Take the time now to choose wisely for your children, and reap the rewards later on.
By Valerie Lustgarten – Photography by Jane Jaffe
“I’d like to begin by thanking all our guests, family, and close friends who came from near and far to share our celebration [simcha] today. It certainly warms our hearts to see that we have guests here from as far as Venezuela, Panama, Israel, and Canada; not to mention Coral Gables, Hollywood and Aventura. In thinking of how to describe my son, one word immediately comes to mind, and that word is mensch. I can stand here today and say that my son David, is
a true mensch, and what I’ve been reflecting on is how he came to be such a kindhearted, truly good Jewish boy.
“I can start by saying that he is fortunate enough to have a mother like no other. She is patient, loving, and of great values and principles. A father who follows his wife’s lead. And two siblings who love him unconditionally. How did we come to be the way we are? How did we know what we wanted for our children? We had caring, loving parents, who instilled in us a strong sense of responsibility, of kindness, of respect, of honesty, of spirituality, of community. We grew up with
siblings that were learning right from wrong at the same time we were, and our experiences bonded us together.
“Next, I think of David’s school, a Jewish Day School that goes out of its way daily to teach, reinforce and praise the values my wife and I chose to instill in him and his siblings. It is not by chance that we have the same values. We grew up in Jewish homes, where these values were articulated and exemplified day in and day out. We have tried to replicate our upbringing in that of our children’s, so when it was time to choose a school for our children, the deal was sealed when we
found one that shared our common values, and not only on paper, but most importantly in practice.
“Finally, I thought of the people who surround David on a daily basis, his classmates and our personal friends and their children. Not surprisingly, they share our values as well. Our children are bombarded with these core Jewish values wherever they go and can tell when these values are not being upheld, and we have great conversations about these issues at home. I guess what I wanted to say is that it takes a village. And if everyone in the village shares the same values, and you choose that village purposefully, the journey is that much easier.”
What a beautiful way of putting it: a father reflects on his journey on parenting and at the same time encourages some deep thinking on the part of his guests. I believe my good friend’s speech, read on the occasion of his son’s Bar Mitzvah, will resonate with many a parent. I could see the wheels turning in everyone’s heads—who are my friends and my child’s friends? What are my core values? What am I doing to instill these values in my child? Why did we choose the school our hildren attend? Will my child grow up to be a mensch? How long has it been since I evaluated the path my family is on? Are our actions as a family aligned with the values we hold close to our hearts?
Once parents decide what their ultimate goal is in raising their children, the next step is to find the school that upholds those values as well.
As those wheels spun furiously, I realized this speech was a gift, a wake-up call from the distractions of every day parenting, autopilot parenting. Although it’s easy to get distracted, just surviving the day-to-day motions of getting everyone to school on time, dressed and fed, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, extra-curricular activities in the afternoons, that sale at the mall, the birthday party on Sunday, Shabbat dinner, the sleep-over, the haircut, and SAT practice,
it feels like the only way to survive is via auto pilot. And that’s our biggest roadblock to ensuring that our children will become mesnchkite: autopilot parenting.
As a coping mechanism, turning the auto pilot switch on is ideal.
Who wants to reflect on every word spoken and every decision made?
Who has the time? The bottom line is that it helps get you through the day. Whatever the problem is, when we are distracted by our daily grind, the switch is on, and autopilot becomes the only way to go. It gets us through the week, the month, heck; it helps you get through parenthood all together! How many of us have chosen our children’s school, dentist, friends, while on auto pilot? The problem is that at some point, you get that wake-up call— and trust me, you will get that
wake-up call—and don’t recognize your kids.
One way to fight the urge to parent on autopilot is by anchoring what you say and do in core values that are non-negotiable. The exercise of asking yourself day in and day out if what you said, what you did, or what you decided was aligned with your core values helps parents everywhere find the button and turn it off.
Once parents decide on what their ultimate goal is in raising their children, and the core values they want to surround their children with to get to that goal, the next step is to find the school (which is the place where their children will spend the other half of their time) that believes in and upholds those values as well. The school must bring these values to the level of the children, so that they see them, feel them and practice them on a daily basis without even realizing what they are internalizing. When you find that school you have found your village.
Jewish Day Schools, by nature, base their mission on Jewish values. What differentiates one Jewish Day School from another is the way the school aligns what they say they do with what they actually do. These schools pride themselves in narrowing the gap between theory and practice, or between vision and day-to-day operations, if you will. As a parent, don’t just look for the mentioning of Jewish values in reading materials, but for the way the school crystallizes those values,
and how it connects these intangible, immeasurable principals into practical daily experiences for their students.
When looking for the right Jewish Day School, make sure the autopilot switch is off and that it’s the right “village” for your family. When you, as parents get that wake-up call, you want to be at peace with your decision, and at peace with the educational community or village you chose for your children, all the while knowing that the values you are instilling at home are being seamlessly reinforced at school, and that the fact that your children are mensches is no mistake.