Monthly Archives: March 2011

One fact every Jewish parent should know

It seems that South Koreans have figured out what trains our brains and gives us (according to them) an intellectual edge: engaging in Talmud Study.  Close to fifty million Koreans have studied the Talmud, and in a country where most people are Christian or Buddhist, that is a persuasive number. 

It is interesting to note that most homes have a copy of the Talmud in Korean (picture courtesy of the Embassy of South Korea).  I wonder how Talmud is being taught there and how it’s being presented to young learners.  Perhaps we could learn a few tips from them and interest teenagers in furthering their Jewish education.

The next time your teen asks you why Jewish education is important, you might just have an interesting answer.


Jewish Programs that Miss the Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month a new blog  from the Mandel Center for Jewish studies at Brandeis University said  that ” Some of the most talented, passionate and deeply knowledgeable members of the Jewish community do not have the opportunity to share their passions and knowledge.  We have not linked the silos, smoothing the path for young Jews from our schools or synagogues to find  Jewish studies experiences when they arrive in college.”(italics mine).

The irony here, is that there are so many silos to be linked! The author was talking about academicians connecting with college students and announced a new program to meet that need.  It sure sounds like a great idea, but why stop there?  When thinking about silos within the Jewish community, the list is so much more extensive.  Specifically, the lack of programming for entering college students is gargantuan.  Is there a way to be pro-active and link those silos before students actually get to campus?

We need to create programs that connect college students to the greater Jewish community before (or when) they arrive in their college town. What about developing mentorship programs for Jewish studies majors who are interested in working in the Jewish community?  How about creating support systems for the hundreds of college students working in synagogues as teachers and youth group advisors?  Shouldn’t this be a priority? 

We need to develop an internet-internship hub for students majoring in business, marketing, and non-profit management ( a partial list of relevant majors) so motivated students can find placements in Jewish organizations.

Briefly, we need to worry about the big picture and not just one remedy–and more than just linking silos, we need to craft a web of connectedness.

We should be planning out an entire meal instead of focusing on the appetizers.  As  Jewish non-profit organizations we often take an a la carte approach to issues, hoping that a ‘quick fix’ will suffice. Since non-profits can’t get funding for what we really need (the whole meal) we try to get by with discrete programs (appetizers) and hope that will satiate the hunger.  

A co-worker of mine says “We’re not that rich to be so cheap!”  when frugal solutions are used instead of  a more costly but durable option.  Patchwork programs work in similar ways, tricking us into thinking the problem is solved.

So, why be content with tapas tastings? Because for the moment, it stays the hunger–which makes us feel a lot better.

But really, we’ve missed the mark.

 


Safe Haven

Sometimes I can’t believe what our kids have to deal with yet they just seem to accept it. Probably none of  the following will be news to you.  It’s just that hearing about how our students’ lives have changed (in the few short years since my own kids were in high school) had an impact on me today. It is a horrible fact of life that a safe place for learning in secular schools only seems to occur with a great deal of effort.  It’s more amazing that these procedures are taken in stride. 

Today I visited an Introduction to Talmud class, and the conversation was about personal responsibility.  The following incidents that students mentioned were not meant to be the ‘meat’ of the discussion, but were casually inserted like a side order of fries. When I seemed surprised to hear some of the stuff, the response was “it’s no big deal” and “it’s just what happens”.

One student who attends a large high school told me that when kids come to school late, she thinks that they may be carrying a knife or a gun since they missed the screening in the beginning of the day. There was a killing that occurred when she was in middle school (MIDDLE SCHOOL) and from time to time she thinks about it.  This is not an inner city school. Two students at two other schools mentioned that there were fights in the cafeteria just last week.  A student mentioned that whatever you carry in the hallway has to be made of clear plastic because there was a gun problem. Another student said that entering school is not unlike checking into an airport: body scans and bags on the conveyor belt.  This was at a school with a ‘solid’ reputation.

I write this not so  much for you, because as I said, these things may not be news.  But for me, it is a stark reminder of how much harder we need to work to make sure that every single space we create for our students in the time they’re with us needs to be a safe haven from the commotion outside.


Not Wanted: Parents?

That’s actually the opposite of the way I feel, but before I whine about how I’d like more parents involved in what their teens are doing at a Jewish supplementary school, I have to think about the messages they’re getting from the secular world about how much their presence is desired.

How often are parents part of the picture at middle school? High School?  When my children were in elementary school, there were numerous ways to be involved: classroom parent, library aide, PTO member, usher, office worker, committee member –and encouragement to volunteer my time any way I could. 

So, what happened as my children got older? All of a sudden, the welcome mat disappeared. Whether this was intentional, implicit, or perhaps inspired by teens who would much rather not associate publicly with their parents is a mystery.  This experience has been confirmed with other parents, especially when invited for programs and they tell me they’ve promised their teenaged children complete anonymity and decide to stand ‘way in the back’ unnoticed.  So, contrary to popular expectations, I want parents to show up.  A place in the back guaranteed but not condoned.


A Soup of Guilt

 

 

I am nagged by the question I posed in an earlier post when I wondered why many Jewish Teens keep their Jewish involvements a ‘secret’ from their friends and others.  I wondered if we, as Jewish educators were guilty in promoting the compartmentalization of their lives by not talking about how we integrate Jewish practice and beliefs into our own lives.  That may add to the problem, but I think it’s a much more complicated issue than that.

There may be a potful of ingredients that contribute to this feeling our teens have of keeping their Jewish lives separate from everything else that ‘s going on. I’ll just mention one here.

A large ingredient in this soup of guilt is a lack of presence in the digital world where our teens live. Due to a lack of resources (the usual: funding, technology, staffing) we don’t have the capacity to capitalize on social media to connect with our students. We should be connecting and collaborating with them in many more ways than we currently do.  Before I hear myself wonder why it’s “Hebrew School on Tuesday”, we should figure out ways to connect with them beyond the time they’re physically in a building.We should encourage our student community to interact online. We should have a facebook  page. We should be creating videos of our students saying amazing things about why they’ve continued their Jewish education.  We should be able to have WiFi in every single location.  We should be able to give them props in a big way about the commitment they’ve made. We should be connecting our students via web with Jewish educators who can mentor them.  We should be, we should be…..


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