Use Thanksgiving to discuss family values
By Laura Seymour

Thanksgiving is upon us, a time during which we’re surrounded by family and friends. Because this holiday is so family focused, it’s a perfect time to talk about family values.
Now, these days, we tend to want that quick answer — the brand or the jingle — that tells us how to live our lives. We’re told, incessantly, to “Just Do It” or “Have it Your Way” or even to “Eat Mor Chikin.” We live in a society in which shortened attention spans and sound bites are the norm.
But our sages also understood that not everyone had the patience, the time or understanding to sit through long lectures or statements. They, too, attempted to condense important statements so everyone could understand them.
In paraphrasing Genesis Rabbah 24:7 we can see the sages’ thought processes when it came to boiling down complex ideas into simple thought:
The rabbis ask, “What is the most important verse in the whole Torah?” Each had a different answer. Ben Azzai said the most important verse in the Torah is: “This book is the family history of Adam”. (Genesis 5:1) Rabbi Akiva said that the most important verse is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) Rabbi Tanhuma added: “In the image of G-d were people created.” (Genesis 1:27)
All of these are important, but is there a winner? Which one speaks to you?
Along these lines, the JCC staff recently examined 20-plus Jewish values and had a discussion and debate similar to the long-ago sages. Now, we aren’t rabbis by any stretch of the imagination. But we studied these values, what they represent to us at the J, and what they represent to us personally. The discussion was wonderful — in fact, discussions of this type are often more important than the decisions.
Here is a list of “Jewish Values.” To start a meaningful discussion, put them on cards and, with your family (or the people you work with), pick the three that will serve as guiding principles in your lives. Remember, there is no wrong answer!

  • Tzelem Elohim — Image of G-d
  • Kavod — Respect
  • Emet — Truth
  • Rachamim — Compassion
  • Hakhnasat Orchim — Welcoming Guests
  • Shem Tov — A Good Name
  • Shalom — Peace
  • Sayver Panim Yafot — Greeting everyone with a pleasant face
  • Anavah — Humility

After you have selected your “family values” take the next step: What does each value look like? How do we act to show respect? What does it mean that we have a welcoming home? What do we do to achieve a good name?
The wonderful thing about Judaism is it takes the big picture and turns it into action. If we can’t do it, how will we or anyone else know that this is what we stand for? Enjoy the conversations and perhaps even make a family T-shirt!
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services and Lifelong Learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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