Monthly Archives: February 2012

Chanukah Ornaments? How some Jewish teens voted

A friend of mine who works for a collectibles company sent me an e-mail last week with a curious query. The company is considering developing a  a new line: Chanukah ornaments. These could be placed either on a “Chanukah Bush”, Christmas tree, or a small miniature metal ornament tree (next to the menorah, probably).

Would I (or anyone on this list serve) be offended? I wondered how a group of Jewish teens would react.

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.
 

I thought they’d have a lengthy discussion about values, lifestyle choices, religious symbolism.  The conversation was over faster than you can say “December Dilemma.” I was ready to bring on the choices: A Star of David? Hamsa? Dreidel? No one was interested and told me they found the idea offensive.

They thought that Christmas and Chanukah were already over commercialized, so why add to the array of ‘stuff’? By the way, some of the teens who were the most outspoken came from intermarried families.

Not that I have an interest in the success of collectibles, but I proceeded to ask them what they thought about re-purposing the items…what if they would hang them from a car mirror? Locker hook? Nope.  Okay, so I just wanted to make sure.

They wouldn’t buy it. So, what do you think?

Do you agree with these outspoken teens who desire a get-back-to-basics approach?

Lest you think they are against paraphernalia, don’t kid yourself.  They are totally ‘gadgeted out’, it’s just that it seems they have their limits.   How would you respond to this question?  Would this work for your family?

Image via wikipedia


what Jewish teens taught me about family values

English: Heart Planet Earth

Last week I was figuring out a way to teach eighth graders the value of Shalom Bayit (Family Harmony–Peace in the Home).  With teens going through their own struggles for authority in that realm, the notion  of peace and family harmony might not strike the right note. 

The last thing I think they’d want to hear were clichés and platitudes about the topic and I could just imagine the yawns when introducing it.

I couldn’t argue with that.  Would anyone in the class disagree with the concept of such a positive sounding value?  As a teacher, how could you explore that further in a way that would inspire a lengthy discussion?

I needed to find a way in to this topic and create some educational tension.

So, I decided to become “MojojoBo”, an alien from another planet.  In that way, the students would need figure out how to teach the subject matter to me.  The students would need to explain teachings to this being that ‘their people’ practiced, focusing on  Shalom Bayit and family values. Since MojojoBo had a family too, it was an easy place to begin.

I began the class in character, with accent, stunted staccato speech and all.  Corny? Definitely. Campy? For sure.

MojojoBo wanted to be convinced that as a people known as “Jew” they had values surrounding family, preservation of tradition nad mutual respect. I gave more details to MojojoBo’s story so students would have a context and not get caught up in irrelevant details.

I divided the class into groups to study the textual sources. Their task? To break down the language in very easy to understand words and concepts so MojojoBo would understand what they were saying. That meant that no prior learning about the topic could be assumed. They had top break down words and concepts like ten commandments, Torah and Kavod because MojojoBo wouldn’t understand the meaning.  They went to work deciphering the texts, figuring out the best way to explain them and selecting the best ones to convey the concepts.

Taking turns, the groups made presentations. The quote “A home where Torah is not heard will not endure”  instead became: “Your home, where your family lives, needs to be a place where you can learn the teachings of your people. Not only learn them, but talk about them everyday so every one in the family understands why they are special and needs to continue being part of this people in days and years ahead. Your home is where that begins.”

I was riveted. I wish I had a video. These are today’s teens, who often get shortchanged for not being connected, being too self-centered and not always very respectful. I am hearing them say these incredible things about respecting parents, valuing tradition, being partners with God, holding back anger, commitment to Jewish peoplehood, and MORE. Their responses were stunning. I know the lesson would not have gone this way if I had used a more traditional approach.

They were teaching me things I didn’t even know they were thinking, let alone feeling, about their homes, parents, God, and spirituality. I will miss MojojoBo but will bring that dear, sweet, alien back whenever I need to learn from our amazing teens.

Image via Wikipedia


Jewish Teens Reinvent the Synagogue

I’m so lucky.  We Jewish educators trudge uphill a lot of the time, just to keep pace. Yet, every week I get inspired from the Jewish teens I work with. Last week I asked a group of 10th and 11th graders how they would reinvent the synagogue:

Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade ...

“Your goal is to insure that people will be active, engaged, and interested. There are no limits. What will you create? What type of organization will speak to you?”

They had a hard time with this initially, not being able to get past what they experience now.  That surprised me. They first offered: more music, shorter services, more comfortable seats.

When I prodded further, they pushed the boundaries a little more.

Welcome to the synagogue as seen through the eyes of a group of Jewish teens: branding abounds, with lots and lots of food available (did I mention that there are mostly boys in this class?).

Someone piped in: “We could have a Manishewitz wing!” Another student shot right back: “Yeah,why not? Companies could be sponsors of the synagogue or even sponsor events.”

“Even Bar/t Mitzvahs I asked?”

“Yea, why not,” they responded. That way, they wouldn’t cost so much.”
Hmmmm. Interesting.

Unanimously, they all agreed that there needs to be more food.  Then they began to dream big, envisioning a cafe-type set-up, with lots of  informal places to sit–like a lobby in a hotel.  Oh, they were also big on sports options.  Basketball and racketball courts and pools. Places to sleep when family comes into town for b’nei mitzvahs. Why not a spa?

What they talked about resembled a newly configured JCC/Synagogue/Restaurant/Hotel.

I told them that they will be the ones to do this, and that we’re depending on them.

Though I don’t see a Rokeach-sponsored Bat Mitzvah anytime soon, I can see the ‘Awesome Osem Auction!’ with these teens in charge of things.  Just maybe we need to take some cues from these young leaders and simply lighten things up a little. Oh yes, and have some food.

Image: Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade School, South Jersey Colonies, Carmel, NJ (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)


Judging Jewish Education by Fun

English: Kirnu, a steel roller coaster in Linn...
 

Jewish communal organizations have been in consumer mode for some time.  As individuals progressively decrease their involvement in traditional Jewish organizations (synagogues, Jewish Federation, volunteer groups) programmatic initiatives proportionately increase in an attempt to figure out just the right mix to draw people in. Sometimes those programs flaunt the ‘fun’.

Figuring out what consumers want and providing them with a great service at a great price is what business–both profit and non-profit–is about.

My problem with the fun model is when the goals of the enterprise become compromised in the process.

An op-ed article in the New York Times  referred to lower enrollment and the subsequent desire to attract students.  There is a lesson there for those of us in Jewish education:

“And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk. Distributing resources and rewards based on student learning instead of student satisfaction would help stop this race to the bottom.” 

I don’t know what definition of student satisfaction was used but unlike the quote, I would disagree and say that students need to be satisfied with their learning experience.

My point is that we should not confuse satisfaction with fun. When we reinvent our programs based solely on that criteria, we sell our goals short and shortchange our mission.

An amusement park is fun. Learning can be life changing and occurs over time.  When a parent asks: “Will my child have fun, because otherwise it just isn’t worth it….” we need to take parent education more seriously.  If this is how parents frame Jewish education, it’s wrong.

In 2004 a national  survey of entering college freshmen found that most came to college with a goal to grow spiritually.  The study authors write: “It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.

As Jewish educators, we are in a unique position to change lives and attend to teens’ deeper needs for spiritual connection. That sounds important, relevant, and purposeful. Fun? Save it for the roller coaster ride.

Image by wikipedia

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