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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
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Let Us Convert Meanness To Kindness


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

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The e-mails keep coming in response to my recent columns on compassion. Last week I shared one of them with you; here is another one. We once again see that the readership of The Jewish Press is comprised of many segments of our society with a wide range of opinions, values and traditions.

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I write from a secular point of view, meaning no offense and having nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for you.

I was deeply touched by the letter from the mother whose daughter’s educational experience was so traumatic. This woman and her husband tried to do everything for the girl, addressing her problems and reaching out to the professionals one is supposed to turn to. While I don’t know if there were any other external influences affecting this young girl’s behavior, there is, nevertheless, no excuse for the callousness and meanness with which she was treated. The persons in authority at her school should have responded to her needs with alacrity.

I assume the parents were paying for this girl’s education, but regardless, the teachers and principal had no right to the countenance the torment this child was exposed to. How dare those professionals not take action and at least attempt some sort of mediation on her behalf? Sadly, I’ve heard too many stories of young people “falling through the cracks” as the result of such unconscionable neglect.

We like to hope that those who are trained to be educators and caretakers of the young take their mission seriously. Not only does this not hold true but we witness just the opposite. Any school founded on the inculcating tenets of its faith – whatever that faith may be – should practice what it preaches and teaches. First and foremost, the school’s administrative and teaching staffs should put the needs of students above all and be sensitive to their suffering.

Our culture has been polluted in all areas. The hypocrisy, the cruelty, the indifference, the lies, the corruption can be found everywhere – in politics, government, sports, Hollywood, and even our religious institutions, where people should know better. It seems that hardly anyone cares about the welfare of his or her neighbor/student/acquaintance. And this indifference, this selfishness, has penetrated our Jewish institutions.

What did the little girl to receive such abysmal treatment from ostensibly educated and committed adults charged with responsibility for her religious, secular and spiritual education? How can our educational leaders be guilty of such betrayal? How can they respond to the anguished parents who entrusted their precious little ones to their care? And, it must be asked, where was the family’s rabbi?

The little girl is now an adult, married with a child of her own, but the scars are there, affecting her and her future generations. Having said all that, I would remind her family of a simple but very powerful teaching – as long as there is life, there is hope. Damage cannot be erased but – if one truly desires – it can be overcome.

I understand that kids, no matter how loving and religious their homes and families, can still be damaged by the meanness and selfishness of others. It is easy to succumb to peer pressure. Such pressures are difficult if not impossible barriers to overcome. As you have said, we have to teach kindness and generosity to our children since they are not born with those character traits. But when children reach an age when they should know better and still exhibit cruelty and nastiness, it can only mean that somewhere along the line that message was not communicated to them.

Parents don’t like saying “no” to their children. They want their kids to like them. At a certain point, however, a parent or caregiver has to stand firm, and when a child demonstrates bad behavior that child must be told bluntly to “knock it off.” And if children are known to be mistreating a schoolmate or neighbor, those children need to be rebuked in no uncertain terms. “I’m the parent” [or “I’m the teacher” or “I’m the rabbi”]; “behave yourself or face the consequences.” While I realize you can’t make children like or hang out with each other, you can enforce decent, respectful conduct, whether in school, the home or a religious institutional setting.

Parents, teachers, and adults in general are authority figures, and I don’t mean that in the punitive sense but rather a corrective one. If our children lack respect for us it is because we have not shown them what respect constitutes. There was a time when parents and teachers were the moral mentors of children. Today our children get their values from television and the many high-tech gadgets that consume all their free time.

We need to be advocates for our sons and daughters (as well as for our elderly and adults in need of special care). If the professionals, religious or otherwise, don’t measure up to the task and dismiss our requests and their responsibility, we have to yell, loudly and clearly, “shame on you!” Yes, shame on them for dismissing the needs of our loved ones who in good faith we entrusted to their care. They will be held accountable. They destroyed innocent lives with far-reaching destructive consequences.

Let us all cry in protest. Eventually someone will hear us and that is how things begin to get done.

Let us convert meanness to kindness, indifference to caring, negligence to responsibility and brutality to gentleness. Let’s start with our families, our schools, our religious institutions and our communities. And if we do so, if we remain steadfast in our commitment, we might just make a change in our world.

Thank you, Rebbetzin.

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