Robert Fulghum of Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” This week’s Torah portion (as read in the Diaspora) offers a related wake-up call.
Kedoshim opens with God directing Moses to assemble the people and tell them kedoshim tehiyu — “you shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2). The image of a large population gathered together, connected by a common distinguishing cause is fresh in our minds after last month’s March for Our Lives, however it’s the next sentence that should grab our attention: “Each person shall revere his/her mother and father” (Leviticus 19:3). The word revere, yirah, has the same root as the word ra’ah, meaning see. Our children develop reverence for us by watching how we demonstrate holiness in our own actions. They look for examples of how to break down big goals into strategic tasks. They observe our choices and conceptualize what stick-to-itiveness looks like with real world challenges.
A week after the March for Our Lives, Rabbi Marc Israel’s Why Was This Shabbat (and March) Different From All Others? outlined a persuasive charge to adults asserting that “…it is not enough to march or even to listen to our youth’s voices; we must make the changes necessary to ensure our schools, our shuls and our streets will be safe for all our children.”
Our children have eyes on us. It’s time for adults to engage in concrete, action-oriented work to advance this ambitious agenda.
Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky declared from the podium at the Washington, DC March that it “is not the climax of this movement. It’s the beginning.” This is a valuable reminder as we reflect back on gun control goals not realized after the Million Mom March in 2000.
Parkland survivor David Hogg realizes the need to maintain momentum. He reportedly is taking a gap year to work on the midterm elections instead of heading straight to college. David Bryfman pointed out in a recent webinar, Tzimtzum: Making Space for Youth Voice, that in every case he has seen teens mobilizing, they “reference that it was the so-called adult community that gave them the skills, capacity, the knowledge to be able to do the work they are doing.” He reinforced the point noting that “what we are actually training them to do is enabling them to be both participants within organizations and also to be able to do this by themselves.”
We can show youth the perseverance necessary to stay the course with complex change in a few ways.
Model effective follow-through. Demonstrate how change happens by making it happen yourself. How are you elevating your activism? Share with your children the specific action items you are taking to advance this effort — or any cause you support. Talk about the projects — big or small — you have taken on to address a change initiative. Be sure you share the steps for how you identified what needed to happen and how you tackled the to-do list.
Ask your children thoughtful questions and then listen. Pose open-ended questions that allow youth to reflect and problem-solve about the discrete, manageable tasks required to advance this effort. Offer to help them identify projects that feel achievable and valuable to them. Acknowledge their feelings and validate the reality that we don’t always get quick, easy fixes when pursuing significant change. Consider asking: What continues to stand out to you from the March? What do you believe still needs to happen to achieve our goals? What types of advocacy work motivate or excite you? What strengths can you bring to these efforts? What might be challenging about the next steps — for you or others? How can I help you?
Encourage your children to participate in group advocacy efforts. It is no accident that God’s message about being holy was announced to the entire assembly at once. There is strength in numbers. Raising the bar of distinction requires the power of a team that includes accountability to others, division of labor, and collective insight and inspiration. Help your children get involved in youth movements or nonprofits addressing the needs in organized ways. Participation can offer so many benefits — authentic learning, expanded connections, and a genuine feeling of making a difference. Perhaps you may find a group whose efforts capture your entire family’s volunteer interests.
Kedoshim alludes to the fact that we should act in ways that earn our children’s esteem. As we mentor our children to continue their work on this cause, we are helping them see what it takes to stay focused and not let life’s distractions interfere with our ability to realize big goals. As they mature, our children will extrapolate what they see us do and apply it to other change efforts. Ultimately, we want them to recognize that follow-through is critical to go the distance with causes that exemplify holiness.
Truthfully, I’m not worried that our children are watching us. I’m counting on it. It’s motivation to model and coach actionable holiness for the future of all our children.
Rebecca Weisman is Project Director at the George Washington University’s Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership. She is a change agent and consultant, who has worked in senior-level roles in schools, congregations, youth movements and nonprofits. You can contact Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org.