I meet Lev at a sushi restaurant in Malden to talk about my Bat Mitzvah—our last meeting before he will leave for Austin. He looks tired, slow around his eyes. He is applying for nursing jobs, coming off of clinical training which means he’s been up at four every morning. And he’s been teaching—classes in Judaism. And as always, he’s been keeping up with his wide network of friends and colleagues.
I tell Lev I’ve identified my ten Jewish values, values I want to pass on to my grandchildren. Here they are in no particular order: Jewish identity, integrity, honesty, compassion, Tzedakah, forgiveness, love of life, love of learning, awareness, and family stories, what Nina, my granddaughter calls, “dead people’s gossip.” Gotta love it. And just when I thought I’d finished my task, another value surfaced: humility.
In a religious context, humility is easy. One is humbled in the face of God. But that’s not the kind of humility I’m talking about. I’m talking about teaching humility to a generation fixed on devices, smart phones, iPods, tablets. They take pictures of the food they eat, of their faces, sending these images out over the internet, gathering likes. Their Me is large, a blinding white spot in front of their eyes. And so you say that adolescence has always been a time of self-centeredness. And I will say, yes, but, not like today when kids are hardly forced to interact with a larger world. And so I asked Lev: how do I make humility cool? Can I make humility cool?
“Interesting,” Lev said.
Humility and humiliate share a root, and I understand the negative connotation of the word. Humiliation is shadowed by self-effacement, timidity, submissiveness. Yet, humility is positive value, one that opens a person to possibility. One who is humble is self-aware. She keeps her place in this world. And she can correct herself. The opposite of humility is arrogance, pride and self-importance, traits that harden like a shell. There is a softness to humility, a way of leaving space for others. Perhaps, we pass on the value of being humble, by humbling ourselves, visiting the sick, helping those less fortunate, as once again, doing and being become our best teachers.
Outside the restaurant, Lev offers to walk me to my car. I decline. We embrace, do not say good bye. Most people would not describe Lev as humble. I would. Always, he leaves me inspired to do more than I think I can, and he gives me space.