Centering Tikkun Middot Now and in the Future

By Betsy S. Stone, Ph.D. and Jodie Goldberg

Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, has been a core, lived value of the Jewish people throughout modern history. For decades, synagogues, youth serving organizations, and camps have made feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the bereaved cornerstones of their Jewish teen programming. We like to think of these efforts as repair from the outside in – that the work of my hands will lead to changes in my character, my soul. Both have enormous value. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a greater need for Tikkun Olam. Jewish teens have found unique and significant ways to contribute by creating change from the outside in by engaging in Tikkun Olam within their communities.

Mussar presents another form of repair, the repair of the self. Through this tradition of Mussar, a movement brought to us in the early nineteenth century by Rabbi Israel Salanter, we have begun to think about the practice of Tikkun Middot. Mussar, with its attention to the building blocks of character and personal attributes, is repair from the inside out. As we attend to the Middot, we each become more aware of the needs of others – and of our need to help. 

In this time of COVID-19, we have been gifted the opportunity to pause and reflect. This pause has reminded us that if we want to maintain connections between teens and their Judaism, and we are committed to helping create the next generation of Jews and Jewish leadership, we must see Tikkun Olam as a significant piece of the puzzle, but not the only one. We must further broaden our approach to engagement in an intentional, thoughtful way. What are we trying to create in future Jews and how do we do it? 

What teens really need now, what we all really need now, in addition to Tikkun Olam, is a focus on Tikkun Middot. We can use this to understand our strengths, to build our characters, to value what we CAN do. The opportunity to slow down and learn about myself is a chance to create a personalized sense of direction and interest. 

Through the New York Teen Initiative, generously funded by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jim Joseph Foundation, The Jewish Education Project has reimagined how teen professionals can re-envision their own self improvement. Through the FindYourSummer.org Ambassadors program, youth and teen professionals in the New York area thoughtfully engage in the work of Tikkun Middot by creating change from the *inside-out.* The program, starting in early December, will be a 7-month journey in which youth professionals will embark on a six-session arc of learning with expert presenters in the field aimed at refining their understanding of teens and the ways they want to grow and thrive in the world. The goals of this program are for youth professionals to be exposed to leaders in the Jewish educational field, learn from new research, benefit from professional mentorship, and gain information about over 400 + summer experiences in order to connect them to an experience that best fits the strengths and interests of the teens they serve.   

Connecting teens with summer experiences that fit their strengths and interests may sound easy, but it presumes that Youth Professionals have access to information about summer programs, the ability to consult with teens about their choices, and the appropriate skills to mentor and guide teens. This program is designed to help Youth Professionals develop and hone these skills. The FindYourSummer.org Ambassadors program provides youth professionals with 1:1 coaching and group mentorship. These mentorship opportunities allow youth professionals to gain tools to learn about who they are and allows them to engage in the work of Tikkun Middot by learning the tools to be stronger mentors for their teens. When we engage in a mentorship relationship, we are gifted the opportunity to see ourselves in new and important ways. Only when we “know ourselves” are we finally able to help others do the same. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to reflect on the goals that we set for our professionals and the programs available for youth and teens. Throughout this ongoing crisis, we have been focused on creating opportunities for Tikkun Olam. We may have forgotten the work of Tikkun Middot, work that is essential both for ourselves and the institutions we serve. The FindYourSummer.org Ambassadors program provides the framework to help guide professionals through this process of Tikkun Middot by allowing opportunities for self-reflection, strength and character building. Only when we “know ourselves,” are we able to provide a framework for our teens to connect to themselves, and only then, are we really able to help them seek experiences that will help them flourish into thriving young adults.

Betsy S. Stone, Ph.D., is a retired psychologist who currently teaches as an adjunct lecturer at HUC-JIR. Her classes include Human Development for Educators, The Spiritual Life-Cycle, Adolescent Development and Teens In and Out of Crisis. Betsy is a featured presenter in the FindYourSummer.org Ambassadors Program.  

Jodie Goldberg is a Teen Engagement Consultant at The Jewish Education Project. She holds a dual Masters degree in Jewish Education and Hebrew Bible from The Jewish Theological Seminary. Jodie is the Director of the FindYourSummer.org Ambassadors Program. Click here to learn more about the program for teen engagement professionals.