With no end in sight from the devastating fires that engulfed Southern California, a very poignant photograph on the front page of the L.A. Times caught my attention. It was of a boy standing in the fire wreckage, holding a piece of his ruined bed, speaking volumes about the life and death choices of staying or fleeing the raging fires. Thousands of families had lost their homes and the lives they knew, as well as losing a lifetime of memories and the comfort of familiar and beloved possessions
I know how seeing this affected me and my husband and our friends. But what does it look like from a child's perspective? I learned the answer to that question in a very personal way from my sensitive 5-year-old daughter, Ariela.
Following a family discussion over dinner based on a Times article titled: What Do You Save From a House Full of Memories, Ariela asked, "Did a lot of children lose their favorite toys?" When questioned if she would like to donate some of her toys, she immediately ran upstairs and returned with a huge fluffy white bear saying that she wanted to give a homeless child one of her favorites.
Ariela re-focused me on how important it is to raise our children with eyes that can see the world and a passion to give to the world.
In our personal prayers every Friday night, we pray for children who will be shining examples of Torah and Chesed, kindness. When Ariela came running down the stairs with her eyes shining and her eagerness to do this mitzvah, I was overcome and reassured by her pure goodness. I don't know the exact moment it became clear to her that she could make a difference in someone else's life, but it did, and she re-focused me on how important it is to raise our children with eyes that can see the world and a passion to give to the world.
It is never too early to begin teaching our children about kindness and love for our fellow man. Torah teaches parents to see their children as a divine trust. Our task is to educate our children that a life dedicated to fulfilling mitzvot and becoming Godlike is an exciting and liberating opportunity. The Jewish tradition relates that the single most effective tool for planting greatness in our children is personal example. There is so much at stake requiring us to be clear examples of those character traits we wish to develop in our children.
Children cannot be raised in a moral and spiritual vacuum. We want them to grow in faith and devotion, to understand concerns that are considered larger than themselves. Our children must be provided with transcendent values and sincere spirituality. We need to understand the task before us, that we share a responsibility to create an environment in our homes, our communities and ours schools that will allow children to flourish and make choices that will bring comfort to the world.
Ariela's instinctive outreach of love and caring developed into an idea for a toy drive by her class at Maimonides Hebrew Academy, and then into a school-wide project. The Red Cross agreed to pick up the donated toys and to distribute them to the various shelters housing people who have lost their homes and lifetimes of possessions and memories due to the fires.
Generosity of the heart and spirit come in all shapes, sizes and ages, and one person, no matter how young, can make a difference. Our challenge is to feel the same sense of urgency on a daily basis and learn from my beautiful Ariela the true meaning of giving.