By Rabbi Dara Lithwick
Every week we receive a school update from our kids’ principal. The other week, the update focused on a program that is being incorporated throughout the kindergarten to Grade 6 learning cycle. Called WITS, it brings together schools, families and communities to create safe and responsive environments where students are empowered to make positive choices when dealing with peer conflict and bullying. As noted at www.witsprogram.ca, WITS is an acronym that stands for Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, and Seek help:
“Walk away! Just leave the situation you are in. Take a friend with you if you can. Get help if you need it.
“Ignore! Ignore is an action not a passive response. Don’t respond to meanness or teasing. Sometimes it works. If not, seek help.
“Talk it out! This one is tricky – talk it out can mean a lot of things: Speak Up, Use your words, etc. It also means that there is a solution to the problems you are having, but you may have to be brave and go ahead and talk about it. Sometimes it is hard, but using words really is the best way to resolve conflicts.
“Seek help! All children deserve to feel safe and that the adults in their lives will help if needed. Keep asking for help from someone new – if the first person you ask doesn’t help you to fix the problem.”
We are now in between two holidays that contain complementary themes: Purim and Passover. Timed a month apart, from one full moon to the next, both holidays contain models of standing up to forces of bullying and discrimination, and valuing all that each of us has to offer.
There is an amazing passage in the Book of Esther about speaking out and speaking up that is super relevant today. Mordechai says the following to Esther:
“Do not imagine that you will be able to escape in the King’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from some other place, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position!”
(Book of Esther 4:13-14)
The climax of the Purim story is when Esther, keeping her WITS about her, reveals herself as a Jew to Achashverosh, her husband and king. and stands up to Haman. In doing so, she saves her people.
In turn, the holiday of Passover is also called Chag Ha-Cherut (the festival of freedom). The essence of the Passover story is God’s freeing of the Israelite slaves in Egypt from Pharaoh, with Moses’ cry of “Let my people go!” Universally, Passover and the story of the Exodus from slavery symbolize the hope that all people should be free to live in dignity, free from bondage, from bullying, from discrimination. Through our collective Jewish experience as slaves in Mitzrayim we are reminded to care for each other. We are reminded at least 36 times in Torah to “love the stranger” because we collectively remember what it was like to be a stranger in Mitzrayim.
As a parent, I love how both Purim and Passover are holidays that encourage active celebration by our children, and that contain great messaging to take with them wherever they go: to be themselves, to stand up for each other, to care for each other and for others. In this way the holidays reinforce the WITS teachings that our children are receiving in school and to resolve conflicts in respectful ways, to speak out against bullying and discrimination, to seek help when needed, and to stand up for each other.
Wishing you and all of us a meaningful journey from Purim to Pesach!
Update (April 8, 2020): This column was originally attributed to the wrong author. It is now correctly attributed to Rabbi Dara Lithwick.