July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Re: check this out!!!!

Uri didn’t usually use exclamation marks in his emails, let alone four, so Bracha was intrigued.

She immediately opened the message, which detailed a new system for teaching middot to elementary school students. The initiative was called SPAM, which stood for the Simple Program for Automatic Middot. The theory behind SPAM was made clear in its logo: a volume of Pirkei Avot in the shape of a computer chip surrounded by the outline of a brain. The slogan brought it all together: “Program Your Way to Perfect Middot!” At first, Bracha was completely freaked out. “Please tell me we aren’t planting computer chips in children’s brains!” she said, to nobody in particular. But then she read on. “With our perfect prescription of games, songs and videos, you’ll swear your child was programmed!” Bracha exhaled. “OK, not so bad.”

Something still bothered her about this, but she couldn’t figure it out exactly. So she emailed Uri to find out if he was considering bringing SPAM to the Jewish Academy of Western Sacramento (JAWS).

About 15 minutes later, Bracha received a reply from Uri. Yes, the plan was to bring this program in. The creators received funding from a number of organizations to offer SPAM to 10 schools free of charge. JAWS was the third school to apply, so Uri wasn’t about to turn down a free opportunity to create perfect students. The plan was to train administrators during the summer who would then train teachers throughout the year. Bracha still wasn’t convinced, but still couldn’t say why. So they went ahead with the plan.

A few months later, each JAWS class from first grade through fourth grade was deep into the SPAM program. Each classroom housed multiple centers meant to engage students in middot-building activities. Even more so, the students loved the games, songs, videos and stories that came with the program. It seemed like SPAM was a real hit! Then came the surveys.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Re: is this a mistake?????

“Uh-oh,” said Bracha to nobody in particular. “Five question marks? That can’t be good.” She then clicked to open the email and saw that her concern was real. The report from parents and teachers was that although the kids loved SPAM, it wasn’t really changing their middot. In fact, many parents thought that their children’s middot had gotten worse since starting with SPAM. At first Bracha, like Uri, thought a mistake had been made. Maybe the program calculates the numbers incorrectly. Maybe the parents read the questions wrong. However, Bracha then opened the survey and scrolled down to the comments section. And parent after parent described how disappointed they were with the amount of time spent on SPAM, when it didn’t work. What was wrong?

Well, it didn’t take them long to find out. Later that afternoon, Bracha and Uri received an email from the makers of SPAM saying they needed to speak immediately. So the two met in Uri’s office and took the call together. Apparently, other schools had reported the same problems experienced by JAWS. The makers suggested pausing all SPAM-related activities until they could sort it all out. So Uri and Bracha did just that. It wasn’t easy to communicate this to parents, students and teachers, but they did what they had to do.

Fortunately, three months later a solution arrived. An updated version of SPAM has been created with two major changes. The first change was a reduced amount of time recommended for students to spend on SPAM activities. The second was the addition of parts for teachers and parents. It turns out that you can’t just program children with good middot. Children need to learn from people they care about, and who care about them.

In this week’s parsha, we learn about the influence Avraham had on those around him. Just as Avraham ran to perform Hachnasat Orchim with excitement, so did the “Na’ar,” who helped him prepare food for his guests. Just as Avraham did what he thought was right, despite what everyone else said, so did Lot, inviting guests into his home in a city where having guests was a crime. To pass along these qualities, Avraham simply had to do things the right way and do them with excitement and love. The others just followed his example.

Sometimes, we can get frustrated with the behavior of those around us. We don’t like how our siblings, classmates or friends are acting. We wish we could just program them to act properly. When this happens our first instinct is often to criticize, which often leads to even more bad behavior and often fighting. Avraham teaches us that there is another approach. We can model the behavior we want to see from others. Hopefully, they will learn to follow our examples.


Yair Daar is the director of student life at Bicultural Hebrew Academy High School. He can be reached at [email protected]

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