Raising a Mensch

A mother's reflections and suggestions.

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This fundamental 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, eChild giving tzedakah, money to charityncouraging them to put a small portion of their allowance in the pushke [tzedakah box] on Shabbat or donating a few gently-used toys to the needy at Hanukkah promises to pay off over time.

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 menschlekeit in kids.


It's no coincidence that the Modeh Ani--a proclamation of gratitude--is one of the first prayers a Jewish child learns and the first prayer we say each morning; gratefulness is a fundamental Jewish value. True gratitude, however, encompasses more than obligatory thanks; it entails hakarat hatov, or recognition of the good [another has done you]. By making comments like "Hannah 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) 

In the Jewish religion 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, of course, modeling such behavior ourselves.

Slicha (Saying I'm Sorry)

Menschlekeit isn't just about sweetness and light; it's also about owning up to our transgressions. By consistently requiring our kids to say "I'm sorry" when they've wronged someone (even if their apology seems a tad less than genuine), we help ensure that one day, when our children are more cognitively prepared to understand the importance and meaning of these two words, they use them consistently and autonomously.

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Sharon D. Estroff

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? was released by Broadway Books in 2008. Her website is sharonestroff.com.