By Zachary Price
Director, Meyerhoff Early Childhood Center
JCC of Greater Baltimore
When I walk through the halls of the Weinberg Park Heights JCC’s Meyerhoff Early Childhood Center, I often see a child standing, sitting or crawling over to a mirror. They look into the mirror and make faces at themselves. Happy, sad, angry, silly … all types of faces. They take hats and scarves and wrap themselves up into different characters.
Young children spend much of their time trying to be someone else, to be their father or mother, brother or sister. This is developmentally appropriate for young children. We as adults look at it and smile. We see all of the little things we didn’t know we did, the way we stand, the tempo in how we talk, how we hold our forks when we eat. Some of these things we like; some we don’t. But as the saying goes, imitation is a form of flattery.
Every parent has dreams for their children. We look at them and see their potential. They could be a great doctor, or lawyer, or rabbi, or dentist or … fill in the blank. When they start to imitate us, we start to see ourselves in them. We see all of the things that we could have done. Maybe if I would have spent a little more time focused on baseball or studying or math, I could have been a great baseball player or scholar or engineer.
When I look at these children I’m reminded of the story of Reb Zusya, a great scholar and pious man. He was distraught about a dream where he saw himself in heaven in front of an angel who asked him a question about his life. His students saw his distress and asked, “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”
Zusya responded, “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses?’ or ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua?’ Instead, they will say, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?’” Zusya had spent so much time imitating others that he had forgotten to look at who he was and what he wanted.
During the days following Rosh Hashanah, many of us spend a great deal of time reflecting on our own lives. Ever since I heard the story of Zusya, this is the question I ask. “Who am I?” When I’m looking in the mirror, am I seeing myself or another person?
As an early childhood educator, I struggle with Zusya’s question every day not just for me, but for each and every student in my school. How are we helping them foster their own identity? How are we helping each child be themselves? Are we helping them to understand or are we getting in the way of their understanding? Are we listening to what the children are telling us or are we only hearing what we want to hear?
We spend time with each child every day listening and trying to understand what a two, three, or four year old is trying to say. We talk to them about the differences between each of us, what makes us special, and our commonalities, what we all share. We talk about the skills they have and the skills they want to have. We help them to explore their questions and help them come to a conclusion. Often their conclusion isn’t as important as the path they take to get there.
Each of us takes our own journey in life. I wish you the best as you and every member of your family young and old takes on their own. Shana Tovah!