One of the best parts of teaching kindergarten religious school is the privilege of being with young children whose enthusiasm is delightful and contagious. And by “enthusiasm,” I don’t necessarily mean hopping up and down and squealing with excitement (although that happens quite a bit, too). Rather, these children have an innate willingness to jump right in and create a meaningful experience for themselves and everyone around them. Even children who are shy still possess a quiet eagerness to explore and to be a part of the community.
Zerizut is a Hebrew word that means “enthusiasm” or “zeal.” This trait is much more natural for children, who lack self-consciousness and who are making many discoveries for the first time, and much more challenging for adults who can be burdened by worry, stress, and the many challenges of life.
Cultivating Zerizut is essential because it informs how we approach everything. It’s not enough to simply fulfill our responsibilities. We must give it our all. Imagine, for example, that your family and friends have organized a birthday party for you; but when they sing “Happy Birthday,” they do it somberly while looking down at their toes. You would surely miss the fanfare that generally accompanies the “Happy Birthday” song, and you would long for those “cha cha chas” that someone always throws in to make things extra festive.
Having Zerizut doesn’t mean that we’re constantly smiling and doing cheerleader jumps (although that can happen, too). Rather, it means that we’re actively working against our natural tendency to just go through the motions. At the same time, we’re tapping into that part of ourselves that still feels exuberant about life. In other words, it won’t just happen; we have to make it happen.
My dad is very good at this. Everywhere he goes, he engages with people and asks them how they’re doing. He smiles; he tells jokes; he compliments people. He even has been known to do the Moonwalk, which requires advanced Zerizut training. He finds a way to make a genuine connection and to spark joy.
Each of us can ramp up our Zerizut levels and bring zeal to more of our endeavors. It starts with being grateful and looking at your life as a child might—truly delighting in experiences and being ready to jump into the next adventure.
Something to try:
When you wake up in the morning, think of ten things and/or people for whom you are thankful. Then do ten jumping jacks (you need to get your blood flowing properly!) Then during the day, step up your Zerizut at least ten times. It might mean you give your full attention to someone you love; it might mean you give 200% at your job; it might mean you sing a song with full gusto; and of course, it might mean that you literally do a cheerleader jump.