“It should be remembered that any group that is willing to treat Israel and the Jewish people differently from any other and to deny it rights they wouldn’t deny anyone else is demonstrating prejudice.” Jonathan Tobin, “What Jewish Students Really Need”
The post title refers to Anti-Semitism, while the poster above references anti-Israel propaganda.
There are plenty of debates back and forth about which is which, including examples of Anti-Zionism in the mix.
This purpose of this post is to enlighten us about how Jewish teens react to a scenario they might encounter on the college campus. We know that the college campus, usually a place that is open to the marketplace of ideas, does not always live up to that reputation. An annual review of Anti-Israel activity on college campuses around the United States, produced by the ADL will educate you.
The situation below was given to Jewish high school students by the Anti-Defamation League recently, and they discussed options in small groups and recorded their responses on large poster paper pasted around the room.
“Josh is a friend of yours from high school and a Jewish student activist on his college campus. He encounters a professor in one of his Middle East courses, who has a very strong opinion regarding what he describes as the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. Josh has his own opinion of the situation and finds that he is the only person outwardly disagreeing with the professor. Josh’s term paper, worth 30% of his grade, is due next week. Josh is afraid to represent his opposing ideologies in his paper and possibly risk his grade. He asks for your opinion and advice. What do you tell him?
How do you think the teens you know will answer?
Assertively? Passively? Defiantly?
Here’s one response that I’d definitely place on the unassertive continuum, as it really skirts the issue entirely:
“If the professor grades Josh harshly because of his opinions, then the professor is being unprofessional.”
How would you evaluate the comment above? What would your recommendation be to this student?
If you’re curious as to how others responded, read on:
“Agree with the professor, but keep your own beliefs to yourself because you need to pass the class.”
“Do not be afraid of your own beliefs. Speak to your department head if it’s that big of an issue.”
“Notify the dean of students. See what they (would) grade you and what the professor (would) grades (sic) you. If it is worse due to the opposing side/idea, tell the head of the department.”
“Write your own beliefs and see what the professor does and take it up with someone higher.”
“Don’t do the paper if you don’t believe in it.”
The good news, is that some students were very comfortable asserting their rights–outside of class.
Inside class, is another story entirely…and according to what I’ve read about college campus behavior, these student responses mimics what actually does happen when students encounter professors with differences of opinion. The stakes are high for these students beginning in high school and continuing on to college. Openly disagreeing with a professor’s opinions is really tough to do.
I clearly remember one student who felt such a sense of accomplishment after being able to argue successfully with his history teacher, that he called it a ‘life-changing’ experience. Yet another student told us how she wished she paid better attention in her Israel class so that she could debate more effectively with students at her campus who were members of Students for Justice in Palestine.
We can use our time with our students to prepare them a bit more to talk through these situations and help them decide the right course for them, depending upon their priorities.
Denying that they will encounter either Anti-Semitism or Anti-Zionism does not serve them well.
- israpundit: An Israeli Soldier to American Jews: wake up! (israpundit.com)
- Racism, Coming To A College Campus Near You…Or Already There [Opinion] (oldschool1003.com)
- Jewish Actress Lisa Kudrow Talks Anti-Semitism, Her Son’s Bar Mitzvah in Revealing Interview (algemeiner.com)
- Jewish leaders condemn ‘anti-Semitic’ attack (sbs.com.au)
- Possible anti-Semitism in Boston Area Schools; ADL Silent? (israelnationalnews.com)
- Rep. Steve Cohen presses Turks on anti-Semitism (jta.org)
- Anti-Semitism, academic freedom and Brooklyn College (nydailynews.com)
A while ago, I reached some kind of milestone. I’ve been writing incessantly about a niche group within a niche group.
I’ve written over 100 posts on the topic of Jewish teens.
I am so lucky to have the opportunity to write about what matters to me in Jewish education.
When I started writing, there were virtually no relevant results for Jewish teens on my Google search.
Thankfully, that has changed, but many things haven’t.
The most important question we need to ask ourselves, especially in light of the Pew study, is “are we doing enough for our Jewish teens?”
Do we have answers for the following?
1. Day schools continue to be the darling of funders, who fail to realize that the largest percentage of Jewish teens are not going to day schools, despite scholarship incentives. Yet, students with at least seven years of supplementary Jewish education fare very well when compared to day school students. Why?
2. Serious (yes, I did just say that word) supplementary high school programs work, yet get no recognition for the leaders we send to college campuses, year after year. Why?
3. Research confirms that students are less likely to attend high school programs when they have negative experiences in elementary supplemental education, yet communal incentives are rare for encouraging teens to ‘try out’ programs. Why? (The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is taking a lead in this concept).
4. Hillels around the country don’t connect with Jewish supplementary high schools to help teens transition to their new environment. Why is there this incredible missed opportunity?
5. Turf issues continue to pervade many communities, even though some programs offer teens little choices for social and/or academic experiences. (Philadelphia, through an initiative called Jteenphilly is breaking ground in this area).
6. Teen aides in supplementary schools are generally not being served by that experience. Keeping teens in the building doesn’t mean that their needs are being met.
7. Studies have confirmed that once on the college campus, teens tend not to care about Jewish denominational lines, yet their pre-collegiate youth group experiences are most often confined to movement-related programming. Why?
I don’t get many responses to these posts, which for most, would be a red flag to do something different.
Somehow, I’m content to do what I’m doing, and hope that some things will eventually ‘stick’.
Plus, I know you’re out there (the stats confirm this).
I appreciate you–you’re that very special reader who cares enough to read about Jewish teens.
A recent New York Times op-ed article by Mark Bittman, the well-known chef and author, mentioned a new effort in agriculture. The proponent of this new system is a man by the name of Wes Jackson. He advocates for a shared system in farming. Rather than maxing out the soil with one crop only, how much more efficient it would be to plant crops that can co-exist, and even mutually benefit each other by being planted in near proximity. Not only that, the crops would come up year after year!
The author calls that a “perennial polysystem”. These quotes struck me: ”If you look around you’ll see that essentially all of nature’s ecosystems are perennial polycultures; that’s nature’s instruction book.”
“……In perennial polycultures, the plants may fertilize one another, physically support one another, ward off pests and diseases together, resist drought and flood, and survive even when one member suffers.”
What an incredible way to define centuries of Jewish history! Judaism evolved through processes of change, warding off challenges throughout the centuries, but we survive, as a polysystem.
The one-crop model is not nearly as efficient as the one that is sustained through diversity. There is much to learn from this.
We’re seeing struggles now that challenge many deep held beliefs about Judaism. We are going through an intense period of change. Yet, in some of our lifetimes drastic changes already took place, and we survived. Millions perished. Millions began anew. A new home became a haven. Now our new home faces yet more challenges, internally and externally. Judaism is being redefined as I write this, with many developing incredibly creative responses to continue the expansiveness that is Judaism.
Discussions about the recent Pew Study abound. What will we do with this information? How will we respond? What new developments will occur to meet these challenges? Every prophet made us stop and take notice, and we desperately needed their warnings. Let the Pew report on American Judaism be our substitute prophet, warning us so we can respond. The Perennial Polysystem of Judaism will survive this too.
- Contrasting Judaism and Americanism (dkquotes.wordpress.com)
I regularly interact with a cohort of individuals that others write reports about these days.
I learn so much from the young adults I speak with about their Jewish education.
No research center or foundation will be interested in this data, because it’s anecdotal.
The information I’ve gotten is not from the stuff of research: not from surveys, phone polling, focus groups, or market research.
It’s gleaned from speaking with thousands of young adults about their Jewish education over many, many years.
I listen very closely to what they say, and have had conversations with young adults in multiple settings: camps, youth groups, schools, and even around a kitchen table.
The one comment I’ve never heard is that anyone ever, I mean ever, regretted obtaining more Jewish education.
So, what will we do with that information?
- Jewish Parents Who “Get It” and Why: Generational Gifting of a Jewish Education (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- A fundamental flaw with much of Jewish education in America is that it forces us to view Jewish identity within a vacuum (dkquotes.wordpress.com)
Why do some parents understand that continuing their teen’s Jewish education after Bar/Bat Mitzvah is essential, while others don’t make the same choice?
All teens are busy. Many are taking AP classes, active in extra-curriculars, and involved in volunteering. Many parents are busy as well, juggling work and home schedules, carpooling, and giving back to the community.
Why is this an automatic, affirming choice for some parents, yet clearly a very difficult decision for others?
In the past two weeks, I’ve met parents and students at several orientation sessions, and as a result, I’ve gotten a glimpse into the dynamics of this process of choosing. It’s been a unique opportunity for me, as I always wonder why, in a program that boasts over a 90% success rate, more parents are not sending their teenagers.
By the way, the teens in attendance were not unhappy that their parents chose this route for them. They were excited to be at a new stage in their lives, when thinking critically and analytically about big life issues is the core of the curriculum.
What follows is obviously not the product of a formal research study, but a casual sharing of my observations.
Parents who have had post Bar/Bat Mitzvah education themselves, understand very clearly what the benefits are.
They’ve appreciated the decision their own parents made on their behalf. They want to do the same for their children and pass along the gift of a Jewish education.
For those who left Hebrew school after 13, it’s a much harder sell.
They don’t have a clue as to what they’ve missed so there’s no reference point or context for making this choice for their teen now. They also may need to rationalize the fact that their path, in the end, ‘worked out for them’.
It’s clear that passing on the tradition of Jewish education is highly important to the parents who do decide to send their teens to a high school program. Some were so adamant about the reasons for their choice that they were beyond baffled as to why others would ever opt out.
Those that were the products of their own parent’s extended Jewish education felt that Jewish education is a generational gift that keeps on giving. Isn’t that what our tradition says is at the core of parenting?
Curious, I asked these parents about circumstances at their synagogues, and whether or not these dedicated parents were offered any formalized opportunities to discuss their decisions with other parents. That would seem to be a highly interesting and enlightening program in and of itself, with plenty of opportunities to bring in relevant Jewish texts.
There were no parent sessions on Post B’nai Mitzvah education and how it differs from the goals of an elementary supplementary school curriculum.
Nor were there chances for the teens themselves to get in front of younger students to talk about their choices.
All were missed opportunities. All are low-cost, low tech, low risk activities. All would have created connections among the parents which might have opened up some new ways of thinking.
So, why aren’t we creating better modeling opportunities?
Why aren’t we connecting the generational dots?
- Why Should Our Teens be Jewish? (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- He Said / She Said: Engaging Synagogue Youth (ejewishphilanthropy.com)
- “You’re Not Invited”: Teen Victims of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Years and What To Do About It (jteennews.wordpress.com)
We know that many Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebrations have gotten way out of hand. Thousands have seen Rabbi Wolpe’s Washington Post article “Have we forgotten what Bar Mitzvahs are about?” although fewer may have read the Rabbi’s apology for what some have said was an angry tone.
Beyond the materialistic approach that some of these affairs take and the message it sends, there is another consequence of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah years, regardless of how ‘over the top’ and excessive the extravagance is.
That is the social rejection experienced by those that are left out, not invited—not considered ‘worthy’ of sharing the celebration.oii
The ones who aren’t ‘cool’ enough to be invited or who aren’t in the ‘in’ group.
The ones who get a sick, stinging feeling when finding out they’re one of the few kids who won’t be going to what should be a communal celebration of a life cycle event.
It is a Jewish experience within a Jewish context that leaves scars. This awful irony does not escape them.
During the Bar/Bat Mitzvah years, we would want them to feel wanted, accepted, and comfortable and instead they experience an extreme version of the already intense adolescent social pressures.
One parent told me that his son told him he was ‘never going back to that place’ referring to the synagogue that he felt failed him by allowing such obvious exclusionary behavior.
Here they are, ostensibly learning Jewish values, (B’tzelem Elokim, Kavod HaBriut, Tzniut, and many others) with a huge chasm between learning these values and what they’re actually experiencing in their lives…within the community of a synagogue no less.
How sad. We certainly make a lot of effort to make other environments fair (no scores in Little League?).
Can’t we figure this one out? Although the scenario above does not happen in every single synagogue, I know that you know it happens often enough for us not to ignore it.
Understandably, making rules and not allowing free choice in this area is extremely tough, but in not choosing to set policies, we are choosing and allowing our highly impressionable teens to be victims of this socially isolating experience.
And it’s just a shame that some teen’s experience of a Jewish religious rite becomes a place where popularity plays out.
With some effort, these issues might be solved in some creative ways. Our teens, at least in a Jewish environment, deserve a safe haven from some of the most painful social experiences of adolescence.
Quick, let’s think of some alternatives:
1. We go back to the ‘old-fashioned’ ways, and truly make this opportunity a communal experience.…held in the synagogue with the entire synagogue community plus friends and family included. Expensive? Not when done without the glitz and glamour.
2. Have all the families agree to invite everyone, no matter what type of celebration.
3. Discuss the social implications of this event with the teens, making it part of the supplementary school curriculum.
4. Families celebrating in that year agree to donate monies into a joint fund, and hold a celebration for everyone in the class at an agreed-upon time.
5. Raise awareness of this issue at parent education opportunities.
Do you have creative ways of dealing with this issue? I’d love to hear what some synagogues have worked out, I’m sure so many parents and Jewish educators would love to have some options. Please respond and share.
Photo credit: Wikipedia