On December 10, 2019, the Nobel Prize awarding ceremony was held in Stockholm, Sweden. Awards were given to those who were distinguished in Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Peace, Physics and Physiology/Medicine. Ever from 1901 to 2019, 923 awards have been awarded to various individuals and organizations. In particular, there has been attention given to a group of people almost overwhelmingly represented in the Prizes. Surprisingly, Jewish laureates, despite representing 0.2% of the world population, make up 20% of the winners, which has led to academic interest from researchers. Michael Kremer, who won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Economics (along with Esther Dulfo and Abhijit Banerjee) for his experimental approach to alleviating world poverty with two economists, is one of 200+ Jewish laureates. Other famous winners include scientist Albert Einstein, musician Bob Dylan, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, and Israeli leaders Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
Furthermore, many successful Jews make up 25% of Fields Medals (top prize in Mathematics) winners, 25% of Turing Awards (Computer Science), 25% of Westinghouse Science Talent Search, 38% of Academy Award-winning directors and a third of Ivy League students. Google, Facebook, Viber, Waze, Rummikub, Mastermind, lasers, pacemakers, genetic engineering, stainless steel, several vaccinations and medicines, flashlights, remote controls, shopping carts, remote controls, jeans, ballpoint pen, nuclear technology, USB flashdrives and many of the latest and advanced smartphone and military technologies are examples of Jewish companies or inventions.
With that, one would ask, “What are the reasons for such success and humanitarianism?” While studies would point to the above-average aptitudes in verbal, logical-mathematical and spatial abilities among Jews (especially among Ashkenazi Jews) and scriptures, many of the reasons of success can be alluded more to values. In fact, Korean American psychologist and researcher Dr. K. H. Kim did a research on certain values and factors that can lead one to success and creativity. In the Philippines, moms and teachers Sarah Weston (also known as Nikki Lopez from the Lopez famiy), an international motivational speaker, and Ria Trillo, a CNN Philippines reporter, have talked about these as well. These several lessons can help you and your children as you raise them and perhaps your child might end up as a Nobel Prize winner or someone renowned with a kind heart.
Resilience and Hard Work
Throughout history, the Tribes of Israel and the Jewish people faced persecution and several horrific threats. During their time in the Middle East, they were enslaved by the Ancient Egyptians, dominated by neighboring tribes, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans, were affected by Persian and Roman massacres. When they were scattered around the world, many would be victims of violent attacks or pogroms by mobs in Europe and in the Holy Land during the Crusades, affected by some zealous Islamic groups (such as the Almohads), expelled from several lands (such as during the Spanish Inquisition and the 1950s exodus from Arab lands) and be targets of genocide (the Holocaust). Despite these, many continued to remain resilient. Many would put more effort in order to survive and be outstanding. Furthermore, parents and teachers would encourage self-efficacy (self-confidence that comes from knowing one’s strengths) in their children, and have high expectations and provide challenges while nurturing them. Children can be taught to rise above their failures and to improve, rather than sulking at different situations.
In line with the ideal of self-efficacy, parents and teachers believe that children can find success by being encouraged to do almost everything by themselves. Some toddlers can be found eating by themselves and encouraged to do so once they are capable of doing so. Furthermore, a child’s endeavors and efforts to do something, such as a new hobby or trying on clothes on his/her own, should be acknowledged, supported and encouraged. As the Hebrew saying goes, “כֹּל הַתְחָלוֹת קָשׁוֹת (Kol hatchalot kashot)”, which means “All beginnings are hard.” Furthermore, trust should be the best reward. When a child is fully tasked to do something on his/her own, to that child, it means that he/she is doing a good job. The goal is to make sure that children depend less on their parents to do something for them, but to do things themselves while maintaining a close family bond with mutual respect.
Self-control is very important and it is important to teach a child to not act on their impulses. In Hebrew, the concept of “גְּבוּרָה (Gevurah)” refers to one’s strength, self-control, discipline and restraint. In the 1970s, Austrian-American Jewish professor Walter Mischel from Stanford conducted the famous Marshmallow test. The test showed that children with delayed gratification and stronger self-control performed better at life later on compared to those that didn’t. In the case of many Jews, cautious and wise spending is promoted, as well as good financial management.
Self-Discipline and Child Rearing
In discipline, the focus is not on the punishment, but rather on a child’s learning. Children are taught about certain benefits for correct actions. With that, the emphasis is not on restrictions and punishments, but rather on the fact that behaviors should be corrected for one’s own good and the good of others. For instance, a child should not pour his/her mom’s perfume on a pet because he/she knows that the pet would not like it and that instead of buying a new perfume the next day, the money could be spent on food. CNN Philippines reporter Ria Trillo talked in an article about applying Jewish spiritual wisdom when she corrected her son about the consequences of actions. (The son would always come home with bruises and scratches and would always play rough with his sister. When he was told to correct that because of the consequences of playing rough with other kids, he realized that he had the power to change a difficult situation). Children can be taught to think about others and to consider their feelings.
Questioning and Inquiry
Children can also be taught to question and inquire politely. This can allow them to expand their curiosity and learn more. Creativity can be brought about when new ideas are brought outside the status quo and when children make decisions for themselves when they get older, rather than only relying on their parents’ decisions. Having been under the rule of distrustful and authoritarian rulers with many abuses, many Jews learned to question practices and actions that would be harmful. For instance, many of the ancient writings are full of arguments and debates (Moses/Moshe and Abraham/Avraham debate with GOD in the first five books of the Bible). In fact, not a lot of ideas are black and white, harmful practices can be questioned and interpretations of texts can change as well. Richness of various ideas brought by teachers and sages have allowed for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Nurture your child’s love for reading as well. Parents can ask their children regularly, gently point out the contradictions and flaws in their arguments, and allow them to express themselves.
Kindness to Others and Compassion
Compassion to others is a very important value. In fact, there is the Hebrew term “תיקון עולם (Tikkun Olam)”, which refers to the act of “repairing the world.” This is the idea of making the world a better place and promoting kindness and generosity. Families that are very charitable can reinforce their children’s optimism and big-thought picture. The study of psychology was pioneered by many Jewish academics who wanted to understand the human psyche and promote mental health. Many Jews would respond to their pain by sharing their problems with others, such as family members and rabbis. Otto Kanner dedicated his pioneering work on studies regarding autism in order to help such individuals and established charitable foundations. Instead, of dividing the world into losers and winners, there should be empathy and compassion for all. Many Nobel laureates have been inspired in their mission of helping others.
Different Cultures and Ideas
Throughout the diaspora’s history, many have moved to different countries and have experienced different cultures. Because of that, there are Ashkenazi Jews (Northern and Eastern Europe), Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews (Southern Europe, North Africa and Middle East), Ethiopian and African Jews, Indian Jews, Kaifeng Jews (China), Bnei Menashe (Descendants of the Tribe of Manasseh from Southeast and South Asia) and many converts. There are Jews of different skin colors, eye colors, hair colors, shapes and sizes. Because of the experience of living in different cultures, many are exposed to different perspectives, ideas and ways of life. While instilling the values of their culture, parents can nurture multicultural identities and value similarities and differences between cultures, and teach about respect for other cultures. This can allow for multiple perspectives, complex thoughts, outside perspectives, open-mindedness and creativity (out-of-the-box thinking).
Respect for Uniqueness
It is good to support your child’s self-expressions and interests in exploring how and why things happen. Allowing freedom can allow children to grow and pursue their passions. In fact, there are sages and teachers that say that the reason why Esau (Eisav) did not meet his full potential for goodness and other things was because his individuality was not respected. When your children get older, allow them to make their own decisions and respect them while continuing to guide them. If people suppress their individuality and put more emphasis on conforming to the expectations of other people, this can stifle creativity. Creativity involves thinking differently from others and creating fresh new ideas.
Balance Between Individualism & Collectivism
Jewish culture can be seen as somewhere between collectivism and individualism. Individuals are free to pursue their interests, passions and goals and share their individual opinions openly, while being part of the community. On the other hand, they are also expected to help out in the community. Because of these factors, there are so many start-ups and individual ventures (like in North America) and a sense of community and collectivism (like countries in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America). In fact, the song Eretz Yisrael Sheli talks about a person building a house and accomplishing things on his/her own with the others responding “We accomplished them together.”
With that, we hope that you learned some lessons from these experiences. Every child is born with the potential to be creative. One’s group does not determine one’s success, but certain values and lessons can help your child grow and become successful and humanitarian as well.