Monthly Archives: March 2012

Current Events: did your teenager’s eyes just glaze over?

taken by משתמש:Hmbr

Mention “Current Events” to a group of teens and just watch what happens.  Their eyes seem to glaze over.

As if talking about something that isn’t in a textbook is a violation of protocol.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but to some students, reading a newspaper might seem like reading information in a foreign language.

I’m not sure how much today’s teens are grappling with the issues of the day.

How can this be?

Easy. It’s not in the curriculum.

Sure, when something really big happens, it gets some class attention.

However, the stories that are important, but not part of breaking news, are literally another story.

Where are our students getting the depth of a story?

My experience with Israeli teens has always been the opposite. They are intimately involved in the politics of the day, and those conversations happen informally: in the taxi, on-line at the movies, everywhere.

The article in the link below notes that according to a Pew Research study, 49% of people were getting their news in digital form. Good for them. But are today’s teens using their apps for news?

Try an experiment. Ask someone you know, under the age of 18, what news they’ve heard recently. Chances are it’s the new sensational story with the glitz, gore or glamour that way back, was called Yellow journalism.

So, what will change? You.

Have conversations about what’s important to you as a parent, and it will trickle down. Be broad about subject matter.

Don’t wait for a family dinner (those are in short supply). Talk about current news anywhere. In the car. On the line at Target.

Try to make those little moments count for some ‘thought’ time.

Those teenage brains need a workout, and our teens are capable of great thoughts.

Time for that may not always be part of the school curriculum, but it can be part of yours.

photo credit: Wikipedia


Why some teens ‘get it’ but their parents don’t

I just came back from visiting a synagogue with an enviable number of teens in their Confirmation Program.

What number, you ask, counts as being worthy of envy? About FORTY.

I was talking to them about continuing their Jewish education and framing it in the context of choices they make.

For example, I asked and the majority answered, that they play sports or a musical instrument.

I asked them if faced with a choice about whether to practice scales, do drills, or go to the movies, what they would choose.

Most chose the movies. No surprise there.   I then asked which activity they thought was the most important.

The answers were very rich and textured.

They mostly all opted for the drilling and practicing. They talked about those activities as building character, teamwork, responsibility, and doing something for their future.  The felt it was time well spent.

Interesting no?

I then facilitated a conversation with them about how being involved in continuing education might be a little like that.  Like it would build character and identity. Things that would make them better people, but that take some time.

They GOT IT.

Do you think their parents get it?  When thinking about how or what these teens might say to parents about what we just talked about–continuing their Jewish education—-I wonder how many parents will say:

“Wow, that makes a lot of sense” or what I often hear instead: “How can you possibly do one more thing, you’re already overbooked!”

What do you think the parents you know would say?


World-Wide WordPress

Miss World Map

Why didn’t you tell me that people in Malaysia read your blog?

That’s what someone recently said to me who was poopooing the very idea of a blog or that anyone might be interested in what I have to say about such a niche group like Jewish teenagers.

(Come to think of it, would those readers know the word poopoo? For those in Malaysia, it means to mildly deprecate or dismiss something as not important).

So you can imagine how funny it is when I check my ‘stats’ on WordPress to see a map of the world (similar to the one above) with readers distributed in far-flung countries that don’t even seem to have a Jewish population at all, let alone Jewish teens.

This is very funny to me.  Talk about reach.

But really, this is hard to fathom.

I’ve written before about how Jewish teens enrolled in Jewish education after the typical age of drop-off (bar/bat mitzvah) are off the Jewish communal radar.

They seem to be the “forgotten few” — for foundations seem to favor those teens that attend summer camps or day schools.

I mean, where are these statistics coming from? Are these actual readers? Or are wires crossed somewhere?

I’m still giddy at the idea that someone out there reads this blog and the issues I care about.

Recently, I ran into someone who I haven’t been in touch with for quite some time and she nonchalantly said, “Oh, I know what you’re up to, I read your blog.”  (really? and you don’t comment? or follow?)

Where are your readers? Is this surprising to you too?


Jewish Teens Need Us to Work as a Team

English: Students cheer their team on Sports DayI have resisted writing about the following for some time. But I can always tell when I’ve reached my own ‘tipping point’: it’s usually when I get tired of hearing myself repeat the same thing over and over to different people.

Secretly, I hope they’ll do something about what I’m telling them, but that hasn’t happened yet.  So, here I am, blogging to you. At least you can listen and perhaps share my frustration, and who knows? Maybe things will change.

First, we need to cooperate more. We are not working as a team on behalf of our teens.  I’ll define a teen team player as anyone or any organization that has the teen’s best interest at heart for involvement in Jewish life. Period.

That team, the teen team, has a shortage of players which is why we’re losing the Jewish identity game.  Here are some reasons:

  • There is little to no list-sharing among providers of Jewish educational experiences, both formal and informal.  What about privacy you ask? Well, how many groups even ask if their teens might want to have their names shared with other teen non-profit groups (non-profit stressed due to obvious reasons). How many teens do you know that would not want to be with as many other Jewish teens as possible?
  • Since groups wish to maintain their “members” and teens’ time is limited, there is little collaboration among groups, fearing that teens might ‘defect’ if exposed to the other group. (I could have said ‘leave’ but I’m making a point here). This plays out among synagogues, youth groups, interest groups, educational providers, and camps. Yes, there are joint programs out there, but often they partner with  ‘their own’ of the same denomination. I have experienced too many anecdotes about this that would curl your ears, if your ears could, in fact curl.
  • So, the takeaway for teens, though not intended, is that “membership” dictates who is in your community. How’s that for teaching teens that the Jewish community is a fluid, open-networked concept?
  • The above mentioned groups feel no guilt about deciding destiny. So, for example, if a teen belongs to a movement-affiliated synagogue, the chances of finding out about other options are pretty limited. If a synagogue is affiliated with a movement, only that youth group and camp are promoted.
  • Synagogues often want their teens ‘on-site’ as if keeping them physically in one place assures commitment (it doesn’t). Those teens may end up defining Judaism very narrowly. In fact, they do just that when they get to college. How can Judaism be more relevant to them if their experience of it is primarily synagogue-based? I am not referring to those teens who seem to straddle multiple worlds, and who are natural networkers. And I’m also not saying that synagogue/youth group/movement camps are not a good thing, we know they are. I’m specifically talking about those teens, for whatever reasons, are the minimally engaged to begin with and not making those choices. What are the options for other Jewish connections that we’re giving them?
  • The above does not apply to broad-based efforts, like the Foundation for Jewish Camping, that make a point of going beyond those limitations in awarding grants by saying in effect: “we don’t care which camp or where, just pick one!” We should all be taking that cue regarding Jewish youth involvement: we don’t care which program or where, just do something!
  • How about other open groups you ask? What about groups like teen philanthropy, teen fellowships, gender-based groups? Those are defining Judaism more broadly, but are there bridges to other programs which could increase identity building? Many times, those connections are left for each teenager to figure out. The connections must work both ways: to and from other organizations and synagogues.
  • How are we doing those teens a favor? Shouldn’t we be giving them a better sense of Jewish communal collaboration before they get to college? How can we, as a Jewish community, talk about pluralism and Klal Yisrael when we don’t really act that way ourselves. Could it be that we are modeling the very behavior they can’t relate to? Is this close-mindedness a contributing cause for the fact that most college students see no need to affiliate denominationally in college? I’m not saying that youth movements don’t work as leadership preparation for the future. I’m saying that we need to rethink our strategies and behave in ways that model collaboration or cooperation. We can’t be on the teen team if our organizations are based on a scarcity model.  

We have to decide if we are playing on an organization’s team or the teen’s team. If we’re on the same team, then we need a shared mission of youth leadership.

We’re in need of players for the teen team if we want to win this.  It’s like we’re in the 9th inning, with no runners on base. Will you step up?

I’d love to hear about collaborative models that defy these descriptions. I’ll post and share your responses so we can learn from each other.

Image via Wikipedia


Talking Tech With Jewish Teens

By now, I think most educators have figured out that technology is not something that can be isolated from educational endeavors, but should be integral to them.

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

HAS IT? How would our teens answer?

You’d think.  But the reality is that we’re not all there yet, and some educational settings are debating whether or not to offer  WiFi.

The tech toys and glorious gadgets are here to stay whether we figure out ways to incorporate them or not.  So, it’s not so much that we can incorporate technology into our work as Jewish educators and parents, but that we can help teens mediate the content they choose, use, and how it reflects their values, when they’re in our settings or not. 

We also need to connect Judaism to their tech experiences.

This doesn’t even strike me as a new concept, but I haven’t found an overwhelming amount of resources that will help us do this.

Teens have easily claimed ownership of technology ever since they programmed their first iphone, downloaded thousands of songs, figured out what apps are best, and searched for their favorite videos on YouTube.

They are prosumers, creating content and leaving little social media footprints everywhere they go.  The individual choices for developing and viewing content is staggering.

We’re relieved when bullying and facebook nightmares are not part of their lives, but they are experiencing the world in entirely different ways mostly on their own, in a one-on-one with a tech gadget.

Could we engage them in a discussion of how they assess content? What values do they bring to bear on their choices? What role does Judaism have in this? Do they know? Care? We know that Jewish law says something about almost everything.

I might be missing something, but when I poked around some movement websites to search “social media responsa” what came up were articles about how to use social media (to fundraise, generate interest, create storylines) not to help others mediate it. If there are such resources, please point me in the right direction.

If Judaism is not relevant to this part of their lives, where they “live” for so many hours in a day, we’ve already lost. Do our students know there are apps for the Siddur? Bible? Talmud? Might they be more likely to experience text in this way? What worlds can we open for them that they wouldn’t search for on their own?

For hundreds of years, practicing Judaism meant mediating ‘content’ within a larger society. Encouraging our teens to do that helps them understand what it means to be Jewish in our world today.

We can then ask ourselves whether or not we agree with the Einstein quote pictured above–but with a twist: Will technology compromise our connection to Judaism?

                                                                                                                                                                     (Photo credit: Toban Black)


Teens: Got a bad grade? Work it!

Life Stinks

Image via Wikipedia

Getting a bad grade, especially when you expected something else entirely, pretty much stinks.

It’s hard enough being in high school when so much of your life seems to be defined by grades. When the grades don’t match up with your expectations or your output, it must feel lousy.

Though I have issues with the idea of being defined by grades, we’re not going there now.

So, you can either sulk or use this life event to get some feedback.

Think of this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your teacher about your work. I know, it’s tough, but give it a try. You can:

  • learn how to advocate for yourself
  • begin to see yourself the way he/she does, and take the opportunity to self-correct
  • figure out what the teacher really wants before it’s too late in the year
  • impress the teacher with your willingness to engage in this type of conversation
  • practice asking for clarification of a decision, which is a skill you’ll use later in life
  • demonstrate your interest in the subject matter
  • cut yourself a break.
  • learn that despite what you’re feeling now, this doesn’t define you
  • feel great about asserting yourself!

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