This past Sunday I met with a group of parents interested in checking out options for their teens’ Jewish education. They were committed to their children’s education and wanted the best for them. Currently, their 7th grade teens were in a synagogue school, but were unsure that staying there would meet their children’s needs. One parent found the time to attend this orientation meeting even though her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah was the very next week!
I am always impressed when parents become ‘smart shoppers’, critically evaluating which program will offer the best environment for their child’s Jewish education. For sure, not every program works for every teen, but parents will be in a better position to support their teens’ attendance if they feel committed to the program’s goals. And if it’s a good fit.
The consumer attitude that we often disparage, can be flipped toward the positive. The desire to find the best possible option from those available, is a good thing and definitely trickles down. Teens will get it; they’ll understand that spending time ‘shopping’ around for the best fit–whether done by parents, teens or both–means that there is no less importance placed on Jewish education than any other choice one would make. It’s an important lesson.
At this point in the orientation, I’m enjoying hearing from these parents what they want for their kids: to be challenged, be with a lot of other teens who are like them, to have many choices of subject matter, be exposed to a large staff of teachers, etc.
I guess at one point, the conversation shifted. It may have been prompted by thoughts about the reality of enrolling their son/daughter in a different program than the one the synagogue was offering.
I was surprised to hear the words they used next: ”Betrayal, Abandonment, Rejection” were words different parents said that expressed their discomfort with this eventuality. I heard this not just from one parent, but from many.
They felt they were ‘abandoning’ a course that had been set out for them. They didn’t want to disappoint the Rabbi. Or the Education Director. Or the Education Committee that had worked on the curriculum. Some felt that by seeking out other options they would be perceived as deserting the rest of the parents who were staying. Some felt that that making this new commitment would add a layer of difficulty to their lives (arranging different carpools, rescheduling things) and they weren’t sure that it would be ‘worth the change’. Most felt guilty about the decision they were close to making in one way or another. You could see it in their earnest expressions. They clearly wanted to do the right thing, but were so conflicted.
I appreciated their sensitivity, but had no answers.
I stand on the side of advocating for choice every time.
But this is not so effective unless everyone in the Jewish community agrees to encourage choices. That means making people/members aware of what’s out there, and giving up some influence and control over the information that would contribute to their ‘buying decision’.
This unfortunately, seems a long way off.
Instead of complaining about the consumer mentality, we have to embrace it. That attitude makes us all work a little harder. And yes, there are consequences. However, I believe that we have to be fearless.
- New study offers tips on engaging Jewish teens (timesofisrael.com)