In a letter to the parent body of an affluent private NYC school the head of the school described how the school has become a dangerous incubator of indulgence where ostentatious displays of entitlement slip by unquestioned. He wrote of “consumerist families that treat teachers and the school …exclusively to advance their child’s self-interests.” He warned parents that they are raising children who are a “cognitive elite that is self-serving, callous and spiritually barren.”
Parents have pursued children’s academic goals often at the expense of their souls. Respect has been neglected as children acquire more, consume more and want more. But at what price do we keep on giving without demanding in return?
Parents are focused on college placements, internships, and achievement. After school activities and tutoring consume the night. When was the last time these very same parents demanded caring for others, communal responsibility and activism and charity work that require some sense of sacrifice?
What is our message about priorities? Where does spirituality fit in?
Judaism teaches that we are all responsible for one another; we are parts of one body. If you are feeling pain then I, too, am discomforted. If I have been gifted with athletic prowess, popularity, brains or financial resources, I must be aware that these are God-given gifts. The question I am faced with is: What will I do with these gifts to better my world? Or is it simply caring about getting the achievement award, the trophy, attaining brand names?
We cannot separate values from learning. We need to reevaluate how we are nourishing our children’s souls. Can we put as much effort into their character as we do into their academic pursuits? Do we take the time to focus on values? How can we infuse children with faith?
We cannot remain at peace as their sense of entitlement and appetite for materialism grows. The holiday of Sukkot brings the inspiration Jewish families everywhere so desperately need to touch the hearts of our children.
The lesson of the succah resonates. Most people feel safe while living in the comfort of their own homes. When all is familiar and we sit within the rooms of our house, we do not feel vulnerable.
During Sukkot embrace the shelter of faith. We exit the walls of our home and sit beneath the stars. Each time we enter the sukkah, we declare our trust in God. We leave all that is familiar and dwell in temporary residences so that we don’t grow arrogant and find all our happiness within our material possessions. We feel protected in the sanctuary of the Divine presence.
This is genuine security. To know that it is not about wealth, brand names, awards or technology. Everything that counts in life is right here, in our sukkah beneath the open sky. Our families, our loved ones, time shared together, all within the walls of this temporary hut.
The sukkah allows us to transmit this life-changing belief to the next generation. We are asked to stop focusing on the confines of the material and experience a deeper joy. To realize that despite our hardest efforts we cannot guarantee anything in life.
In a world where children are constantly wanting to acquire more, where the lens is rarely focused on others and mostly on themselves, Sukkot provides an tangible experience to connect to spirituality and their Creator, the Source of genuine security.
Bring the sukkah home. Sheltered under the wings of the Divine, show your children the everlasting joy within our faith.