
וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ: כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.
And a stranger shall you not wrong, neither shall you oppress him; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
In this past week’s parasha we find this concept twice, (out of the 36 times it is mentioned in the Torah), to treat the stranger well, and remember that we were strangers in Egypt. This pasuk lets us in on the secret- empathy. Imagine what it feels like to be a stranger- excluded and rejected. Rabbi Ely Schestak, rabbi of Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn, shared this past Shabbat at our Yachad Shabbaton, that in Egypt there was a clear caste system. There were the Egyptian elite and then the rejected Jews who were the slaves. There was no hope for the Jews to be included and respected. Every Jew has to obligation to recall that feeling of rejection before rejecting a person who no one wants to accept.
Children who are raised with empathy, who can imagine what it feels like to be left out, are the ones who sensitively include others. Dr. Michelle Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All- About-Me World, “Empathy, the ability to put oneself in other people’s shoes, is the cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. It makes our children more likable, more employable, more resilient, better leaders, more conscience-driven, and increases their life spans.” In our 7th grade Advisory program, we spend an entire unit called “Operation Respect” teaching the skills of empathy through learning about the plight of the homeless and visiting a homeless shelter.
Despite the fact that we know that empathy is integral to success in life in various arenas, research indicates that in the past 30 years, the empathy levels of teens have gone down by 40%. “Almost 75% of college-age students today rate themselves as less empathetic, less likely to try to understand their friends by imagining their perspective, and less likely to be concerned for people less fortunate.” The 2014 Harvard Making Caring Common report surveyed 10,000 teens regarding what they value the most. 80% chose “high achievement or happiness” as their highest rated value. Only 20% rated “caring for others” as their highest value. Four out of five teenagers said “their parents cared more about achievement than caring.”
Dr. Borba highlights that along with more focus on academics and less on empathy goes a rising rate of unhappy teens who are depressed and anxious. Aggression, bullying and cruelty have risen. Research with cyberbullying shows that children who cyberbully show less empathy. Teaching empathy, says Borba, will lessen peer cruelty.
But, we can teach empathy. In addition to modeling, instead of asking our children when they get home, “What grade did you get?” a parent should ask, “What kind act did you do today?” “Unless we free up time for relationships, we may be raising a generation of kids who can’t see past their smartphones and jam-packed schedules to notice the human beings in front of them.”
As children we learned that the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:1 states that Elul is an acronym for “Ani l'dodi v'dodi li” - I am to my beloved as my beloved is to me- depicting our relationship with Hashem which we work on in Elul. (Yes, I know we begin Adar at the end of this week!) But, the Shulchan Aruch also states that it stands for “u'mishloach manot ish l'reaehu u’matanot l’evyonim”-Sending gifts from a person to his friend and presents to the poor”(Esther 9:22). What does Purim have to do with Elul? It is not about Purim, but rather sharing that the way to work on our relationship with Hashem is through working on our relationships with others. I imagine that the people of Shushan did not only give Mishloach Manot to their particular friends. What would it be like if we delivered a package this Purim to someone who could use a friend? What if we were to encourage our children to do so as well? What if we were to focus on the skill of empathy and encourage our children to imagine what it feels like to receive no packages on Purim day?
Thank you to all of you who responded to last week’s column, prompting Part II this week.
Sixth Grade: Students began a unit on organization, focusing on how to organize their bookbags.
Seventh Grade: Students began a unit “When Life Gives You Lemons” and focused on what are the qualities that make people resilient and able to bounce back from failure?
Eighth Grade; Our 8th graders discussed the admissions news they will be receiving this week and the best way to react to the news.