Building a society of mensches

While Israel has a diverse population which needs proper integration, there are certain normative behaviors that all upstanding citizens have a responsibility to uphold.

June 15, 2014 17:18
SOLDIERS TAKE a break on Zikim Beach, near Ashkelon. We’re far more a ‘sit back and relax’ type of s

SOLDIERS TAKE a break on Zikim Beach, near Ashkelon.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Recent press reports of teenage rape, arrests of Israelis for having a drunken orgy in Machu Picchu and other similar behaviors  indicate a deficiency in the country's educational process. Indeed, Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino recently said that "youth violence is the number one issue" in Israel and "equal to all the external threats."

Noted psychiatrists describe potentials that are unique to man and which animals lack, such as the ability to learn from the history of past generations, the ability to search for truth, the ability to reflect on the purpose and goals of life, the ability to have self awareness, the ability to volitionally improve oneself, the ability to have perspective, to contemplate the future, to think about future consequences of one's actions, the ability to be considerate of others and to be sensitive to their needs, the ability to sacrifice one's comfort and possessions for the welfare of others, the ability to empathize, the ability to make moral and ethical choices in defiance of strong bodily drives and urges, the ability to forgive , the ability to aspire and the ability to delay gratification.

A human being becomes a mensch (a person of integrity and honor) when he implements those potentials that are unique to man and which animals lack.

Nobel Laureate Professor Aaron Ciechanover  said recently: "The enemies around us will never defeat us. If we shall be defeated it will be by ourselves, in strife, hate, among different groups, inability to listen, discuss in a civilized manner and misunderstanding of the meaning and purpose of our life here in Israel."

While Israel has a diverse population which needs proper integration, there are certain normative behaviors that all upstanding citizens have a responsibility to uphold. Without moral or ethical guidelines people will only act with self serving egotistical self indulgence.

But to build a strong nation it is our job as caring citizens to take responsibility to help one another.

Developing tolerance and integrity reduce interpersonal tension, but this will not happen in a vacuum.

People need to know that they are not friars (suckers) when they act appropriately, but rather they can be a mensch and this will make them happier, healthier people.

The key to a solution is education, starting with people talking to each other instead of at each other.

With dialogue there is an opportunity to build a more cohesive diverse society. Indeed, and a recent survey showed that 93% of the Israeli public support dialogue with the haredi community in order to preserve societal unity.

The Be a Mensch Organization has recently undertaken the responsibility of conducting dialogue groups with the diverse populations in Israeli society using a motto of unity through diversity. The goal of this NGO is to increase tolerance between different factions -- haredi, national religious and secular -- with the hope that people will have more respect for one another, that they will have more integrity that and there will be enhanced societal unity.

The educational tool for this program is the book Be a Mensch- Why Good Character is the Key to a Life of Happiness, Health, Wealth and Love (Yedbooks). This book is a compilation of essays by important people such as Jewish Agency Chairman  Natan Sharansky and  Nobel Laureate Professor Robert Aumann who attributed their success in life to being a "mensch."

Professor Aumann notes that "Game Theory proves that good character builds stable, positive relationships". Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky says" the secret of achieving inner freedom lies in living a life of meaning."

Essentially, the book addresses a central problem of our times: what is good character and why should we care about it. We can all see the decline in honest concern for others, idealism, responsibility for the community and the drive to have a life that makes the world a better place. The contributing authors are people with advanced secular education and profound ethical and moral commitment.

At the inauguration of the national Be a Mensch campaign and the release of the book, the following comments were made by participants. Nobel Laureate Professor Danny Shechtman said: "To truly educate is to educate to be a mensch. This is what the book Lihiyot Mensch (Be a Mensch) does-teach how to be a person who is considerate of others. Former Justice Minister Yaacov Neeman said "The central issue in the State of Israel today is Jewish unity and peace among ourselves. This is exactly what the book and the organization Be a Mensch address. Professor Yedidia Stern of the Israel Democratic Institute said,"Diversity in our society is actually an asset and a resource. The book, Lihiyot Mensch is a great way to help get to this awareness." Businessman Rami Levi said,"If you want to be a mensch leave your ego home when you go to work." For his part, singer and actor Yohoram Gaon said, If you want to be a mensch make yourself a better person, not others, and you will look at people differently."

A person who has reached a proper level of love for others will not feel hurt or anger by what they say to him. Love has the ability to cancel all wrongdoings. Although he personally will be meticulously careful to show respect to everyone, he realizes other people have not perfected their character traits, and so he does not put excessive expectations on them. Such an elevated person will not have to constrain himself to not feel anger or the pain of embarrassment, for he is in a constant state of happiness. Although this is hard to achieve, it is possible.

We believe in the people of this nation and we are offering the beginnings of a solution to the dysfunction in our society. Our vision for each citizen is clear-every person has the potential to be great in their own way. To quote Israel's Goodwill Ambassador Tal Brody, a book contributor, "If the team players do not get along the team will not be successful." Therefore individuals should strive to fulfill their  potential and make themselves and Israel the best they can be. And how does one do that? By being a mensch.

Moshe Kaplan M.D.,a  psycho-immunologist,who  has pioneered work in the field of wellness, holistic and preventive medicine for optimal heath and healing when he practiced medicine in San Francisco Bay area before making aliya in 1986. He is currently President of Recnac Formulas, LLC,developer of a science based nutritional product-Negda, a Founder and Medical Director of Hacovesh- Harnof, and Founder and Chairman of Be a Mensch. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife, Karen.

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