For Our Children’s Well-Being Temple Beth-El Youth Mental-Health Initiative

Posted on January 15, 2020 by Sarah Gluck & Lisa Friedman

Middot Make Mensches

In the September issue of the Shofar, we shared with you that we are expanding our efforts to help our students develop emotional and social skills that will help them understand, express, and manage themselves as they navigate their studies, their relationships, the challenges of daily life, and the complexities of their own growth and development.

The approach we are taking is called Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), and we are addressing it through a Jewish lens, emphasizing Jewish values and character development as we learn about and practice becoming our best selves.

Among the big questions we are asking are:

  • How do we act in the world in accordance with God’s vision at Creation of what human beings can and must strive to be?
  • How do we cultivate the best that is within each of us?
  • How do we bring our best to ourselves and our ever-growing circles of family,  community, the Jewish people, and humanity at large?

In the Jewish lexicon, the character traits that contribute to our ability to be good and decent people are called middot. The Hebrew word middah means “measure,” and middot are both divine qualities and character traits of the human soul. Middot also refers to a compendium of virtues intended to provide people with moral and ethical guidance for daily living.

The seven middot we have introduced this year as part of a school wide middot bracelet project are:

  • Anavah, Humility
  • Savlanut, Patience
  • Hakkarat haTov, Gratitude
  • Rachamim, Compassion
  • Kavod, Honor/Respect
  • Shtikah, Silence
  • Chesed, Lovingkindness

Here’s how it works. Each classroom is supplied with a bin that contains sets of bracelets for the teacher, madrich/ah, and every student. Upon entering the room, everyone chooses a bracelet. At the start of instructional time, our teachers check in with their students, using the bracelets as the prompt: “Does anyone want to share which bracelet they are wearing today and why they chose it?” The teachers and teen madrichim model (but don’t dominate) the conversation. For example:

  • Teacher: “I am wearing my shtikah/silence bracelet today because I am practicing turning off the “noise” in my head, of my cell phone, email, social media, etc.
  • Madrichah: “I am wearing my chesed/lovingkindnessbracelet today because I had an unkind thought about one of my friends today and I am practicing acting with kindness.”

Take a look at the signs that we have posted in every classroom and ask your kids about their experience so far with the middot bracelets.

The activities, conversations, and experiences that we are having in school and around temple are deepening our understanding of ethical behavior and moral living and helping us make positive, meaningful choices every day. May they help guide us to live in a way that truly reflects the image of God, enabling us to be the good and kind people that Judaism most values.

Sarah Gluck & Lisa Friedman


Originally published in the January-February 2020 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.