Pursue Distinction: What We Owe Ourselves and Our Children
As parents, it is our responsibility to keep our children safe and it is our privilege to instill them with positive values. How can we go against the grain, reimagine the status quo, and shape our homes and schools to be places that embody Jewish values, foster a love of Jewish learning, and embrace our loved ones’ individual identities? In the article below, Manette Mayberg, JWRP’s Immediate Past President and Co-Founder, Jewish Education Innovation Challenge (JEIC) Founder, entrepreneurial philanthropist, and dedicated Jewish community member, shares innovative and thoughtful solutions to timeless parenting pursuits.
Distinction. It’s in the Jewish community’s DNA, and it has enabled our survival throughout the ages. We are a people scattered over all four corners of the earth, and distinction is the unifier that has made our survival possible.
Our pursuit of distinction has biblical roots. Our people’s journey from Egypt to freedom began with a bold act — marking our doorposts with the mezuzah. G-d said, “Mark your houses,” because the values that you hold inside will distinguish you for all time. To distinguish their homes from their Egyptian neighbors’ homes, the Jewish people marked their doorposts with the blood of an animal considered sacred by the Egyptians. That took a lot of courage!
To this day, we have continued to live in times and places that don’t make it simple or easy to live Jewishly. I believe in the age-old adage that nothing good comes easily. Connecting to Jewish values takes thought, effort and yes, courage, in a world filled with the pressure to conform to lifestyles that don’t convey those values. This is the thread that holds together the global network of JWRP sisters. The desire to be our best selves and live our lives to the fullest fuels the courage that we need to distinguish our families by infusing our homes with sacred values.
In Judaism, the home is our holiest place. It is where we have the greatest opportunity to mold and develop the souls entrusted to us. Our homes provide the setting for us to role model the JWRP’s core Jewish values, like human dignity, faithfulness, and courage, which are vital to building self-esteem and emotional safety. The home provides a unique opportunity to convey in real time what it means to embody Jewish values and to create a solid and sustainable Jewish identity. The home provides a setting in which we can convey the Jewish wisdom of rewarding effort over achievement and embracing the differences in each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Let’s develop self-awareness around jumping on the bandwagon of encouraging our kids to fit the mold which communicates the corollary of not fitting the mold is a failure.
It is incumbent upon us to critically measure how we are communicating our Jewish values both in the home and at school. Our Jewish communal institutions are extensions of the home. School is not a substitute for, but an essential limb of the home. Hebrew schools, Sunday schools, and Jewish day schools have tremendous potential to enhance our children’s Jewish experience. And the more we work toward aligning the values transmitted by the home and school, the greater our chance of sustaining future generations of Jews.
Just as we aspire to embrace the differences in Jewish interest and potential in the home and work to maximize each family member’s Jewish self, it is inconsistent with Jewish wisdom to critically judge a Jew’s ability to learn Jewish subjects. A student labeled anything but an “A” in a Jewish subject will internalize a view of himself or herself as less than great at Jewish study, or worse, a less than great Jew. If we agree that we want to build Jewish self-esteem in our children and cultivate their Jewish greatness, then imitating the evaluation models for general studies like exams and grades is misguided. This works against building a Jewish self of distinction that longs to learn and grow and the courage that it takes to live Jewishly.
While testing and grading for math, science, and language reward for achievement, Jewish development and studies both in the home and at school should be appreciated as holy and distinct. While general studies are valuable and provide a vital knowledge base for professional success, those components are vastly different from the building blocks of Jewish identity. Jewish values provide the basis for our morality and ethical behavior. They inspire our leadership. They instruct how to build healthy homes and marriages. They enhance our happiness and wellbeing. They must be distinctly encouraged and evaluated according to effort and not achievement, each according to his or her way.
We need to help our children navigate the world with courage. Courage is a vital trait for Jewish growth and expression. It took an unimaginable amount of courage for our Jewish ancestors in Egypt to mark their doorposts. It takes courage to move from one culture to another, to change practiced customs, to transform ourselves and even our institutions. Courage is so rare these days in leadership that when it shows up, it gets attention and admiration.
I am committed to fighting courageously for the values that distinguish our people and for future generations of Jews to own their Judaism. I invite parents, Jewish educators, and stakeholders to pursue distinction and to think outside the box. Let’s teach our children to be courageous, to be proud Jews, and to embrace Judaism because its time-tested values flourish in beautiful and life-changing ways.