This fall, Congregation Adat Reyim of Springfield, Virginia, will launch a new parent education program, “Cultivating Compassion in Our Kids and Ourselves.” Funded by a $50,000 grant from the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkeley (part of a larger grant made to the Center by the John Templeton Foundation), the program aims to introduce parents to a uniquely Jewish perspective on raising compassionate children, and to explore how it closely parallels the newest research in neuroscience about the foundations of ethical behavior.
The program development team includes Rabbi Bruce Aft of Adat Reyim, several parent facilitators, and Rabbi Dr. Marc Gopin, director of George Mason University’s Center for World Religions. Ordained at Yeshiva University, where he was a student of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Rabbi Gopin has most recently published “Compassionate Judaism: The Life and Thought of Samuel David Luzzatto.” “Science and Judaism have been running on parallel tracks for 200 years and have arrived at the same conclusion: Compassion is the cornerstone of ethical behavior,” he said.
Held over two years, the program will consist of 10 sessions made up of modules built around different parenting topics. Each module will feature one expert-led “Compassion Workshop” and one parent-led “Compassion Dialogue.” Parents can attend any of the sessions they like, and those who attend six or more sessions will receive a cash award and be recognized as a Parent Leader at Adat Reyim.
The program is meant to be accessible for parents who are new to studying the Jewish tradition, but at the same time deep enough to engage those with a more extensive background.
“We’re creating relevant and authentic points of entry into Jewish learning and community life,” said Adat Reyim executive vice president Dr. Shira Solomon, who recently participated in the Partnerships for Advancing Character Program Education, also funded by the John Templeton Foundation. “We’ll tap traditional texts and rituals as well as contemporary sources and practices.” But sessions won’t be mere lectures; the goal is not just to receive knowledge from experts, but to collect and create knowledge among peers. “I wrote the program I would want to participate in,” Solomon said, “and I do want to participate in it.”
Solomon, who has an extensive background in educational research and program evaluation, noted that many school-based and informal educational programs claim to be teaching their students character — but often don’t have a clear idea of the character outcomes they are trying to teach. There are many models of character, and a character-based educational program needs to define the concept so that it can resonate in the larger community’s schools, synagogues, and homes.
This is where the Jewish tradition can make a key contribution. “Parents are the frontline moderators of an overwhelming world,” said Rabbi Aft. “Judaism has so much to offer people as they raise their families. We need to spark dialogue, within families and in our community, about what it means to practice compassion towards oneself and others.”
By Oren Litwin