Be Who You Will Have Your Children Become
Raising Ethical Teens in an Unethical World
Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting
October 2009 * Cheshvan 5769

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, SIW headshot We live in a world where some of the important people (machers) turned out to be crooks (gonifs) who have fleeced important Jewish do-gooder organizations and such ethical people (mensches) as Elie Wiesel out of their tzedakah funds and life savings.

We live in a world where many of the sports heroes we upheld as role models, and whom we have cheered onto breaking world records, turned out to be fakes (shysters) who juiced themselves with performance enhancing drugs and then lied before Congress and the American people about their actions.

We live in a world where many of the people elected to safeguard our values and our futures turn out to be our political leaders - from both parties, from both past Administrations and Congress - turned out to be hypocrites stumping for certain values in one place all the while abusing their positions to gain wealth, power, sex, or special favors. 

We live in a world where the captains of finance and the captains of business sat in collusion to swindle the American people of their finances and future. 

And then we try to tell our children, "Zaya mensch - be a mensch".  "Be ethical," we urge them, "for that is how you will make a name for yourself."  Yet we all know full well that our world is filled with rich, famous, powerful individuals who have violated the rules, or worse, and whose exploits seem to define "success" in our world. 

how do we raise ethical children in an unethical world?  and why bother?

Dr. Bruce PowellOn Thursday, October 29 at 7:30 pm, Or Ami's Center for Jewish Parenting will wrestle with just those questions.   Our speaker, Dr. Bruce Powell, founder and Head of School of New Community Jewish High School, will explore how we explain to our children and grandchildren why they should bother being ethical in a world filled with Bernie Madoffs, steroids in baseball, and AIG.  Using timeless Jewish values, Dr. Powell provides calm direction in our complex world. (Read Dr. Powell's bio.) 

Or Ami should be proud that in the midst of the busy New Jewish Community High School admissions season, Dr. Powell has graciously accepted our invitation to speak.  His free time is usually focused on consulting with other Jewish schools around the country.  As such, it is important that we have a strong turnout for this significant presentation. (Truth in advertising: my wife, Michelle November, is the school's Associate Director of Admissions.) Come hear Dr. Powell.  Please RSVP to Kathy Haggerty to so we will know to expect you. 

Last year, over 92 adults gathered at Or Ami to explore "How To Guide Your Teen Toward Good Decision-Making: Raising Ethical Children in Today's Society."  Participants could not stop kvelling (complimenting) about Dr. Powell's presentation.  He addressed a central concern of parents:  Having successfully navigated our children's early years, we find ourselves facing new challenges: intense emotions, hormonal changes, extreme academic demands, and opposing pressures to separate from and connect with parents. Dr. Powell guided parents (and grandparents) in the stressful, yet immensely rewarding process of guiding our children to make good decisions.  I shared my insights on Raising Ethical Children on my blog, while our congregant Bruce Sallan wrote about Dr. Powell's presentation. 
a story... about being the ethical role model

How can we explain to our children the importance of being ethical?  Talmud teaches V'eizeh hu gibor? Hakovesh et yitzro.  "Who is mighty? The one who conquers his impulses."  We teach our children best when we try to be who we would have our children become. 

a story (adapted from Jacob the Baker by Noah ben Shea):

Jonah (the young apprentice) stood behind Jacob the Baker as he locked the bakery for the evening.  "Jacob," said the boy with purpose, "I'd like to talk with you about something."

They began down the path by the river.  Above them, like incandescent patterns on the sky's black dome, the bright outlines of warriors and bears were framed in the geometry of the stars.

"Jacob," said Jonah, exhaling, "do you ever think about your mother?"

"Yes," said Jacob.

"Sometimes I ......... don't want to think about mine," said Jonah, looking upset.

Jacob smiled.  "But it's nice when they visit us, isn't it?"

A little startled, Jonah whispered, "Do you think my mother knows we're talking about her?"

"Remember," said Jacob, "she's dead, not gone."

"Your parents must have been special," said Jonah.

"Parents are special who make their children feel they are special," said Jacob.

"Better than others?" asked Jonah.

"Better about themselves," said Jacob.

"With me here, you must pretend you're a parent.  How do you feel about that?" asked Jonah defensively.

"The challenge in parenting is to be who we would have our children become," said Jacob.
"What about how much time I'm taking from you?"

"Parenting is sacred," said Jacob, "and the creation of anything sacred doesn't begin with the question what will I receive from this effort but rather what am I prepared to give."

"I still think your parents must have been great," said Jonah.

"Good parents know that greatness is in each of us, waiting to be born," said Jacob, poking Jonah's chest hintingly.
wrestling with the challenge:
raising ethical teenagers in an unethical world

I believe our children can be different, better, more ethical.  I believe they can carry Torah out into the world, to transform it into a place filled with emet  (truth) and tzedek (righteousness), a haven of ahavah (love), a planet of peace (shalom). 

Join me on Thursday, October 29 at 7:30 pm as together we wrestle with the challenge of why bother doing the right thing?  As parents, grandparents, educators and concerned adults, we can band together to raise ethical teenagers in an (often) unethical world. 

Can we teach our kids to be ethical?  Should we? And how can we accomplish this? 

What do you think? Let me know.


Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes