The other week I went home to my parent's house and found some old yearbooks from both highschool as well as junior high and elementary school. Thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, many of these classmates are people who I now am somewhat in touch with once again.

Ironically, I have many "friends" on my friends list who I am not friends with. Nor was I ever. If anything, many of these "friends" made my youth miserable. I was teased, bullied actually, but years before the term or label was used.

Looking back, I can say that perhaps it was the mistreatment by both classmates as well as certain teachers (as I write these words, my stomach clenches as I recall my third grade teacher who terrorized me), that made me the person I am today. Perhaps I am one of the lucky ones who became stronger through my experiences. For anyone who knows me knows that I am pretty tough if need be, and certainly refuse to be pushed around…by anyone.

As much as some people have drastically changed, the majority have stayed the sameYet looking at the present, and not just the past, I have noticed something else as well. As much as some people have drastically changed, the majority have stayed the same. Not only do a large majority of my former classmates live in the very city where we grew up, but most have children the same age and in the same schools that we attended.

And while I am not there to say for sure, I would bet just about anything that those who were "popular" when I was young are probably parents to "popular" children now. I wonder if they let their children play with those who are not nearly as cool, or if they keep them separated the way their parents did for them....

I look at who is divorced on the list of these old "friends" and how their children are dressed and pose in the pictures. Am I judging superficially? Yup! But a picture can tell a thousand words, and when a hand on the hip and smirk resemble the very pose and face of the mother twenty-five years earlier, it is hard not to assume that facial characteristics are not the only thing this child inherited.

Just this week I read of yet another tragic case of a young and beautiful child who took her life due to the incessant bullying of her classmates. Yet the problem is not only amongst the children. It stems from the parents. And it stems from parents who very likely were bullies themselves or perhaps were the victims of bullying. Any parent who allows their child to bully others (and if they aren't aware of how their children behave, that is another huge issue altogether...) are most likely repeating either what they themselves did to others, or what they would have liked to have done. Because parents who are vehemenly opposed and have a zero tolerance policy for bullying are much less likely to have children who drive other children to kill themselves.

As much as our children are individuals they are also spongesSo what can we learn from this most recent tragedy? How do we work to ensure that it not happen again?

We are now in the period of Sefirat Haomer. For seven weeks we dedicate ourselves to improving our emotions and our characteristics. Each day of each week has a different focus, each day requiring us to look into our past and rectify our faults so that we can improve ourselves for our future.

Judaism recognizes that we all have the power to change. Radically change. That is the concept of tshuva, of true repentance and rectification. But it doesn't happen on its own. It doesn't happen simply because we grow older. It happens if, and only if, we consciously change how we think, feel and behave.

As much as our children are individuals they are also sponges. They learn from what they see and we, as parents, are primary role models and teachers. If we mistreat others, if we mistreat ourselves, that is what we are teaching our children to do. That is what we are saying is acceptable. Likewise, if we can admit our mistakes and our shortcomings, we show them that change is possible, even if it takes hard work.

On Passover we celebrate being taken out of Egypt. We were rescued from generations of bullying, of mistreatment, of slavery. But we were not yet ready to receive the Torah. That came only after we did a lot of introspection and self-improvement. For even if we were victims in Egypt, we needed to prove that we wouldn't repeat what we had seen and learned. We needed to prove that we would be healthy individuals and healthy community members. So G‑d gave us these seven weeks, these forty-nine days to work on ourselves and shift our mentality from that of victim to that of healer.

So too, this is our responsibility now as we count these days and prepare for Shavuot when we too once again receive the Torah. Ten, twenty, thirty years may have passed since we attended high school. But how much have we really changed? How much have we really developed? And our children? Are they similar to how we were at their age or to how we are now?