Only one street separates the neighborhoods of Musrara and
In the sixties, a study was made to determine the differences
between these two neighborhoods, both sociologically and
Here are the facts: both neighborhoods were categorized as
deprived and poverty-stricken. Meah Shearim was considered
the worse off of the two. Government departments had invested
all they could in Musrara while in Meah Shearim, they were
unable to claim as much as a foothold.
How did things shape up in actuality? Amongst the teenage
youth (between 16 and 21), there was a 90% rate of juvenile
delinquency, which slotted this neighborhood as Number One in
In Meah Shearim, only one street away, the crime rate was
zero. No crime whatsoever despite the fact that poverty was
more pronounced and that the population refused to accept any
outside (read: invasive) government help or social welfare of
The researchers sat and pondered the strange findings, trying
to understand the enigma. Two neighborhoods, both deprived
and low income, one road separating the two, and yet worlds
Another factor was taken into consideration: Musrara had been
settled in the fifties by new immigrants who, in their
countries of origin, had also enjoyed a zero percent crime
rate. Ten years after their immigration, their seven- and ten-
year-old children had become criminals. How had this
They arrived at two conclusions. One: a significant
difference between Meah Shearim and Musrara was that the
former was a completely insular community, wholly self
contained, impervious to outside influence. This means that
even if the families suffered from poverty, the children were
not aware of it since they had nothing with which to compare
The Musrara children, on the other hand, through the media of
sight and sound, were exposed to what other children in the
world had, and what they lacked. This naturally created a
sense of frustration, and the greater one's sense of
frustration, the lower his self image, self esteem and sense
of worth. This erodes his innate sense of justice, his
conscience and scale of values. Meah Shearim children were
content with their lot and never felt any frustration with
regard to what they didn't know they didn't have. This very
factor deserves an entire article of its own, but we proceed
to the second factor.
In Meah Shearim, despite the poverty and physical
deprivation, the children felt no emotional deprivation.
Their parents were spiritually and emotionally fortified.
Their self esteem in the eyes of their children, and in their
own eyes as well, was strong and solid. Their primary goal
was to raise their children to be healthy: morally and
emotionally. They invested their all to this end purpose. To
be sure, they made some educational errors along the way, as
all parents do, but these did not mar the overall input of
years of consolidated, unwavering emotional effort.
Musrara children did suffer an emotional deprivation which
stemmed from a culture gap. Their integration into open
Israeli society undermined the whole parental structure.
Parents, who in their country of origin, had been venerated
and deferred to by the younger generation, very soon become
`irrelevant' in their children's eyes, outmoded and out of
touch with the times. The poverty and deprivation crushed
everyone's spirit because they all suffered. The parents
suffered from the breakdown of their authority and esteem,
and the children, from a lack of emotional support from their
Poverty is a difficult thing and there is no point in trying
to convince anyone that it is preferable to wealth. But
poverty does not necessarily have to harm the emotional
development of a child if the bond between parents and
children, and between parents themselves, is stable, strong
and warm. This is true when there is a definite, clear-cut
educational policy of goals, aspirations, and strict rules of
what is permitted and what is out of bounds. And when a child
receives love and concern and consideration on the one hand,
and is bound by definite rules on the other, the poverty may
continue to be difficult but it will not affect his normal
development in the least. Some go so far as to say that
poverty that is accompanied by a great deal of love is a
definite propellant, an incentive that causes the child to
want to escape it in a positive way, to overcome this
drawback. If he receives the emotional tools to enable him to
do so, coupled with the impetus of poverty, he will
accelerate more quickly than the rich child. This is the
element referred to in the saying: Beware of the sons of the
poor; from them will Torah go forth.
What we can conclude from this is good news indeed.
Granted that poverty is a difficult condition. Granted that
poor people are forever preoccupied with the morrow and what
it will bring, how they will marry off their children etc.
Poverty is not easy to deal with, but if we break it down to
its basic component, we arrive at the discovery that it
revolves entirely around our continuity, that is, the fate of
our children. What will become of them? And if this is our
main concern, there is no apparent connection between our
economic situation and the future of our children, as we have
shown! We can produce children who are healthy in mind and
body with an investment that does not entail a monetary
expenditure and we need not go searching for the means to
finance such an investment. It is inherent within us, in our
hearts, intellect, hands, mouth and ears.
This investment goes by the name of Emotional Input.
Before we reach full circle to our starting point, let us
look at the finish line, the point that we would wish our son
to arrive at when he turns twenty.
What is our dream, our goal for him? That he emerge a youth
who is G-d- fearing, a scholar, diligent and dedicated, with
a fine character, good heart, emotional maturity, that he be
intelligent, independent, serious, socially accepted, one who
is basically of a happy nature.
Seems a tall order, no?
Not in the least. There is a recipe, a formula whereby, with
Hashem's help, we can produce this from any child. We need no
outside ingredients; they are all already incorporated within
Emotional input is, in two simple words, a caring concern
towards our child. This means to vitalize the child, to give
him everything that he needs in his life. To be sure, there
are a great deal of things that he wants, but he
certainly does not need everything that he desires.
Parents must only see to it that he gets what he requires.
This is not necessarily a great deal, and yet, it can be very
A child needs the basic assurance that he is loved. He needs
to internalize this knowledge and it is not enough to tell
him that in so many words when he is five years old -- and
suffice with that. It must be done every day and through all
kinds of ways and means. A child needs to be given, yet he
needs the limits of that giving. He needs a father figure and
a mother figure, that is, parental authority to guide him,
even if he disagrees occasionally with what they say. A child
needs, as each of us does, respect and esteem, attention and
encouragement, but he also needs a guiding hand, demands made
upon him and even punishment. Emotional input is what each of
us is capable of giving, if we are so inclined.
Some of us feel we cannot provide that. Some people
experience a barrier that prevents them from giving this
input, from expressing their feelings, from talking. Some
people even find it difficult to be in their children's
proximity for more than a brief moment...
Of primary importance is the very knowledge and understanding
of the significance of this emotional input in the forming of
the child's personality and character. When we know the goal,
we will find the way to reach it.