Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
“I didn’t do it! He did!” my 10-year old says as I comment on the mess in our house. Of course, no one is responsible. Not my 10-year old. Not my 13-year old. And, certainly not my 15-year old. There must be gremlins sneaking into our house while we are out that leave a mess in their wake. Except, I know that’s not true. What does it take to get my children to accept responsibility, to become accountable for their actions?
I think about what I do and say that may inadvertently teach them lessons I don’t want them to learn. Now, instead of asking “Who left this mess on the floor?” in an accusatory manner, I start saying, “Whoever left the towel on the floor, please pick it up and put it away.” Or, “I don’t care who left the basement in disarray, the three of you need to figure it out and clean it up before dinner.” My children pick up on cues both that they observe at home and out in the world. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our politicians stopped denying responsibility and yelling at and about each other and instead said, “Yes, I see how I have been an obstacle to progress for the good of our people and I will now help us move forward.”
Realizing that I can’t just wish for other people to change, I choose to focus on what’s in my control. Not only am I trying to change my words and actions at home, but I’m talking to my kids about the actions I’m taking outside the home as well. For example, I recently visited our state’s capital with a contingent of 70 other Jews to lobby for legislation that would reform our criminal justice system. We lobbied for a bill based on the Jewish values of b’tzelem Elohim (that all people are created in God’s image and should be treated accordingly) and teshuvah (repentance). We spoke about our belief that all people deserve an opportunity for teshuvah and a second chance. We noted in the words of Bryan Stevenson that “Each of us is worth more than the worst mistake we’ve ever made.” We lobbied for the rights of those citizens who are fighting addiction or who are mentally ill, that they deserve treatment rather than incarceration to help return them to society as productive citizens. We know the road to criminal justice reform is long. We know it will not be easy, but we also believe it is incumbent upon us to act and take accountability for the state of affairs in our state, our country, and our world. If not us, then who?
This is how I am hoping to pass on the value of accountability to my children. I hope someday they will take up the torch, not settling for the world as it is, but helping to create the world as it should be.
For more info on how you can advocate for criminal justice reform, visit The Religious Action Center.