In memory of Ray Lederman, who always made whoever he was speaking to feel as if they were the most important person in the world.
Many of us, when considering the legacy we want to leave, think about our family and our community. We hope to raise children who care as much about the community as we do.
This doesn’t magically happen. So how do we do it? How do we raise mensches? After 30 years of community work (and 59 as a human), I have met amazing people and have been taking note of those who seem to have figured it out.
How we look at one another seems to be the starting point. When it takes too long to receive dinner at a restaurant, there are those who lash out at the waiter and those who take a breath first and look at how busy it is or think of what else might be going on. When seeing homeless people there are those who are annoyed and those who think “There but for the grace of God go I.”
It is the difference of reacting to how the situation affects us, and how it affects everyone involved. In other words, how we really “see” others. My hope is that when we see people who are homeless we raise questions: What do you think they were like when they were young? What do you think happened in their lifetimes to result in homelessness? It moves another away from being “other” and closer to being someone we see and think and care about.
This can change the whole paradigm of how we look at the world and consequently our role in it. If we want to leave the world better off than how we found it, we need to consider how to make a difference. Moses had a terrible stutter, and look what he did.
Our tradition tells us that action captures the heart, so here are some things you might do:
• Match any donation your children or grandchildren make to the causes they care about.
• Dedicate one night of Chanukah to giving to the community — the children get to choose where the donation goes.
• Go through toys and ask “Do you still play with this? Or do you think we might want to give this to a child who has less than you do?”
• Make a weekly contribution for tzedakah and decide together where the gift goes.
• Make cookies and, together, bring them to a fire station.
• Volunteer together at a shelter, food pantry or senior center.
• Have your children be advisors to your charitable giving during and after your lifetime
Engaging our children (no matter their age) in this question of how to make a difference is nothing less than profound.
Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt said, “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand.” It is this frame that changes how we view the world. Hopefully by seeing and engaging both intellectually and emotionally we’ll love both humanity and the flawed among us within it.