What is a Mensch?

little girl smiling

What is a mensch? The word means “person” in Yiddish, the language once dominant among Jews in central and eastern Europe. Yiddish words such as schlep (to drag or carry), chutzpah (audacity), and kvell (to burst with pride) have entered English dictionaries. So has mensch, which has come to mean a “good person”— someone honest and upstanding.

What does it take to be a mensch? Being a good listener, a kind friend, and someone who loves to fulfill a mitzvah or two, all make someone a mensch. To learn more, and to encourage all of the members of your family to be a bit more “menschy,” check out the following activities, discussion questions, and story books.


Talk it over

  • When have you been kind to others?
  • When have others been kind to you?
  • What does it mean to be a good friend?

Practice good manners

Sometimes children (and, okay, grown-ups too) need a little reminding, but every day is a new day to be menschen (plural of mensch) — in other words, our best selves. One easy way to do this? Have good manners!

Good manners help pave the way for a functional society, one where we look out for one another. The Hebrew phrase for good manners is derech eretz, which literally means “the way of the land” but colloquially refers to ethical behavior — a humane way of being human. One popular Jewish idea, derech eretz kadma laTorah, says that basic ethics underlie all philosophical and religious teachings.

Be Mitzvah Ready

A mensch is always ready to do a mitzvah. Not sure where to get started? Check out PJ Library’s handy “Mitzvah-a-Day” chart.


The Bagel King
written by Andrew Larsen and illustrated by Sandy Nichols

Every Sunday, Eli’s zaida picks up bagels at Merv’s Bakery for his friends. But when Zaida hurts his tuches, he can’t make the trip to Merv’s. Will he and his friends still have Sunday bagels?

The Cholent Brigade
written by Michael Herman and illustrated by Sharon Harmer

Monty Nudelman is a neighborhood mensch -- every time it snows, he's out there shoveling the walks for all his neighbors. But one day, his back gives out! What do you think his neighbors do?

Estie the Mensch
written by Jane Kohuth and illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger

Estie does not always know how to be around other people and sometimes when her grandmother reminds her to be a mensch, she'd rather not. She'd prefer to be a turtle or a seagull. Eventually, something happens that shows her grandmother and Estie herself what a mensch the girl can really be.

How to be a Mensch by A. Monster
written by Leslie Kimmelman and illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

Do you have three heads? Or green skin? No matter who you are or what you look like, you too can be a mensch! Good deeds can be enjoyed by all, even a monster.

I Can Help
written and illustrated by David Hyde Costello

When this little duck gets lost, he needs help getting home where he belongs. Luckily, lots and lots of animals are available to help -- just the way a community should be!


5 Picture Books About Tzedakah for Kids Under 5

9 Children's Books About Standing Up for Others

What is a Mitzvah?