By Laura Seymour
As we prepared for the new year and came up with “resolutions” that we hope to keep, I read an interesting blog post by Tim Elmore from Growing Leaders. The title of the post is “What the Amish Can Teach Us About Getting Kids Ready for Life.” The title stopped me and I had to read. Here is their list:
Work is part of their education preparation: Most Amish children go to school only until they are 14 years old but that doesn’t mean that learning ever stops. Real-life work is essential to growing up. We often forget that our famous sages all had day jobs along with their study.
Exploring boundaries is part of the experience: The Amish understand that adolescents need to explore and “run around,” which is the meaning of the “rumspringa.” They take the opportunity to get out and explore life and then return to their community or choose to leave. Questioning and challenging within the boundaries is always the Jewish way.
A celebration leads them to courtship and marriage: This is the chance to find joy and even romance in the outside world but within a framework prior to marriage. Finding joy is essential!
Entering a marriage covenant is a family affair: Newlyweds visit family for a number of days and nights before finally being alone. The Amish believe that you marry into a family. (Sounds very Jewish!)
Maturity means taking your place in the larger community: Constructing barns and potluck gatherings are to connect you to the community, recognizing the need for mutual support. Belonging to community takes work and commitment, understanding the responsibilities that go along with it.
This is a belief that real maturity means embracing humanity’s social contract; we must learn who we are and know that we are part of the larger community.
Following this information, Elmore recommended a book which I, of course, ordered from Amazon (waiting for it to arrive). The title is “Ready for Real Life: Unpacking the Five Essential Soft Skills Great Leaders Instill in Their Students” by Andrew McPeak. Unfortunately there is no giveaway of what these five essential skills are but as we head into the new year, let us imagine what skills we would want to impart to our children to make sure they are ready. Your list of important skills may look different but the goal is to know what we value and what we wish to impart.
There is always a connection to Torah; everything we read and learn from the stories is to teach us the important skills we need to live our lives. This past week we read the final parashah in Genesis, where Jacob gives his blessings to his sons. Is Jacob telling them who they are or who they will become? Some of the sons did not get such great blessings; a few seemed like more of a warning, sharing what Jacob sees each son as being. Can we use a blessing and even a curse to direct us to grow? Do we hold our children (and ourselves) back when we say “That’s just who they (we) are?” As this new year begins, we have choices, as Moses will tell us in a much later portion of the book — the blessings and the curses! Remember, most important, to choose life!
Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.