By Laura Seymour
One area that is hugely important when it comes to teaching children is how to treat others. This can be difficult to teach, sometimes. On the one hand, we warn our children not to talk to strangers — any stranger. On the other hand, we encourage our children to befriend others; even other they may not know.
Many more of us are often dismayed about how our children might treat the “new” kid in the neighborhood, especially if that child is living in a difficult family situation, or is different somehow. “Stranger danger” aside, the Torah is pretty clear about how we’re to treat folks with whom we’re not familiar “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Exodus reminds us. Nor is that the only time we’re admonished to love the stranger — the Torah repeats this 36 times, reminding us we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy, for example, repeats this theme frequently:
“You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (10:19)
“For the Lord your God is God supreme … befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.” (10:17-18)
“Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.” (24:22)
This repetition tells us the importance of this concept; the reminder that we were once strangers in another land can help put us in others’ places.
This is an important discussion to have with your children — and it’s important they understand how to treat others, especially strangers. Certainly they need to be wary of certain types of strangers — I’m not suggesting your child run up to strangers and try to make friends. Rather, the focus of the discussion could be talking about a time when you felt different from others. Ask your child what he or she learned from that experience. Was your child ever a “new kid?” How did he or she feel, how nervous was he or she while waiting for someone to come over and say hello? What can your child do for another “new kid?” How can he or she make that other child feel more welcome at school or in the neighborhood?
The “takeaway” from this session is that, even if people are different, once we befriend others, we learn they are more alike to us than different.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping and Youth Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.