Remembering Menschlichkeit

This week, my family will commemorate the 10th yarhrzeit of my father, Albert R. Fingerman z”l.

His was a life well-lived. He was a World War II veteran, an accomplished and admired attorney, a volunteer communal leader, and a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He worked hard, but he also enjoyed life immensely, and he did so with a boundless energy, a cheerful countenance, a calm demeanor, and contagious enthusiasm. He had a natural curiosity about life and learned from every experience. He tried new things and persevered to overcome challenges. He exhibited humility at his own achievements and pride at all of ours.

He taught us everything by his actions, not through his words. Through the daily example he set, he taught us about fulfilling familial, social, and professional responsibilities. He taught us to be involved in the community, to have empathy, and to give back. He served on boards, commissions, and groups throughout his life. He didn’t tell us to volunteer; he just quietly did his service in a collaborative, cooperative way.

He greeted and treated everyone with respect, empathy, dignity, and always with a smile, as he made his way through the courthouse, the JCC, or the streets of downtown Cincinnati.

In a word, he was a mensch. And we are living in a time where we need many more like him.

As we navigate our ways through these very turbulent times, we each need to be positive role models for the world we want. Even as we are confronted each morning with news that can be disruptive and frustrating, we need to rise to the challenge to remain on task, maintain our values, and do our part to build a better world.

Through our example, we model the world for which we aspire.

Those of us involved in the Jewish and secular educational enterprise continue to create new and innovative ways to help inculcate these values of menschlichkeit in young people. Ultimately these are life skills they will need to succeed in this ever-changing world.

In my day-to-day life — in meetings and gatherings at work and in my community — everyone seems to be focused on this very challenge. We all are searching for opportunities to provide for our young people that will build their sense of curiosity and discovery, of community and confidence. We seek to aid the development of their self-esteem, empathy, authentic caring relationships, and a sense of purpose and meaning. According to research conducted by KnowledgeWorks, the competencies required for the future of learning readiness and of workforce readiness will be these very same skills.

More and more, everyone agrees on the need for developing mensches.

Jewish camps are uniquely positioned as a trusted vehicle for making mensches. My work at Foundation for Jewish Camp inspires me because we are helping camps bring even more intentionality, meaning, and relevance to each experience. By creating welcoming, inclusive, and diverse communities — not by words but by actions — these camps set a long-lasting example. By empowering college-aged counselors with responsibilities, camps help these young adults refine their leadership and communication skills. By using FJC’s Making Mensches Periodic Table, camps across North America are incorporating much-needed values into daily life at camp.

It is up to each of us to model menschlichkeit in order to truly make a difference in our rapidly changing world.

Among many things, my father was a prolific letter writer. As I reflect back, I find it incredible that he made time every day — years before email, Facebook, or What’s App — to take “typewriter in hand” and send news, encouragement, and love. Whether I was away at summer camp, in college, and even at business school, I had the joy of a letter from Dad seemingly every day.

In December, I was given a wonderful tool to help make each day in 2018 count. A Jewish desk calendar called “A Kindness a Day” — a project of the New Jersey-based nonprofit Areyvut, whose mission is to infuse the lives of Jewish children and teens with the values of chesed (kindness), tzedakah (charity), and tikkun olam (social action)  — highlights a Jewish text for every day a the year. It’s a text that inspires a recommended gesture of kindness for that day.

These daily lessons remind me of the way my dad lived his life. And they remind me of the difference each of us, behaving like mensches, can make.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.
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