Yom Kippur. The holiest date on the Jewish calendar. A time for reflection and quiet introspection. A day for fervent, heartfelt prayer and stocktaking. A moment when our fate for the coming year is decided, as the words of the haunting prayer Unetanneh Tokef express:

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire . . .

The grownups in shul are praying, and the children are, well, being children. All told, the shul sounds like a playground at high noon. A cluster of small children fumble with a bag of snacks, its mysterious contents crackling alongside the chazzan’s baritone.

Inevitably, a skirmish breaks out. Argumentative little voices rise, followed by the admonishing shhhhs of shul-going adults.A skirmish breaks out

Honey-colored wisps of hair swirl around her open, earnest face. Large green eyes framed with impossibly thick lashes glitter with unshed tears. My daughter is suddenly standing beside me, a troubled expression upon her usually joyous face. There is something she badly wants to know.



With hesitation, she asks, “Mommy, if someone says ‘weirdo,’ would that be lashon hara (negative speech)?”

“Who was the one who said ‘weirdo,’ and to whom?”

Backing away, fighting tears, she whispers, “I don’t want to say. That would be lashon hara.”

“Dassy, you can tell Mommy. It’s my job to take care of you and protect you. And,” I add fiercely, “if anyone is being rude, I need to know so I can Teach. Them. A. Lesson.”

“No one called me a weirdo, Mommy. Someone told me that someone else is a weirdo.”

“I see. Why are you crying?”

Stifling a sob, Dassy answers, “I just think that the person would feel so bad if she found out.”

“Yes, she would feel bad. Maybe you can tell me who said it so I can speak to her about being more careful with her words.”

“But Mommy, then you would make her feel bad,” Dassy says, concerned.

“Hmmm. Well, then, maybe you could speak to her?”

“Yes. Good idea.”She is equally concerned about the feelings of the offender

Dassy quietly walks toward the circle of young children, shoulders squared, a smile restored to her angelic face.

I return to my prayers. As I was saying, G‑d . . . as I was saying . . .

I feel myself pulled again in my daughter’s direction. She confidently stands within the circle of little girls, intently sharing her message.

I am humbled by the sensitivity and compassion of my daughter. She is crying tears of sadness at the very thought of another human being hurt by an insult. Incredibly, she is equally concerned about the feelings of the offending child.

From the corner of my eye, I see my daughter’s joyous expression. The circle of girls has tightened. A harmonious dynamic restored.

I turn to my prayerbook once again, and quietly add another heartfelt request: the ability to grow up, but never grow beyond.