Keep mind open: Learning comes from many sources

Dear Families,
Every morning I read the newspaper so that I can keep track of what is happening in the world (yes, I know I am a dying breed). But, I find the biggest truth on the cartoon pages. There is a book for early childhood educators called What’s Jewish about Butterflies? by Maxine Segal Handelman and Deborah L. Schein. The premise of the book is that we can find “Jewish” in everything — so why not on the cartoon pages of the newspaper?
Many years ago, there was a wonderful For Better or For Worse that I keep to remind myself (and the families in our programs) about the Jewish value of acceptance and welcoming: April tells her mom that the school mixed her class with kids with “special needs” and she goes on to explain that they need help with writing and even talking. April says, “I wonder what they’re going to learn from a class with us!” And mom replies, “I don’t know, honey … but my guess is … you’re going to be learning a lot from them!”
For years, I have marveled at all that our children gain from being in camp groups and classes with children with special needs. Often the first reaction is fear but when children learn, the fear turns to compassion. It helps children to reach out and help others and also to appreciate their own strengths and weaknesses. Sadly, it is often parents who react badly when hearing that their child will be mixed with those with special needs and often it takes a little longer, and a little more explaining, for adults to understand.
Accepting all people is a Jewish value. We have the texts to prove it:
Blessing on seeing someone different: Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu Melech ha’olam misheneh ha’briyot. Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who makes people different.
Pirke Avot —

  • 4:3 Do not be scornful of any person, and do not be disdainful of anything…
  • 4:27 Do not look at the jug, but at what is in it.
  • 3:18 Beloved is man, for he was created in God’s image.
  • 4:1 Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone.

Take the time to talk about these texts to understand the messages about accepting all people. We can learn from everyone — we just need to look a little deeper and take a little more time!
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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