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Honor the hard work of compassion

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We need to recognize kids for being good people as well as star students or athletes.

Recently, I was reading an essay by one of my teenage students. She wrote: "It is easy to be independent when everyone behind you is with you; the difficulty comes when 99 percent of your friends think that you are wrong."

Just a few weeks before, I met with another student who told me that her greatest problem was holding fast to her values. In school, all that is important to her friends are designer labels, the make of their parents' cars, and the sizes of their homes. She doesn't want to follow the crowd, but it's hard to be different.

At the end of the school year, our children receive all kinds of recognition for academic achievement and athletic prowess. But where and how do we transmit the foundation of faith in the idea that doing good is more important than acquiring goods? How do we educate our children to stand up for what they believe, even though they may stand alone?

I envision an end-of-school awards ceremony with some of the following categories:

*Offering comfort to a friend who is having trouble in school or at home.

*Refusing to use or accept derogatory statements about people of other ethnicities or religions.

*Following through with a commitment, even though it's inconvenient.

*Serving as a volunteer in the community.

*Showing respect to teachers, parents, and peers.

*Extending a hand of friendship to someone who is not part of the popular crowd.

*Being honest when others cheat.

We all agree that we want our children to win awards like these, to be more just and compassionate human beings. But how do we teach these lessons? The Bible gives us some clues. In the book of Genesis, Abraham is called an ivri, a Hebrew word. Ivri comes from the root that means "to cross over."


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