If I were asked to identify the greatest Jewish teaching, the most important lesson to be learned from all of Judaism, I would argue that, aside from ethical monotheism, it is that behavior matters more than anything else, and certainly more than feelings.
Club Kung Fu is a martial arts program for Jewish special-needs children ages 9-15 that is designed to improve self-discipline, self-esteem and physical fitness. Right now, about eight boys meet weekly, but the program is expanding, thanks to a Cutting Edge grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.
Years ago, when my son was beginning his foray into competitive tennis, I entered him in a local, somewhat low-key tournament intended to introduce new players to tennis competition. I thought it would be fun. But as I watched my son's match, the activity one court over distracted me. A father was screaming at his son from the sideline, for making an error. The boy grew frustrated and angry; their interchange was embarrassing.
An official informed the father that he'd be removed if he could not keep quiet. A short while later, when the boy lost, he threw his racquet and burst into tears. He could barely bring himself to shake his opponent's hand.
Surprised? Not really. While there are multiple reasons some kids end up being bad sports, parents usually receive the most blame -- something we moms and dads ought to consider as another sports season is set to kick off.
Report card season is meant as judgment day for kids, but in many cases it is the parents who come under scrutiny -- most notably by the kids themselves.
How a parent reacts can bring a kid's self-esteem up or knock it down, can encourage them to put forth more effort or to become complacent and can send strong messages about priorities, values and dealing with being judged.
I can't remember a word spoken by Ira Goldstein, the Plainview (NY) High School valedictorian, Class of 1965, but I'm sure his graduation address was brilliant. Ira, who apparently was in the Philosophy Club with me for three now-forgotten years, was the most brilliant boy in a class of brilliant boys. Girls were "smart" or "sweet" in those days; boys were "brilliant."
"The difficult he does quickly; the impossible takes a little
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