Character Day is a global conversation about why character matters. during the High Holiday season, the time may be right to discuss questions that are important to our quality of life. What character traits do we admire in ourselves and in others? What are our personal strengths and how can we improve? Who do we want to be in the world? How can we become a mensch, a strong and autonomous, yet a kind and giving, human being?
Here’s a video for the grownups as we get ready to start our daily Character Day prompts!
This is the “Periodic Table of Character Strengths” created by Let it Ripple. We will be using this chart as our guide. Below the table, you will find an example of each characteristic with questions for you to share and discuss with your family.
Discussion questions: After viewing character trait references, you can use these questions with your family to spur a conversation:
1. A “mensch” is the word Judaism uses to describe a person with good character; someone who behaves well, does good things for others, and is deserving of respect. In what ways did the story/video describe a mensch or someone acting like a mensch?
2. Read a description of the menschy character trait of the day. Why is this a good way to behave- how does it make you feel and how could it make others feel?
3. Do you know anyone who behaves using that character strength? How have you used that character trait during the past week?
4. How could you use this way of behaving in your home with your family, in school with your friends, or in your neighborhood?
We use the character trait called wisdom as the pillar, with four other traits as critical ingredients to having wisdom. A dictionary makes the following distinction- Wisdom: to have experience and good judgment. Knowledge: to have facts and information. Knowledge is to have facts, something that you know or think you know (it’s even in the name!). Wisdom is better than knowledge because you need it to make good choices in life, and have the humility to know that you do not know everything. Think of bits of knowledge as different pieces of yarn. It is through creativity, curiosity, love of learning, and perspective that we weave the strands of knowledge into a blanket that helps us make sense of the world and continue learning.
|Strengths: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.
Qualities: artistic, original, imaginative, independent, risk-taker, appreciative
What Do You Do With an Idea? The narrator in this book has a good idea that they try to ignore or pretend doesn’t exist, but when they nurture it, believe in it, share it, wonderful things happen! Check the comments for a video link for parents to watch about this book before sharing it with kids—it will help your conversation!
There are two great PJ Library books that feature creative thinking and problem-solving that we’d like to highlight!
|Strengths: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering.
Qualities: open, novelty-seeking, interested, engaged in conversations, exploring, inquisitive
What are you curious about? There’s a whole show that helps kids answer the questions that they really want to know the answers to! How do you answer questions in your home? Do you find out the answer together?
Fox Walked Alone is a lovely PJ Library book related to the theme of curiosity. Fox joins other animals walking two-by-two toward a mysterious destination. Where in the world are they headed?
Consult the Reader’s Guide for Fox Walked Alone
|Strengths: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally.
Qualities: knowledgeable, well-educated, interested, experienced, intelligent, curious, conversant
Our friends at Sesame Street and Janelle Monáe discover the “Power of Yet.” A love of learning will take you from not knowing to mastering a skill!
Clever Rachel is a great PJ Library book with the theme of Love of Learning. Two youngsters, Rachel and Jacob, learn the importance of putting differences aside and working together as they solve tricky riddles that change lives.
|Strengths: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people.
Qualities: wise, perceptive, insightful, knowledgeable, astute, understanding, good listener
“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing.” – C.S. Lewis from The Magician’s Nephew
Duck! Rabbit!is a funny story about two friends disagreeing about what they’re seeing. Is it a duck? Is it a rabbit? Can these two find a way to see it from each other’s perspective?
A great PJ Library book on this theme is Shanghai Sukkah. Set in the late 1930s in China, the story shares the theme of learning about other cultures and appreciating the difference and similarities between them.
Conveniently, one of our favorite PJ Library books on bravery is called The Sabbath Lion! In this Algerian folktale, Yosef is determined to keep the Sabbath — even though he is in the middle of a dangerous desert journey. But he knows he’ll be all right because he is getting help from a powerful friend.
|Strengths: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it.
Qualities: strong-willed, principled; outspoken; honest; authentic; valorous
We love the Sara Bareilles song, “Brave” and how it describes how to be brave in an upbeat way.
There are a number of acts of bravery in the Torah. David and Goliath is one of them.
A beautiful PJ Library book about bravery is Nachshon, Who Was Afraid to Swim by Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen.
|Strengths: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door,” taking pleasure in completing tasks.
Qualities: strong-mindedness, persistence, grit, resilience, motivation, energized, determination
Bruno Mars and his Sesame Street pals have a great song for this. We also have some videos below about some corollary elements of perseverance, which include patience and diligence.
Related to perseverance, this song about patience may be a useful addition to your family’s songbook!
For younger kids, there’s the Sesame Street video, “The Waiting Game with Guy Smiley!” (This seems loosely based on “The Marshmallow Test,” an experiment about the power of delayed gratification and the long-term implications of children’s ability to display self-control.)
|Strengths: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feeling and actions.
Qualities: straightforward, truthful, candid, authentic, genuine, direct
To get the conversation started about honesty, read this story, and then use the questions in the comments below!
PJ Library Book for Honesty:
A Hen for Izzy Pippik is a great PJ Library book on this topic.
What’s a girl to do when she finds a chicken and can’t return it to its owner? How long should she wait before calling the bird (and its many offspring!) her own? Shaina seems prepared to wait forever for Izzy Pippik to return.
There’s also the PJ Library book, The Peddler’s Gift: Shnook the Peddler isn’t known for being very bright — so Leibush, a young shtetl boy, figures he can get away with swiping one of his dreidels. But it turns out Leibush doesn’t enjoy the stolen dreidel much as he thought he would — and Shnook is wiser than he looks.
|Strengths: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.
Qualities: zest, energetic, passionate, active, vital, spontaneous, happy, easily excited
Kid President has a pep talk for you! Watch this with your family and use it for a conversation catalyst to talk about enthusiasm.
The PJ Library book, All of Me, relates to honesty. From fine feet and grand hands to hearing ears and a thumping heart, this book teaches children and reminds adults to enjoy a sense of gratitude as part of the family in this big, amazing world.
Our friends at BimBam have a Shaboom episode related to this topic. Check out “Everything is Amazing” with your family!
|Strengths: The Hebrew word for “Love” is “Ahava,” the root of which means “to give,” such as giving time, attention, admiration and respect. (Ahava is also the word for “loyalty,” so look to the context.) Valuing close relations, in particular, those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people.
Qualities: friendly, loving, caring, good listener, affectionate, warm, devoted, intimate
A rare folk tale about love with both Hebrew and Arabic origins, the “Tale of the Two Brothers” is a personal favorite. Something as important as love can’t be based on sentiment alone–it’s our actions that show our love for our family and family (a family of friends).
The PJ Library book, Grandma Rose’s Magic by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska, is a great example of showing love through actions.
Grandma Rose sews and sews — and gives her projects away to everybody she knows. When she saves up for some nice dishes for herself, she gets a surprise.
|Strengths: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.
Qualities: compassionate, altruistic, nice, caring, nurturing, generous, loving, selfless
As Aloe Blacc and his Sesame Street friends note, you can be an “Everyday Hero” when you show kindness and caring each day. Check out their “Everyday Heroes Club Song” (and then check out the Everyday Heroes website for more age-appropriate.
In the PJ Library book, Apple Days by Allison Soffer, Katy can’t wait to pick apples with her mom and make applesauce for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. But this year the arrival of a new baby gets in the way. How will Katy celebrate the new year now? With kindness from her friends and community, Katy is shown the way and also follows their example to show kindness, too.
Everyone can take part in tikkun olam (repairing the world). Petting a puppy, sharing snacks, and helping someone who has fallen down all help make the world a little better.
|Strengths: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick.
Qualities: perceptive, likable, clever, insightful, intelligent, analytical, sociable, savvy
This video from parenting expert, Jean Tracy is a great example of social intelligence. “How Parents Turn Bossy Kids into Likable Leaders”
Actress Mila Kunis and Elmo demonstrate the word “include” with the help of some sheep friends on Sesame Street.
In the PJ Library book, The Wise Shoemaker of Studena by Syd Lieberman, Yossi is a Hungarian shoemaker who not only mends shoes but also gives sage advice to his neighbors. When a wealthy merchant invites Yossi to his daughter’s wedding, the shoemaker teaches the bride’s father an important lesson. In Judaism, the precept of treating others respectfully is called “betzelem elohim,” a reminder that each human being is created “in the image of God.”
|Strengths: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions;
being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly.
Qualities: critical thinker, open-minded, reasonable, clear-thinker, even-handed, fair-minded, rational, clever
For one California teen, the hurt she felt when having to eat lunch alone led her to create an app so bullied kids never have to eat alone. Talk about seeing a problem and making yourself part of the solution! (If your child is younger, you may wish to view “how full is your bucket?”)
In the PJ Library book, Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz, illustrated by Kristina Swarner, a child asks, “Where did all the stars come from?” Her grandfather offers an age-old Jewish explanation and, in the process, teaches her about tikkun olam (repairing the world).
|Strengths: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share.
Qualities: understanding, flexible, helpful, supportive, reliable, relational, cooperative, collaborative
Teamwork is demonstrated here as an aging father teaches his sons a valuable lesson about working together.
There are 8 PJ Library books about teamwork and friendship that we’d like to highlight.
|Strengths: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
Qualities: balanced, empathic, tolerant, just, impartial, evenhanded
In Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggy book, Can I Play, Too?, the two friends want to play catch, and so does a new friend, Snake. Can they find a way to include Snake in the game? Is treating others fairly the same as treating them equally?
One theme of the PJ Library book, Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Rael, is fairness. Rivka respectfully stands up for what she believes in, and her bubbe and rabbi listen to her and give her a chance to make her argument for why Thanksgiving should be celebrated by Jews. In Judaism, the word tzedakah is often meant as charity, but it’s root, tzedek, is actually more about righteousness, fairness, and justice. Book synopsis: It is 1910, and Rivka’s family has recently moved to America from Poland. Many American holidays and traditions are new to them — including Thanksgiving. Can Jews celebrate this holiday? Rivka helps her bubbe and the rabbi figure it out.