by Lauren Klein
Director of Family Philanthropy
The Center for Funds & Foundations
As a mother, I am always looking for different ways to teach my children the importance of giving back. Of course, there are formal ways to do this, such as putting money in a tzedekah box on Friday nights or participating together in a volunteer project through Jewish Volunteer Connection. But there are also informal ways to share our values. We can read a book together or even watch a movie. Many films have messages that emphasize giving back. By sitting down and watching together, you can initiate conversations that trigger a deeper exploration of family values with your kids.
Remember, however, it is not enough to just watch — the trick is to talk about the movie and share how your beliefs are reflected in the themes. Don’t be shy about sharing from where your values come.
Some movie suggestions include:
• Freedom Writers (PG-13): A true story about a teacher in a racially divided school who gives her students what they’ve always needed – a voice.
Discussion Questions: Who are the people in your life that motivate you to succeed? How do we sometimes give in to attitudes and behaviors that we know are not “healthy” just because everyone else is doing it?
• Pay it Forward (PG-13): A Social Studies teaches gives his class an assignment: look at the world around you and fix what you don’t like. One student comes up with the notion of “Pay It Forward” — do a needed favor for three different people without being asked, and then ask them to do the same for three others.
Discussion Questions: Does doing a good deed for satisfaction sake, or to feel good, lessen the deed? What motivates our actions? What does Judaism say about the motivation for tikkun olam or responsibility for fixing the world?
• The Mighty (PG-13): With his mother, a 13-year-old boy moves in next door to another teen. Though both have problems that label them as outcasts, the boys discover that by uniting as one, they can overcome their individual limitations and triumph over any adversity. As the two set out on a series of courageous adventures, they find that the mightiest treasure of all is friendship.
Discussion Questions: How do we select our friends? How do we embrace or react to people that are different from us?
• The Pursuit of Happiness (PG-13): Inspired by a true story, a struggling single father dreams of a better life for his young son. Finding themselves homeless, he risks everything by embarking on an unpaid internship in a highly competitive stockbroker training program.
Discussion Questions: How is the father the same or different from the image of a homeless person in Baltimore? Was the father’s decision to live on the streets while trying to get ahead a good one? Why or why not? What do you think the son learned from the experience?
I do not have all of the answers nor, to be perfectly honest, do I always practice what I preach. In my home, my son loves to have family movie nights. Maybe the next selection will be a movie from the above list. I am confident that the best way to transmit values to the next generation is to act on our values and to talk about what we do and why. Why not give it a try?