Showing posts from January, 2016

Marshmallows, Trees, and learning how to wait: Thoughts for Tu Bishvat

One of the most famous experiments in child psychology was conducted by Walter Mischel.   He would give preschool-age children a marshmallow, and then a tantalizing dilemma:   the child could eat the marshmallow now -- or, if the child succeeded in waiting for several minutes, the child would receive two marshmallows. This “marshmallow experiment,” as it came to be known, examines one of the most essential life skills:   delay of gratification.   Mischel and his team found that most of the young children were unable to delay their gratification; some ate the marshmallow immediately, and others made an effort but could not wait for more than a couple of minutes.   However, approximately 30% of the children were able to develop strategies that helped them to delay their gratification for the entire fifteen minutes.   Some children even blocked the marshmallow from their view so they could more easily focus on other things.               This experiment was first conducted in

Who kisses the Torah: Kids? Adults? And who studies Torah? -- Parashat Bo, 5776 / 2016

Perhaps you have noticed that ours is a relatively child-friendly Jewish community!   You may have seen evidence of this when, every Shabbat morning, as we put the Torah scrolls away, we invite young children up to the bimah to kiss the Torah scrolls as they are put in the ark. (or ra ther, to kiss them by proxy, by touching them and then kissing one's hand.) Every so often, I am reminded that this is something distinctive about our congregation, when visitors comment that their experience here is different from some other synagogue communities where children are not made to feel as comfortable.  A few times, I have had people come up to me and say, "I have never seen that before, where you have all the kids come up and kiss the Torah scrolls."  Sometimes they add, "It was so moving for me to see," and I know that they liked it. Sometimes they say, "It was so…interesting," and I know they were a little less fond of it. I have been asked, “is

Who defies authority: the shocking truth (Parashat Shmot 5776/2016)

If you took an introductory psychology class, you probably encountered the research of Professor Stanley Milgram at Yale.  It was one of the most famous psychology experiments of the 1960's.   (And you may have seen th e recent movie about Milgram, called "The Experimenter"; here's the trailer. ) This experiment purported to be an experiment in memory, examining the effects of negative reinforcement on memory.  There would be two subjects, one of whom would be designated as the  'learner,' and the other as the 'teacher.'  The ‘learner’ would be attached to a machine that would administer electric shocks, of varying amounts of voltage, while the ‘teacher’ would be in another room, communicating with the learner through a microphone.  The ‘learner’ would then have to memorize pairs of words, and if the ‘learner’ got one wrong, the 'teacher' would press a button that would administer an electric shock.  The shocks would get progressively