School strives for 'culture of kindness'

School strives for 'culture of kindness'

Start small," advises Rabbi Chaim Hagler, describing how to teach children about chesed, or kindness. And, says the principal of Yeshivat Noam, which recently began its first school year at its new home on Century Road in Paramus, model the behavior you want to teach.

Last year’s third-grade class at Yeshivat Noam brought toys to the children at Holy Name Hospital’s pediatric clinic.

The school, now in its sixth year, has devised several innovative ways to implement these teachings. It "starts small" by incorporating into its Friday school-wide onegs a segment highlighting small acts of kindness. "Someone will say, for example, this student picked up my pencil, or that student held open the door for me," said Hagler.

Modeling kind behavior is something the school principal takes quite seriously. As the school took up residence in its new home, he made a point of welcoming all the students to the new facility and encouraging them, in turn, to make those who were new to the school feel as comfortable as possible.

"We have to make sure the kids are aware that [kindness] is important to us, and that it starts with how we treat each other," said Hagler, stressing that children should see faculty and staff showing one another acts of kindness. He noted that the school presents every teacher with a birthday gift, and does so in front of the students.

The teaching of kindness is a "natural fit" at Yeshivat Noam, said its principal, who added that the school is committed to making the concept "a part of our culture" and integrating acts of chesed into each classroom.

He pointed out that at the school’s first faculty meeting, parent Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut — a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to helping schools create programs teaching kindness, charity, and social justice — addressed the school’s 75 teachers.

The ultimate goal of Areyvut’s kindness campaign is to "make core Jewish values an organic part of students’ everyday lives," said Rothner, himself a former teacher. The group provides services ranging from b’nai mitzvah consultations to programs for congregational school educators, such as one presented last year under the auspices of Jewish Educational Services of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

According to Rothner, who spoke to the Yeshivat Noam faculty about the centrality of chesed within Judaism, while Areyvut works with dozens of schools in this way, Yeshivat Noam is a special case, embracing the concept of chesed "as one of the pillars of its mission."

"We’re building on an existing campaign," he said, pointing out that every grade in the school has a theme, or designated mitzvah project.

Rothner also spoke to the teachers about the concept of "service-learning" — which, he said, "combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity change both the recipient and provider of the service" — and how to incorporate service-learning projects into the curriculum.

According to Hagler, Yeshivat Noam already has several projects of this kind. Students in the third grade spend four to five months each year helping to improve the physical environment for pediatric patients at Holy Name Hospital. Not only does the project — which involves both hands-on activities and a learning component — sensitize the students to the needs of hospitalized children, but, through the school’s art program, it helps students create artworks that can be used to brighten hospital facilities.

"The best way to teach is to get the kids involved in planning, choosing, and implementing a project," said the principal, who noted that this year the faculty will give students a range within which to make choices for chesed projects. In addition, students will now be able to participate in decisions regarding the monthly distribution of funds collected in the school’s tzedakah box and will have an opportunity to decide what items might be purchased for the charities they select.

Also in use at Yeshivat Noam is Areyvut’s "A Kindness a Day" calendar, which contains 365 suggested activities that, said Rothner, "exemplify Jewish values." The idea for the calendar — which offers daily suggestions such as "Call or visit someone who is sick," and "At a social function, go over and introduce yourself to someone who is standing alone" — was inspired by the "Book of Jewish Values," written by Areyvut advisory committee member Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, said Rothner. For more information about the calendar, call ‘1’-813-‘950 or contact

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