Tag Archives: Jewish community

Teens Lose Out When Jewish Education Becomes an Activity

How Much Time to Spend on Jewish Education?

How Much Time Is There to Spend on Jewish Education?

People are setting into new routines and school is still in its start-up phase.

Schedules are being rewritten, dates are being calendared, and carpools being arranged.

From the myriad of after school activities that teens get to choose from, the options become dizzying. How can parents prioritize?

There are those activities that just might nail a college scholarship.

Then there are those that show the ability to be part of a team and as a plus, perhaps gain a honed skill in a much desired sport.

There are also those that demonstrate a level of creativity and talent.

Or a willingness to volunteer for a great cause and work towards an intangible goal.

Or demonstrate leadership by taking an active role in student government.

The choices are really endless, the goals often meritorious, and the pressure to succeed is on.

But what about the opportunity to talk about the larger issues in life?

What about teens who need to ‘download’ their day within a Jewish context—especially now when we’re confronted with so many moral and ethical challenges?

In the past few years, there are many more students who have stress-related disorders, and getting them at younger ages than ever.

The pressure to be busy has intensified, and Jewish education is suffering as a result, because it becomes a choice about which activity to do.

But what is the reality?

Actually, most teens have more time on their hands than parents realize…like spending the equivalent of almost a full day involved with social media: In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “Today’s teens spend more than 71/2 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games, and that number has surely increased by now.”

Teens: Making the right choices?

Teens: Making the right choices?

So, if we get rid of the time obstacles, what might some other barriers be for today’s teens to participate in a regular Jewish educational program?

1. Cost might be a factor. Welcome to the age of “free”. Some would say that it all started with Birthright trips and the expectation that it was important enough for young adults to have a memorable and strong identification with Israel that trips were/are free. Other freebies followed suit in the manner of free Hebrew schools. So, actually paying for a program is not a given anymore.

2. Lack of commitment from Parents. Some parents are hard-pressed to make the tough decisions to have their teen attend a supplemental Jewish education program, not wanting to ‘force’ their kids to do anything that they might not automatically be drawn to. Some have said they are afraid their teens will ‘resent’ this later. (my experience is just the opposite, so many adults have said to me, after learning on their own or through an outreach organization, that they wished their parents ‘forced’ them to learn when they were younger).

3. No experience of their own to draw upon. For parents who themselves did not continue after the age of 13, (or didn’t pursue the extra education mentioned above), they don’t know what their teen will be missing, and therefore can’t ‘sell’ the concept.

4. False choices. Some parents think a ‘Jewish activity’ is important, but limit their teen’s participation to one thing, reinforcing the idea that Jewish education needs to ‘fit’ into a greater scheme of commitments. This is more difficult to understand and accept when the one thing is only a monthly program!

5. De-valuing of the Jewish educational experience.To a certain extent, we can choose to blame Hebrew schools as a convenient scapegoat, or we can look deeper into versions of “American Judaism”  by-the-movements that did not speak enough to the deep need people have to connect. (Many have written about this, read further from authors such as Wertheimer, Sarna, Schwartz, Wolfson, etc.)

6. Parents are tired. Some say that their kids don’t want to have to 1. wake up early or 2. get home late, but often it is the parents themselves who are beat, can’t/won’t do one more carpool, shlep to one more activity. And this brings us to the point of the post. 

Avraham Infeld is famous for saying “Judaism is not a religion.” What I’d like to add is “Judaism is not an activity”. It’s not what we squeeze in or have to fit into our schedules. It’s who we are. It’s about who they will become.

It’s what teens need time for….to figure out how Judaism plays a role in their lives, now and in the future.

Let’s at least make sure our teens are not losing out on this opportunity.


Three Jewish Teens: Lives Lived and Lost

yahrzeit

 

 

 

We lost three teenagers today, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel…Baruch Dayan HaEmet…Blessed is the Righteous Judge…

In the tremendous tragedy of the loss of such young teenage lives, I am left wondering if many of our Jewish teenagers in America are truly aware of what happened. Or care.

This is truly a painful question to ask.

Yehi zichronam baruch—May their memories be for a blessing…our hearts go out to their families and friends for the pain that must feel like it will never, ever end.

For some of us, this loss is felt quite deeply, as if our own family was torn apart.

But what of our teenagers here in America? Is there a similar feeling among our teens that their peers are feeling in Israel?

We don’t want our children to ever experience pain, but Israel’s similar wishes for their teenagers already passed that point.

There’s loss woven into the entire fabric of the country.

Do American Jewish teens have a special feeling for the collective Jewish family?

Do they feel connected in any way with other Jews around the world?

I fear that they don’t.

Why not?

The world is made smaller via internet, so we should be more connected, not less.

But I know that this is not true.

This was not an active topic on social media, where our teens tend to live.

In fact, the absence of sharing about the loss of these three teens on twitter was gaping. Likewise elsewhere.

Why is it so different for our teens today? How can we work on making them feel more connected to the Jewish family as a whole?

Do we need to wait for birthright and Pilgrimage trips for this to happen?

This tragedy occurred when our teens are busy with their own lives. They are not in our weekly programs when we can discuss this with them, debrief our communal pain, and talk about the sense and senselessness in life.

For teens who are by now at Jewish camps, they will have a collective community in which to share their grief.

For other Jewish American teens who are not so connected, they hopefully will have conversations in their homes and synagogues.

But I also know that the reverse may happen…that this tragedy will be lost amidst the shuffle of every day life.

The question worth repeating here is how can we help our Jewish teens feel more part of K’lal Yisrael, part of the Jewish family?

If we first stop to ask this question of ourselves, our efforts will be more meaningful for the future.

Let’s work toward this goal.

 


“Lesson-Plan” Your Passover Seder: Ways to Involve Teens

Lesson Plan your Seder!

Lesson Plan your Seder!

 

The Passover Seder is considered by many to be the consummate family education event.

This inter-generational experience can create indelible memories, savored for years, long past the momentary taste of yummy matzo balls floating assertively on top of your soup bowl.

So, why are so many seders…um….boring?

Try table reading at this Seder!

No shortage of readers here. (An historic seder with new immigrants at an Israeli Kibbutz, might have been the opposite of boring!)

 

Don’t settle for the all too common reading-around-the-table routine, a time- honored tradition where those around the table take turns reading from the Haggadah.

That technique might remind you of your junior high history class:  “Good morning class, open your books to page 129. Susan, please read the paragraph at the top of the page, and then we’ll go around the room and everyone will take a turn reading….”

This can be compared to the fun one might experience while watching water boil. Seriously, reading aloud in turn is a slow process with an extremely high degree of predictability–at some tired point you do get to the end.

Let’s not sell the Seder short by using educational techniques that are outdated.

The Passover Seder is the consummate educational program, so why not plan for it the way one might plan a lesson?

What might that look like? Well, think about set induction, varied activities, opportunities to engage participants using multiple sensory experiences, asking deep questions of meaning….and you’ll be on the right track.

A sample of ways to engage Jewish teens might be:

“Let My People Go” is a powerful statement in the Torah.

Why is this not recounted in the Haggadah?

What does this say about Leadership? Can one stand without the other?  

In a sense, this idea of obtaining a people’s freedom spurred on a revolution, which has had ripple effects even today (think of how many people are demanding self-determination).

How might you communicate that concept today in a way that people would respond? Think of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. What #Hashtag would you use? What would be your update? What would your 140 character message be? 

What other powerful sayings have rallied individuals behind a cause?

Think of “If you will it, it is no dream”, ‘I Have a Dream”, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” , and not to be too trite, but even “Think Different” (apple’s tagline from its early days). 

You get the idea….forget the predictability and go for the unknown.

Isn’t that what the Seder is truly about? Our ability to tell stories and pass them on through the generations is what brought us as a people to this point in time.

For sure, those themes are what teens can relate to: safety versus risk, predictability versus self-determination….just think about the rich conversations that could be going around your table!

Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


What many Jewish adults regret—do you?

Do you want a 'do-over'?

Do you want a ‘do-over’?

On a weekly basis, I interact with members of a cohort that have been recently featured in a rash of reports: Jewish teens.

This sudden interest in teens is a good thing, because as little as two years ago (when I started this blog), a Google search of Jewish teens turned up barely any recent research at all 

Try searching now, and this is what you’d get. Progress? Definitely.

Although as Jewish educators we are pleased that these new studies have contributed to the conversation about how to engage Jewish teens, no research center or foundation will know what I know, from the stories I hear.

The stories are not from the teens I work with now, but the ones I’ve worked with and known for the past decade. Now, they are young adults…out of college and into their busy lives.

What they share with me is not the stuff of research: not from surveys, phone polling, focus groups, or market research.

My undocumented data is 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.

In fact, when their friends (who usually have had significantly less Jewish education than they did) have been part of these conversations, they regret not continuing, and say things like:

“I wish my parents forced me to go to Confirmation/Hebrew High after my Bar/Bat Mitzvah”

“I found out that I know so little about Judaism….I wish I paid more attention and continued my education when I could” (“there’s no deadline for that”, I usually chime in….).

Sometimes the teens themselves are able to recognize the value of continuing beyond the dreaded drop-off of a young 13.  I just read online about a Jewish teen who extolled the virtues of his continued education .

The sad fact is that many parents have said the same thing. They regret not having more education. This is such a pervasive feeling that we can not deny it, even when tempted to defer to data, statistics, surveys and charts.

Photo: courtesy of http://www.flickr.com Alyssa L. Miller


Five Reasons Not to Substitute Convenience for Expertise with #Jteens

It pays not to compromise with sushi

Ever have bad sushi? Don’t compromise with sushi or Jewish education

A Hat Tip to Seth Godin, marketing guru, for this post’s idea–my take on his  “Never eat sushi at the airport”.

Seth tends to cut through the chaff to get to the kernel, which is why he writes: “Don’t ask a cab driver for theater tips, Never buy bread from the supermarket bakery…Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.”

So, with a nod to Seth, here are things never to do:

1. Never accept an inferior product when it comes to something like education.

2. Don’t rely solely on what other parents are doing when it comes to seeking out the best experience for your child. 

3. If it takes a little longer to get somewhere where there’s a better program for teens, go for it.  That message, that you’re literally ‘going the distance’ speaks louder than most.

4. Belonging to a youth group is a very good thing for Jteens to do, but it doesn’t substitute for a Jewish education. The goals just aren’t the same.

5. Don’t use the same criteria for choosing a Jewish education experience that you use for an “after-school activity”.


Dealing with Anti-Semitism on the College Campus: What Jewish Teens Think

An event taking place on many college campuses

An event taking place on many college campuses

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.


Judaism as a Perennial Polysystem

Planting seeds for the future of Judaism

Planting seeds for the future of Judaism

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.

 


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