Combating Cynicism In Our Children

Q: I feel like our generation has a machalah of cynicism, and it is so difficult to fight. My home consists of the “junior division” (children under 11 years old) and the “senior division” (over 11 years old). It’s enough that they listen to totally different CDs and fight over where they want to go for Chol Hamoed, but I find that the older ones are so excited by high-tech gadgets that the “younger division” is losing its natural, age-appropriate temimus. How can we prevent our youth from succumbing to this widespread malady?

 A: It is true that an attitude of cynicism pervades contemporary society. Due to the public’s great emphasis on achieving materialistic gain, people often shy away from being devoted to idealistic causes.

Harav Ephraim Wachsman recently spoke about this at a most inspiring asifah in commemoration of Sarah Schenirer’s 80th yahrzeit, attended by over 13,000 women and girls in Brooklyn’s Barclay Center. He discussed how many of our youth lack idealism and can spend much time mesmerized by high-tech gadgets.

What are some ways that we can inspire our children to aspire to higher ideals?

Parents need to find opportunities to expose their children to great people who live lives of spiritual aspiration. This person need not be a great Rebbe or Rosh Yeshivah, but one who embodies mesirus nefesh for Torah values and lives life with true simchas hachaim.

Some years ago, a mother brought her bas mitzvah-age daughter to Eretz Yisrael and made one of her first stops in Yerushalayim the house of Esther Segal, a”h, in Meah Shearim. The mother wanted her daughter to see this international “fund-raiser” and where her simple headquarters were located. She also had her walk up the steps to the home of the posek hador — Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, — to see the simplicity of his most humble home in Meah Shearim. Such experiences create memories of idealism and lives lived entirely according to Torah values, and can continue to inspire and uplift youth (and adults, as well) through the years.

Though very few individuals can be compared to Harav Aryeh Levin, zt”l, the “Tzaddik of Yerushalayim,” the lesson taught by his example is meaningful to us. After Rosh Hashanah davening, Reb Aryeh would walk a far distance, with his son, to visit a hospital for lepers. Seeing idealism lived in simple but profound actions has a great effect.

A parent should search for inspiring experiences — anyone who has been at a Siyum HaShas can close his eyes and hear the reverberation of the Shema that was recited by thousands during Maariv. Those who were at the Felt Forum some 30 years ago on the occasion of Sarah Schenirer’s 50th yahrtzeit can still recall how Rebbetzin Grunfeld lovingly shared memories of her beloved mentor.

In the not-so-distant past, countless mothers brought their bas mitzvah-age daughters to Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, a”h, in Bnei Brak, who gave the girls kuntresim on the topics of tefillah and chessed and autographed them. If someone is in Eretz Yisrael on Chol Hamoed, bringing children to Birkas Kohanim is another venue where “b’rov am, hadras melech — with the multitude of our nation, is the splendor of Hashem” is reflected. Going to the Kosel at chatzos and hearing Nishmas being recited is another inspiring experience. The strong feelings of yiras Shamayim that the recent video clip of the Chofetz Chaim has engendered in so many reflects our eternal emunas chachamim. All of these experiences can leave lasting impressions upon children.

Clearly, the nisayon of cynicism is not an easy test to pass. However, when parents attempt to expose their children to inspiring people and inspiring moments, the chances of being successful are much greater.