Showing posts with label Middot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Middot. Show all posts

Sunday, July 28, 2019

I just returned from a week serving on the faculty of Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge,  MA. It is the third URJ camp I have been proud to serve, in addition to Eisner Camp and Olin Ruby Union Institute. I was asked to write a post for the camp blog, which is largely directed at parents of campers as well as the lay and professional leaders in the Northeast. 

Every day at Crane Lake Camp is filled with fun and engaging activity. Sports, arts, drama and just hanging out with friends – like most summer camps – are a part of every camper’s experience. At CLC, there is a Jewish context that takes those same experiences a little further.

Our all-camp middah (Jewish Value) of the week is Ga’avah – Pride. For much of the week, we have focused on learning to be proud of our Jewish identities, of our community and our actions in support of one another.

During Limud[i] the other day, a group of Bonim campers were at the low ropes course to explore the middah of courage or ometz lev. When they were not exploring it by attempting elements of the course they were talking about different aspects of courage with staff and faculty.

During one discussion, the topic was “Fear of Failure.” It was apparent that many of these young campers had wrestled with that one. They shared what it meant to them, steps they might take to overcome it and even some examples of when they had faced that fear.

One thing that stood out was that there have definitely been times in their very young lives that they have felt unworthy of even trying to succeed.They shared their self-doubt. And then they moved to dispel those fears in their friends. I have to say that they were all very supportive and encouraged one another to move beyond that fear.

The next morning, I shared a story during the “Words of Wisdom” portion of morning t’filah. Many of us know the midrash[ii] that suggests we should each keep two pieces of paper in our pockets. One should say “The world was created for my sake” and other “I am but dust and ashes.”
We often share this midrash in order to talk about humility, since we are supposed to read the second message when we feel arrogant or overly prideful.

Inspired by those Bonim campers’ words to one another I suggested that we all need to focus a little more on the other message, that the world was created for our sake. If you believe – as I do – that each of us was ultimately created by God – then we are created in God’s image. And God doesn’t make junk.

When we doubt ourselves, questioning our worthiness, we have to remember that each of us matters. Camp would be diminished and far less amazing if even one of us were not here.
Listening to our campers reach out and support one another, they taught each other – and me – that being proud also means that “YOU MATTER.”

[i] Limud means learning. At CLC, we spend some time specifically focused on learning about Jewish values – middot – through a variety of experiential means. It is still fun, but the idea that we are learning something in the process is clearly stated.

[ii] Originally credited to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pryszska.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Help my campers learn...about Judging Others Favorably (Part III)

Here is the third and final round of responses from my campers in my Kesher class called Do the Right Thing at Eisner camp in Great Barrington, MA. (A new round begins Tuesday, and we will be exploring issues surrounding our ideas about God) The campers are entering 8th and 9th  grades this fall (they are in two groups). You can see the first round of questions in my posting last Thursday night and the second round from last night

Today we discussed the answers posted yesterday and ended the day by writing answers to questions built from the Middah of Machrio L'Chaf Zechut - Judging others favorably. Please take a look at the campers' responses and share your thoughts, other ideas and texts below or on Facebook!

1. Joshua ben Perahiah, said: “When you judge anyone, tip the scale in his/her favor. Judge the whole of a person favorably “. (Pirkei Avot 1:6) What does that mean and why should you do it?

SB: This means that if you're going to judge someone, judge them positively instead of negatively - go out of your way to see their good side.

PP: It means when you judging someone to see if they are right or wrong you should always "tip the scale" in their favor and say they are right. We should do it in camp because it will make resolving conflict easier. (Hashem will tip the scale in your favor when weighing out YOUR mitzvot and deciding whether you will go to Gan Eden or Gehenem).

MG: When you judge someone you should give them the benefit of the doubt. You should do it because you do not yet have their opinion/side of the story.

LL: It means that you shouldn't have such harsh prejudice toward others because they might not be as "bad" as they appear.

TN: Compliments. Not insults.

HA: Don't look at the bad things about a person but you should look at the good things about a person.

GM: If you are judging a person for the first time, you should judge them in favorable way. I think this is important to do because it is better to have friends than enemies. A person could be having a bad day and snap at you. If you decide they are therefore a bad person, you are creating animosity, when really, if you gave them another chance he/she could be a potential friend.

ER: If you judge a person without getting to fully know them then give them the benefit of the doubt say positive comments rather than negative ones.

2. Nachman of Bratzlov said: "The Talmud says that we should always judge other people favorably. We must also judge ourselves favorably." What does that mean and why should you do it?

SB: This means we must have self-confidence and see the good in ourselves.

PP: If you look at yourself too critically and think you are always wrong, you will have a very low self-esteem.

MG: It means you do not know how others see you. You only know how you see yourself.

LL: It means you must think of yourself well and you should do it because if you judge yourself harshly and think badly of yourself, others will think badly of you as well.

TN: Don't bring yourself down when you look at yourself, notice your beauty, you only have pros, no cons.

HA: Don't be so harsh on yourself either. We should do this because it will bring up confidence and self-esteem.

GM: You shouldn't hate yourself for making a mistake.

ER: Instead of talking harshly about myself and never looking at the bright side, give yourself the benefit of the doubt and give yourself some slack because if you do it your life will be better because you won't be judging yourself so harshly.

MS: Because how can you expect anyone else to love you if you can't even love yourself.

3. How do I resolve conflicts or disputes with others?

SB: Either by talking with the other person or simply by spending some time apart until we are both ready to forgive each other. Apologizing works too.

PP: I solve conflicts with others by looking at the conflict from their perspective and walking in their shoes (To Kill A Mockingbird - Atticus Finch) I see how I would feel if I were them and usually helps me to resolve my conflict.

MG: Find both sides of the story, as well as the story from the perspective of someone neutral. You should not judge until you know exactly what happened.

LL: I compromise with them or just talk it out and figure out why we are in a conflict if I don;t know already. If I know why we are in a conflict then I work something out, and it might not be a compromise specifically.

TN: Calmly, compromises, apologies, noticing what you did wrong, not telling the other person what they did wrong all the time.

HA: I apologize for what I did and be calm.

GM: I resolve conflict by COMMUNICATING.

ER: I solve them by trying to come up with a reasonable compromise for me and the others.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Help a group of campers learn!

I have said before that one of the principal reasons I became a Jewish educator had to do with my experiences at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute – a Reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I was a camper, counselor, unit head and faculty member over twelve summers there. I am at Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts right now for my sixteenth summer as a faculty member. That means I have spent part of more than half my summers at camp.

One of the things the faculty does at Eisner is called Kesher (connection). We each create a series of small group learning experiences for the older units of camp during our time here. This week my Kesher class is called Do the Right Thing: An Eisner Joint. The overall themes were determined by surveying last summer’s campers during the winter and we (the faculty – rabbis, cantors and me) each designed our courses and created descriptions in the spring. Then they got to express their own preferences. Her is the description of my current offering:

You are faced with tons of choices every day. Some you make automatically. Others require some serious thought. Where do you look for the values you will apply to make your decisions? Your parents? Your friends? Society all around us? Judaism? We are going to look in all of those places to wrestle with some tough issues. Then we are going to take our conversation online and go viral. We will create a blog using writing and video and send it out to the universe. Then we will see what the universe says and engage in a potentially viral conversation!

Today we discussed three questions around the concept of Emet – truth. Here are the questions and some of their answers. We discussed them at length after they wrote them. Please respond here or on Facebook to the questions or to their answers. We will look at your ideas in our next session! I am using initials to protect their privacy…

1. Do you think it is ever okay to omit something when sharing something important?

Yes, not telling the whole truth to protect someone’s feelings is acceptable. When someone asks about someone else, it’s okay to highlight the good parts of their personality and stopping there. AM

Yes, to keep me from getting into copious amounts of trouble. HS

Sometimes telling the WHOLE truth can distract from what you are trying to say. TJ

Yes, when saying something would hurt someone without having any positive effect, or to keep a promise. RK

Yes, if it would endanger someone. SI

Yes, if it would help someone. For example, if they were afraid of fire but loved roller coasters, and you knew this great roller coaster had flame throwers, you might not tell them. That way they would try the roller coaster and love it. If they knew about the flame throwers they might not ride. (There was a lot of conversation about this!) MW

It might depend on the age of the person you are talking to. Some things might be too complicated or frightening for young children. HR

You might choose not to tell the whole truth in order to keep a confidence – something you promised to keep secret. GM

Yes, if the whole truth would do more harm than good. TT

Yes, if it is to protect someone’s privacy. RA

It’s okay if it doesn’t alter the entire story. JE

2. Do you think it is ever okay to sugar coat the truth?

Yes. When hate something your parent made for dinner, you might gently urge them not make it again or so often… MW

It depends on the situation and who benefits. LG

No. I is better to be honest so the person you are talking to doesn’t embarrass themselves. SI

Yes, like #1, this can spare someone’s feelings or keep a situation from going bad. JD

Ok in a teaching situation. RK

It’s OK in order to make someone feel better or more confident. My friend was nervous about coming to camp and I told her that lots of our friends were excited to see her. I exaggerated a little bit to make her feel better. AP

No, because it is only hurting yourself more and it does not do anything to help you – even though I do sugar coat it sometimes! MP

Yes, ignorance is bliss! DE

Yes. Sometimes a little sugar coating can make a hard truth easier to take. JJ

3. Do you think is ever okay to actually lie?
Yes, although it is best to avoid it if at all possible. JJ

Yes, but only if the truth is really painful and doesn’t need to be told. MP

Yes, to save a life, protect from unnecessary harm or if it is a harmless joke. NS

It is okay to lie when the answer won’t hurt anyone and it’ll make somebody feel better. To me, it’s all about making people happy and balancing that with telling the truth. RK

To shield them from harm. HS

Intentions matter. LG

Yes, if it will help people in the long run. MW
Again, please help our conversation and our learning by jumping in! More tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teach children to be their own Internet filters

"For it's one, two, three strikes...never mind."
I learned may things about many things while a Jim Joseph Fellow at the Lookstein Institute for Jewish  Education in the Diaspora at Bar Ilan University. One of them is to "Listen to Dr. Eliezer Jones." He is usually funny and nearly always right. This past Sunday Orthodox Jews did what the New York Mets couldn't - they filled Citi Field. And they did it to hold a rally against the internet (the rally was advertised on the web, curiously. I dismissed the whole thing when I first heard about it as just another example of an insular part of the of the Jewish people becoming even more insular. Today, my friend Eliezer and a colleague of his from Yeshiva University made me think again. And again. They taught me something (more than one something). Let them tel it as published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency...

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Tens of thousands of Jews filled Citi Field in Queens on Sunday and heard from haredi Orthodox leaders that the Internet should be avoided in the home at all costs and used sparingly at work, and then only with a filter blocking content that could be damaging spiritually.
Debate as you will what some may see as draconian edicts to protect the Jewish community from moral corruption. But at the heart of the matter is a question that should concern us all: How do we keep our children safe on the Internet?

We know that we cannot work around the Internet. Research from the Pew Foundation indicates that 54 percent of children say they go to Google first when they have a question, as opposed to only 26 percent who say they go to a parent and 3 percent to a teacher. Rather we must figure out how parents and teachers can make this important tool work safely and effectively for our kids.

The difficulty is that even the simple solutions are incredibly complicated. Powerful filters can block illicit images and material, but those filters often block out the good with the bad and limit far too much useful information. This solution has been discussed and debated on our own campus concerning Internet access in dormitories.

Some yeshivot have considered avoiding technology altogether and sticking with books and blackboards. But that would leave students without the digital competence required to succeed academically in college and beyond, not to mention that it would rob teachers of increasingly exciting and effective educational tools.
The only real answer is that as parents and teachers, we must instill in our children a strong value system based on Jewish morals and traditions that allows our children to become their own filters when exploring the Internet. That would be far more powerful than any protective software.

The onus is clearly on us because it seems that children will listen to our rules, at least when it comes to the Internet. Only three in 10 young people reported to a Kaiser Foundation survey that they are given clear rules about how much time they may spend using a computer, watching TV or playing video games. The average child with no rules spends more than three hours per day on such media. Those who are given rules spend considerably less time.

Yeshiva high school students said they would be receptive to rules. More than half of those surveyed by researcher Debbie Fox, director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said that they would welcome more guidance from parents regarding Internet use.
These same students, in fact, said that they would be far stricter with their own future adolescent children regarding responsible Internet use than their parents, and would monitor their children much more closely.

The dangers of the Internet are not limited to challenging content. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study showed that about half of students in grades seven through 12 said they do their homework with media open that do not pertain to their task at hand. In other words, about 50 percent of middle and high school students are doing homework with divided attention. And while some kids may believe that they are being more efficient, multitasking has been proven in adults to cause higher levels of stress and lower levels of efficiency.

While some kids can multitask well, it's up to parents to actively determine if their children work more efficiently while doing so or while focusing on their work without interruption. Parents should collaborate with their children to test whether they are more efficient when not being interrupted or distracted, and then meter their background activity accordingly.

The greatest challenge of all, however, may be making sure that our kids completely separate from the Internet at times.  According to the Pew Foundation, 75 percent of American teens prefer texting to in-person contact with friends. Perhaps it's no coincidence that this generation's empathy levels among adolescents are significantly lower than those of previous generations.

It may seem that adolescents in every generation feel isolated and tuned out at some point or another. But it turns out that their computer habits may be compounding the problem. Parents need to teach children that some of their relationships must include direct face-to-face interaction without the distraction of text messages and cell phone calls.

While some of what occurred at Citi Field this past weekend might seem foreign, we must work to ensure that our students and our children can grow up as highly moral and successful Jewish digital citizens.

(Dr. Eliezer Jones is the educational technology specialist at Yeshiva University's Institute for University-School Partnership. Dr. David Pelcovitz is the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus chair in psychology and Jewish education at YU's Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. For more information about safe Internet rules and guidelines, visit