We don’t know about you, but to us, it seems like there are mitzvah days popping up all over the place.
Recently, both of our synagogues held mitzvah days, and we’ve seen several social media posts about mitzvah days at other synagogues. Plus, we’ve seen numerous social media posts about mitzvah days at still other synagogues, and we were asked to speak during a mitzvah week (even better!) at yet another synagogue.
There is even an International Mitzvah Day which began in the UK in 2005. Their website cites projects in locations as far flung as South Africa, Australia, Rwanda, and Poland, not to mention here in the U.S.
What’s behind this proliferation of mitzvah days? Although we can’t say for sure, we think there are a few factors at play: First of all, a mitzvah day is accessible. After all, at times, when it feels like the problems in the world around us are insurmountable, it is easy enough to commit to spending a single day in order to do something good with and for our community. Second, it is gratifying to “do” something, and mitzvah days are about action — donating time and energy, and not money. Finally, mitzvah days provide an excellent opportunity for the types of connection we crave — be it with other families, community organizations, or clergy.
Plus, another incredible benefit that mitzvah day participants may not realize is that volunteering together can bring families closer together. It can reinforce family values, and allow each member to see different sides of one another.
In short, we are all about mitzvah days. We love them. After all, like us, most Jewish moms want their kids to do good in the world. But here’s the thing — we want them doing good all the time, and not just on one designated day.
Don’t get us wrong — we think it is wonderful for families to have that day to gather and work together doing doing good deeds. But it would be even better for our kids (and ourselves) to find opportunities to engage in tikkun olam every day.
So how can we encourage our kids to help repair the world those other 364 days of the year? Here are a few ideas.
1. Start by being a kindness role model.
Clearly, nobody is an ideal parent every single moment of every single day. That said, our kids are watching and learning from everything we do and say. Think about where your ideas about kindness and caring come from — who comes to mind when you think about someone kind and compassionate? What did you learn from this person? Strive to be that kind of model for your own kids, at least sometimes!
How to do this? It’s easy: find simple, everyday opportunities to be kind and helpful to others — especially when you’re with your kids. Offer to help another shopper reach something from a high shelf in the supermarket. Or, even though your hands are full of bags and you’re running late, when you see someone several paces behind you, hold the door and say hello. And always say “please” and “thank you.”
2. Look at your kids through a lens of kindness.
This one can be tough, especially in those moments when they’re driving you bonkers. But be sure to notice their acts of kindness and comment on them. Not only does this convey the message that you value this type of behavior, it is a good reminder (for you and them) that they are probably already engaged in tikkun olam on the regular. You can do this in real time, say, for example, when you notice your child filling the dog’s empty water bowl without being asked. You can say, “Thanks for refilling Duke’s water bowl. You take such good care of our dog!” Alternatively, you can designate a specific time during the week to acknowledge kindnesses as a family, or any other form of acknowledgements that work in your home. Just do it!
3. If your kids have an idea for a way to help others, support them.
Even if the last thing you want to do on a Sunday afternoon is go to a nursing home so your kid can play piano, we’re willing to bet that the residents would love to have him. They won’t even mind that the program is five repetitions of “Heart and Soul” followed by a finale of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” And if your daughter thinks going to the park to collect bottles and cans to put in the recycle bin is a great idea, gather a few other families and get to it. Everyone can use their own interests and passions for good.
4. If your kids see something that seems unfair, let them question it.
Asking questions is a powerful tool for kids to grow and learn. As parents, we may not always have the answers — and that is OK. We can work with our kids to help them try to understand why the woman they pass on the way to school each day has her belongings in a shopping cart, or why some kids don’t get new toys for their birthday. You never know, your kids may become inspired to help change what strikes them as unjust.
In case you’re not convinced about the importance of doing mitzvahs every day, we want to share a little research to underscore the importance of talking to kids about kindness, and giving and providing them with opportunities to do so. Researchers at UC Riverside and University of British Columbia, Vancouver have shown that pre-adolescents who regularly engage in acts of kindness are happier and better liked by their peers. Don’t we all want that for our kids?
What’s more, a 2013 report by the United Nations Foundation and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University examined ways to get kids to become future philanthropists, and found that the best way to accomplish that is to both model and talk about philanthropic behavior with kids. Show your kids that you volunteer and make charitable contributions, and talk to them about why you do so.
We hope these suggestions will help you encourage your kids to have a positive influence on the world. So not only will every day become mitzvah day, your kids will be happy about it too!
Header image via CSA images/Getty Images