ALBANY– How do you raise your child to become a mensch? A recent panel discussion hosted by the Hebrew Academy of the Capital District (HACD) featured Julie Pollack, head of school at HACD; Amie Bloom, director of the Herman and Libbie Michaelson Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel; Claire Greenhill, clinician at Jewish Family Services and counselor at HACD; and Rabbi Dan Ornstein of Congregation Ohav Shalom in Albany. They drew on their professional expertise and their own parenting experiences to address a range of concerns facing parents today. Amy Drucker of PJ Library and the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York facilitated the conversation.
Panelists fielded questions ranging from what to do if your child is being bullied to how to tell if your child is ready for kindergarten. According to organizors, all panelists agreed that there are particular challenges for today’s parents. Technology was a concern for several panelists, who acknowledged that while offering many benefits, its prevalence can have a negative impact on child development. Pollack suggested families try adopting a 24-hour technology “fast.” “In fact, Jewish tradition already has such a “fast” in place: Shabbat,” she said.
Panelists also emphasized the importance of finding a good school environment for one’s children. Bloom spoke passionately about the need for play-based education, particularly in early childhood. Pollack shared that the ideal school focuses on the whole child, not just the curriculum, and creates an atmosphere where learning is joyous and extends beyond the classroom. Parents should keep in mind that schools play an important role in supporting children’s emotional and social growth, Greenhill added.
A mix of current HACD families, prospective families, HACD alumni, and other interested community members attended. While parents participated in the panel discussion, their children took part in activities and games led by several Hebrew Academy teachers.
“I really appreciated the candor of the discussion,” said HACD parent Ruth Kassel. “My husband and I talk about these topics with each other often, but it’s rare to hear these questions come up in a public space like this.”
“Parenting can be a hard journey,” added Naomi Mozer, parent of two HACD students and organizer of the “How to Raise a Mensch” panel. “It’s important for people to know that they’re not alone and that both our community and our tradition have a lot to offer them.”
While the panelists agreed that there is no perfect template for how to raise a mensch, they encouraged parents to remember that children are looking to them as models. As Ornstein said, “The best way to raise a mensch is to be a mensch yourself.”