Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

March 14, 2012

Charity Begins at Home

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 4:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

         This was written in response to a great article about moral and emotional intelligence in Jewish education posted at


Rabbi Yanklowitz’s insightful suggestions regarding teaching emotional and moral intelligence in the context of Jewish Education through chesed and service learning (March 14th) are compelling.  On the benefits of empathic work for our communities and Tikum Olam, religious tradition, philosophical understanding, and modern neuroscience agree.  I would like to urge an additional focus.

Increasingly, Jewish schools are including service learning and chesed projects as an integral part of their curricula.  Gan students bring canned goods to the homeless shelter, elementary school students send letters of chizuk and teddy bears to their pen pals in missile strewn S’derot, and middle and high school students build new homes for families who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.  I am certain these activities teach invaluable lessons.  What they often do not teach, however, is how much easier it is to help strangers and from afar, than it is to improve our ben adam l’chavero with the person sitting next to us.

I have the wonderful opportunity to work with Jewish schools around the issue of bullying and school social climate.  Because effective bully prevention involves engaging peer bystanders as pro-social agents, it provides a powerful opportunity to teach social responsibility right in our proverbial backyard.  Raising money for causes, or demonstrating against injustice halfway across the globe certainly builds children’s moral muscles.  But it requires incredible strength of character and a well-trained moral compass to invite the student who has been ostracized to sit at your lunch table.  And it is a very real ethical exercise to offer a peer warm words, when a popular bully fills the hallway with negative put-downs and character assassination.

We cannot expect such grand and moral behavior of students if we, as adults, turn away from involvement or accept bullying as an inevitable rite of passage.  I worry that we may send exactly the opposite message from what we intend when we encourage the middot of chesed for faraway causes yet remain unengaged in the social devastation that happens daily on our playgrounds and in our stairwells.  By no means should we reign in service learning.   I would encourage schools to consider, however, that charity truly begins at home.  This means challenging our students and ourselves to do the hard work of Tikun Olam, the introspective work that requires us to examine our relationships with and our responsibilities to those in our life.  Helping the great causes should continue.  Tefilot for those in need worldwide should be heartfelt.  When we add to the global focus a careful look at the intimate, daily, opportunities we have to cultivate empathy and emotional intelligence, we teach the minds, hearts and souls of our students.



  1. It is so important to be reminded…”look all around us, first”… kind acts will “ripple out”, from the real delight felt by the “donor”….befriend the bullied, not the bullier!! PEACE begins with that act… for sure!!

    Comment by Life's Toolbox — April 20, 2012 @ 1:53 pm |Reply

  2. comment by S. Milch…see #1.

    Comment by Life's Toolbox — April 20, 2012 @ 1:55 pm |Reply

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