Being proud of who we are is always important. In a world with increasing anti-Semitisms, social pressure, and a generational disconnect, it is ever more important Jewish kids take pride in who they are. The question is then how do we teach kids Jewish pride while making sure they grow up to be inclusive, integrated, kind, and humble people. On the other hand not letting kids take pride in who they are should not be an option either. This is a balance that is often hard to walk, leaving schools and families struggling for a good balance.
Here are six ways to teach Jewish children to take great pride in who they are while keeping a balance between pride and humility and making sure they also have an inclusive and worldly outlook:
- Technology-interestingly, from years of working with students across denominations, the one thing I see gets students most excited about who they are, is looking at the technological innovations coming out of Israel. I would not have predicted this nor can I fully explain it, but it is there. Students love recognizing that someone of their favorite gadgets are invented by Israel. Seeing Israel recognized internationally and a real power for cutting-edge innovation brings a smile to children’s face and pride to their hearts. Even as we sit 6000 miles away from Israel, Israeli technology makes Jewish children feel proud to belong to something great that transcends the walls of the school or the synagogue. It is relatable, and compelling.
- Tanach– sometimes when studying the Chumash or Navi, we get lost in this verse or the other without seeing the broader picture. Allowing students to read chapter after chapter and get a “bird’s eye” view of the Tanach gives kids a great deal of pride in who they are. It makes them feel knowledgeable and empowered. It helps them see the broader perspective of Am Yisrael and its history.
- Individualism-Want to know what makes kids proud of being Jewish? Ask them. “Educate a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.”(Proverbs 22:6) find out what is important to every particular child. Do not hesitate to ask them what makes them proud to be Jewish, what mitzvah is most meaningful to them, or what it is that they would most like to share with others. This kind of individualized discussion is likely to make a great difference in a child’s life.
- Family-There is nothing more powerful than a child knowing what their own family has done for them to be Jewish. If they know they are Jewish then their family must have done a lot over the past 2000 years for it to be kept that way. It can be a child finding out what famous Jew they are decedents of, how their family endured through persecution when being Jewish was a life-threatening prospect, or who of their relatives lives where in Israel. Whatever it is that gets them excited, if they look into it, they will be so proud.
- Taking action– did you ever see Chabad representatives helping people put on Teffilin in very public places? Did it seem odd to you? It did to me. And yet after many years I recognize that doing that one thing publicly; the willingness to show—even just once—I am Jewish and what others think does not matter to me, makes a huge difference. Nothing brings tears to my eyes like a student who comes to me after the summer vacation and being far away from a Jewish community telling me:” Rabbi, I said the Shema every day.” Having kids do even one thing independently in the face of a different environment makes them proud of who they are. It takes them in the footsteps of Abraham—Avraham Ha Ivri—who loved everyone, yet insisted on his right to be different. Kids need to know that they can be different even as they are full members of modern society.
- Leadership- give kids leadership opportunities. Be it having them lead kiddush, Tefillah, have them share their knowledge with others, or let them know that one day others will be counting on them knowing this, leadership works.