By P. Samuels
America has a new celebrity. Esther Wojciciki is a mother, a grandmother, and an experienced educator. Her claim to fame is the fact that all three of her daughters occupy prestigious positions in male-dominated fields. Two are CEOs of major corporations and her third daughter is a professor of pediatrics in a leading medical school. She was constantly being asked to share her “secret formula” for raising successful children. Her answers evolved into a bestselling book called How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.
During an interview, she was asked what she emphasized the most while raising her children. She answered that she taught them to be kind to others. She showed by example how important it is to show that you care about others. Her children did not just hear her say that one must do for others but they also saw her practicing what she preached. She feels that Americans are raising their children to believe they are entitled to whatever they desire: whichever school they choose, whatever entertainment appeals to them, whatever job they think they want. She sometimes feels that America is raising a generation of narcissists. She also cites studies that show that teenagers who volunteer regularly, who willingly help an elderly neighbor, who don’t begrudge others’ possessions are happier and well-adjusted, and are less prone to suffer from depression, addiction, or the other ailments that afflict today’s youth. The satisfaction that comes with doing for others is also a major factor in keeping kids out of trouble.
She then made a statement that made me stop short. She said that Americans do not know how to rejoice in someone else’s success. “In fact,” she stated, “there isn’t even an English word to describe that concept.” My reaction to reading those words came soon enough. Every Yiddish-speaking Jew knows the word “fargin,” and even those who are not conversant in Yiddish still know that it means to be happy when someone else is prosperous, accomplished, or doing well in other ways.
I recently heard of a special-ed teacher who used the concept of “fargining” to address various issues in a problematic classroom. She had overheard a conversation between two little girls. The first one bragged about a new headband. Her friend, instead of replying with one-upmanship like, “I have two new barrettes,” or “My new headband has a bigger bow that yours,” just answered, “That’s nice.” This little snippet of dialogue gave her the idea to try this in her classroom.
She had her students take turns sharing something nice about themselves — something as simple as a new pair of shoes, or relating that they had ice cream as a treat last night. The class then responded by saying, “That’s nice.” The teacher herself could not believe the effect such a simple exercise had on the classroom dynamics. Each child knew that when her own turn came, she would get the same “That’s nice” reaction. Bullying, which had been a major problem, came to a complete stop. New friendships blossomed, and willingly sharing toys, supplies, and snacks became the norm.
We Jews use a different yardstick to measure success. It’s not the six-figure salary or the BMW in the garage that’s a gauge of our self-worth (though we should fargin our neighbors if that’s what they achieved). If we raise G-d-fearing children who follow our example and contribute readily to society by performing various voluntary philanthropic deeds, we can rest assured that we are raising our children successfully, and we may reap the nachas of our progeny becoming well-adjusted members of society.