by Daniel R. Weiss, Head of School
Courage. Honor. Curiosity. Leadership. Achievement. Tradition. Kindness. Wisdom. These are words that have been repeated often in my Weekly Wisdom. They are words that are repeated daily throughout the hallways of our school. They hang on our walls. They are the names of our Mishpachot. They are also among the words that our students shared with me during our study of this week’s Torah portion, Noah.
The opening line of the Parsha says, “These are the descendants of Noah, Noah was a righteous person, pure in his generation, he walked with God.” Together our students described what makes someone a righteous person. I asked the students to share a characteristic that they believe would make someone righteous. In addition to the 8 words that we used for our Mishpachot names, students also said the following words; integrity, helpfulness, looking out for others, being an upstander, and giving Tzedakah.
When we dove deeper, we questioned whether someone could be considered righteous if they have only one of the above attributes but is deficient in another. For example, they give Tzedakah on a daily basis, but when asked to help others, say no.
What does it mean to be a mentsch? We know we want each of our children to act like a mentsch. But do we truly understand what it means?
We are blessed in Memphis to have two amazing Jewish Day Schools. While some parents choose our schools because of the small class sizes, or excellent faculty, or strong curriculum, or differentiation, or kehilla, or our connection to the land of Israel, or even as a matter of convenience; we all hope to gain the same thing out of the school, children who are mentsches.
The word mentsch is a Yiddish word meaning a person of integrity and honor.
We take the task of building mentsches very seriously. The display of acting like a mentsch is evident by holding the door for classmates, helping a friend or teacher, picking something up off of the floor, and most importantly by being kind to every person who comes into our school.
What made Noah righteous? What did he do, or not do, that warranted him the title of a righteous person, one who walks with God?
Perhaps the answer is found in Pirke Avot 2:5.
ובמקום שאין אנשים השתדל להיות איש
In a place where there is no humanity, strive to be human.
Each week, on Fridays, we give out mensch chips to students whose teachers recognize the exceptional things that they do. Among the things that teachers share are how students reflect on other children and how they are feeling, students who clean up after their friends and are there to support their friends, students who go out of their to set up a room without being asked, students who bring tzedakah for a project they find meaningful, students who pick up trash or take recycling, students who are upstanders, and students who do what is right not just when they are asked, but all the time.
These are our Bornblum Mentsches and we are proud of them every day!