It’s that time of year again. Kids with “borrowed” shopping carts full of wood rush by. The smell of bonfire smoke fills the air. Lag Ba’omer is here.
Over the years I have grown accustomed to the bonfires (and the smoke) which accompany the onset of Lag Ba’omer, which begins tonight. I often wonder how many of the revelers even know that the fires are in honor of the great sage and author of the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (a disciple of Rabbi Akiva), who according to tradition passed away on Lag Ba’omer. But that doesn’t really bother me.
What puzzles me more is the main reason behind the celebrations on Lag Ba’omer. According to the Talmud (and Wikipedia), during the time of Rabbi Akiva, 24,000 of his students died of a divinely sent plague during the counting of the Omer. The Talmud goes on to say that this was because they did not show proper respect to one another, befitting their level. Jews celebrate Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the count, as the traditional day that this plague ended.
But how could these great men, scholars in their own right, the students of Rabbi Akiva, the same Rabbi Akiva who preached “Ve’ahavta le’re’acha kamocha,” “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and said of that verse, “This is an essential principle of the Torah,” have stumbled with regard to this vital precept? How could Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, of all people, have lacked respect toward their scholarly colleagues?
What Kids Can Teach Us
Let’s go back to the beginning — preschool.
In the #1 bestseller, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, author Robert Fulghum lists the social life lessons he first learned when he was in preschool:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.
- Live a balanced life. Learn a little, think a little, draw a little, paint a little, sing and dance and play and work a little.
Through my new job as Head of English Content at WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) in Tel Aviv. I have had the opportunity to observe children in WIZO day care centers and learn from them.
The Social Yard
Earlier this year, Israel’s first ever Social Yard (Ha’hatzer Ha’hevrati), a unique social playground, was inaugurated at the WIZO Beit Morecki Day Care Center in Shkhunat Hatikva, a working class neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv. The aim of the Social Yard is to enable the children of Beit Morecki to enjoy activities outside the classroom, as they learn social interaction skills and get to know each other in a beautiful place that suits their specific needs. This specially designed playground, which encourages social interaction and cooperation between children during playtime, includes a double-slide where children go down it side-by-side.
The Social Yard was donated by Dr. Ada Becker, an expert in the field of social development of young children. According to Dr. Becker, who is also the author of a book in Hebrew entitled How to Raise a Sociable Child, the early years of child’s life are the most critical. “A child’s first years of life are years of early and accelerated social learning,” Dr. Becker said. “During these years, young children acquire the main social skills that will serve them in the present and in the future. The Social Yard is the main place where children can combine sensory motor and cognitive language activity with extensive social activity.”
At the festive opening of the Social Yard, Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of World WIZO, said, “This project is particularly important and relevant today because it teaches children to be sociable in an age of computer screens, tablets, and mobile phones. This is the main goal of the Social Yard, to instill social skills in early childhood.”
“In the Social Yard children learn to listen, to cooperate, to wait in line, to initiate, to concede to others, to think about their own needs and how to satisfy them,” Dr. Becker said. “They also learn to listen to and respond to the needs of others and to show empathy for others. Of course, in the social Yard they also have the opportunity to jump, rest, measure strength and abilities and much more.”
Kids Don’t Care Where You Are From or What You Look Like
About two months ago I wrote about my experiences on Good Deeds Day where, through my work at WIZO, I pitched in at a WIZO Day Care Center in Rehovot. You can read more about my experiences there (in a post I called “Daddy Day Care) here.
The Rehovot day care center I volunteered at was made up of all types of children: girls, boys, kids from religious families and secular ones, Israeli-born kids and immigrant children (from Ethiopian families, from Russia, Europe, North America, etc,).
I realized that kids at this age (2-4 years old) don’t care if you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, if you are tall or short, what religion or race you are — it really doesn’t matter to them. You’re are simply a person who is there to play with them. As adults we lose that childlike quality. We should try to get it back.
This Lag Ba’omer let’s remember how little kids don’t care about differences. If kids can practice “Ve’ahavta le’re’acha kamocha,” why can’t we?