Tag Archives: Jewish parents

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


“There Is Only One Way to Change the World, and That Is By Education” Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks

stainedglassstar

 

What would you say about how to change the world?

Why does Judaism value education so much?

How are educational values embedded in our tradition?

It’s not possible to improve on the eloquent words of a master writer and teacher, the Former Chief Rabbi of the U.K.

Rabbi Sacks writes a series of articles on the Torah portion of the week entitled “Covenant & Conversation”.

I encourage you to get acquainted with his writings; they will stir you. 

When I read something written so beautifully, that exquisitely states Judaism’s mission of perpetuation through education, all I can hope for is that others like you will read it too.

Education has been the key to our survival, and that notion is at risk.

We’ve often gone for the glitz and forgot the substance.

I’m not bemoaning the loss of old ideas, worn out ways of doing things, or suggesting that we return to unsuccessful models.

But I am saying that whatever we do, we must do it in the name of education.

In today’s world, ‘content is king’.

How fitting for us at this time. We have permission to offer our teens real substantive content.

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If we focus on this, we will guarantee a healthy future.

This must be our unified message.

“The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks continues: …..”that is why they alone, of all the civilizations of the ancient world are still alive and strong, still continuing their ancestors’ vocation, their heritage intact and undiminished.”

Click, Read, Learn….may your efforts continue our tradition.


One comment I never hear as a Jewish educator

There's data, and then there's what I know

There’s data, and then there’s what I know

I’m lucky.

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?


Seven Things to Do When Teens Come Home from Jewish Summer Camp

How to Bring Camp Home

How to Bring Camp Home

Soon, thousands of Jewish teens will arrive to their home communities, having spent an amazing immersive experience in a Jewish summer camp. These teens, armed with new enthusiasm for Jewish life, should be able to transition successfully into their Jewish life at home, sharing their experiences with peers, their families, the synagogue, and maybe even the Jewish community as a whole.

Summer camp is exhilarating for our Jewish teens. For most, living Judaism 24/7 and not as an ‘add-on’ like Hebrew school, is a powerful experience for them.  For example, Shabbat at camp is a communal affair, with everyone in the camp community living on the same page. Each week has the rhythm of Shabbat, with the pace at week’s end picking up in a flurry of activity; frenzied preparations of personal and communal cleaning that peak before sundown on Friday night. Daily schedules then ease into a newly relaxed pace of free time and socializing that ends on Saturday night. This arc of Friday to Saturday night is a palpably different feeling than the rest of the week.

A Jewish Bubble That is Alive and Vibrant

At camp, teens are socializing in a Jewish world surrounded by staff and friends who are all Jewish and who are making a commitment to be together, living Judaism, for several weeks. The passion for living a Jewish life can’t be duplicated—there are just too many factors that make that impossible (that’s why many Jewish Federations around the country and the Foundation for Jewish camping are trying to get our kids to go there).

So, Jewish teens spend the summer being energized about a Judaism that is alive, pulsing, vibrant, and changeable and at summer’s end have a decidedly different experience.  At home, the pace of the weekly arc is gone for the most part, unless campers live in a Shabbat-observant home. They may or may not miss any restrictions they’ve had (electronic fasts in some places) but they will miss the natural rhythm that the week holds.  Their home friends won’t have a clue what they’ve experienced, and neither will you, as parents, if you haven’t experienced it. They no longer live in a community of like-minded teens.

Why should we make teens wait all year long to experience these same feelings again?

When Teens Return Home

Most teens returning to ‘normal’ life after camp don’t experience a transition between these two worlds. Instead, there is a disturbing disconnect as they see huge differences between the summer months and practices at home and the synagogue during the year, which is like going from one entirely different cultural experience to another.

We can look at ways to maximize their experiences and make sure that the energy is captured, and create more of a seamless transition.  There may be programs working on this, like youth groups that connect campers during the year, but not all groups function in that way or are successful in that effort.

Links between Camp, Home, and Synagogue

We need to create better links, bridges, and supports from one experience to the other for our Jewish teens. So, how can we maximize campers’ experiences when they arrive home?  What I’m suggesting won’t be broad or sweeping systemic change but are definitely do-able. There are activities that can be tweaked for home, synagogue and even youth groups. Below are just some suggestions for optimizing Jewish teens’ experiences at camp and using their creative talents, no matter the level of your observance:

#1.  Make Friday night (at least) different from the rest of the week by getting the teens involved in trying to create a different Shabbat experience at home. It doesn’t much matter how—a tablecloth, cold cuts on Saturday, a change of clothing, challah, candles—can set the tone, even over a pizza dinner. Too much? Choose one small change, but try to commit to it every week. Ask them for ideas, and don’t accept the usual “but this won’t work here” response.  Start slowly, perhaps building on ideas month to month. For example, try an electronic fast, for at least a few hours either Friday or Saturday, or both, every week. Your teenager is already used to it, so making the change won’t be difficult.

#2.  Mentor a group to begin a ‘camp style’ minyan at your synagogue, even once a month for starters.  Or ask them to duplicate a service one Shabbat evening or morning.

#3.  Ask your camp to connect you with other campers/parents in your area to keep the camp spirit going.  Many camps are forming parent groups just for this purpose. You might want to get together with other camp parents to create a different Shabbat experience. This might already be happening at your synagogue through a new program called “Guess Who’s Coming to Shabbas”. Find more about that here:  https://www.facebook.com/GuessWhosComingToShabbas.

#4.  Make sure that your teens are connected to Jewish learning experiences during the year, hopefully in addition to a youth group. Many programs are conducted on a weekly basis–offering teens a ‘camp reunion’ opportunity—and some courses are even online. They are specifically geared toward teens’ interests and expectations. These programs offer expertise in bridging the camp- to- home experiences.

#5.  Feature these Jewish summer camp experts as part of a panel that explores the ways in which the synagogue and home communities can learn and be enriched by their experience. Also, make sure there are ways to put these teens in front of younger students to share their experiences and keep the legacy of Jewish camping a presence at your synagogue.

#7 Put one or more Jewish teens on the synagogue’s ritual committee to infuse it with some new ideas and approaches that they’ve learned at camp. Give the teens a goal to incorporate one new and different thing from camp into synagogue programming for your youth

This issue has been on my mind for quite some time.   I was one of those campers, at ten years old, filled with a spark of Judaism from summer camp that didn’t get replenished until the next summer. The youth group in my area was purely social, and didn’t offer me enough of the “Jewish infusion” that I had at camp.

We can make a difference in how our teenagers experience Judaism during the year. Even implementing one suggestion from the list can send a strong message that as a community, we’re all working together on their behalf.

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

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Jewish Teens: Do you want to be the same or different?

Figuring out where you stand is the challenge

I believe every Jewish teen has to make a fundamental decision, especially when getting ready to think about college.

Behind that decision are responses to feelings about Jewish identity.

The question begins with: How do I feel about being Jewish?

Is there anything in the way I feel about my heritage that makes me different?

Is there anything I do that makes me feel different?

How do those differences contribute to who I am? Are these differences that I should celebrate or run away from?

Would I rather be the same or different from other students who aren’t Jewish?

Are our Jewish teens getting any guidance about this?

These prompts are either-or in nature, though we know that life is not generally like that.

But in order to really prioritize values, the black-white choices are what helps clear the dust from the corners.

Underlying any choice is the light shining on the things that matter for our teens’ future Jewish involvements in college and beyond.

There are no easy answers to this one.  It depends on what the family has decided to value.

Research and studies have shown that the more multiple connections to Jewish life, the more Jewish identity is secured.

But that only matters if Jewish parents want their teens to maintain their differences.

Right now, the pull seems to be toward sameness.

Are you facing these challenges? Please share your thoughts.

Related articles

Photo source: wikimedia.org


Parents of Teens: Do You Miss Those Parent-Teacher Conferences?

Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B...

I just read a quick blog about how elementary school parents should prepare for Parent-Teacher conferences.

For parents of teenagers: Will you connect to your teen’s teacher this year beyond the basic back-to-school night?

My guess is no.

Unless things have changed (optimistically maybe they have), parent involvement past 6th grade is pretty much off the table.

The biggest change you’ll experience is that there won’t be ‘official’ ways to connect to the school as you’ve had in the past You know, classroom parent, home room helper, PTO representative, and candy sale coordinator….mostly non-existent.

This will not occur because you don’t want a connection.

And not because there shouldn’t be one.

It will be because schools tend to wean parents out of the picture pretty soon after elementary school.

And realistically, there is little time, fewer resources, and frankly less interest on the part of the school, parent, student to have those connections.

This doesn’t mean those formal opportunities and meetings to hear about academic and social progress are any less important.

Unfortunately, the fabric of the home/school connection is fraying just at the time when it needs to be strengthened. (If I have this all wrong, please comment).

You will need to find other ways to maintain a connection with those who work with your teenager. Why is this important?

Because whoever that is, can give you another glimpse of your child in another venue which allows you to have a check into how they’re developing.

How can you get those connections?

Some ideas are below, none of which I considered ‘helicoptering’.

Instead, they are creative ways of parenting and making connections in these busy times.

After all, your teen has just spent a considerable amount of time in a different environment.

Plus you’ve either spent time, money, or resources on the activities, and you have a right to know

  • Establish a relationship with your teen’s coach (beyond “why is he/she on the bench so much?”)
  • Connect with your teen’s camp counselors, director, after the summer is over to see how they did.
  • Send your teen to an after-school faith-based program, and connect with the staff about your teen’s progress in social and educational areas.
  • If your teen belongs to a youth group, chat with the coordinator about your teen’s social experiences.
  • After your teens attends any teen program, check in with the staff regarding the above.

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.

 Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely

Back-to-school basics for working parents (goerie.com)


Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely

English: A teen singing.

Make sure the activity gives back!

Soccer teams. Dance classes. School activities. SAT prep classes. After-school jobs. Volunteer work. AP classes.

The list can go on and on.

The school year starts with an overwhelming rush of activities.

How do you help your teen choose what to do? What takes priority? Should your teenager do volunteer work? Take a leadership role in a school club? Begin working so he/she learns responsibility and the value of a dollar? Continue with a sport that he/she excels in?

The challenge is great to select those activities that will continue to have meaning later in life. When high school is a faded memory and your teen is already immersed in college–what activities will have made an impact?

The goal needs to be more than just ‘getting into’ a good college.

Unfortunately, college counselors and admissions officers will tell you that, after reading thousands and thousands of applications, they can see through the haze of shallow but well-intentioned lists of extracurricular activities.

So, you need to maximize your teen’s time, short as it is.

The ideal goal and purpose of these activities is to give your teen something that will add to his/her character, something that will have longterm meaning.

I’m not advocating that you abdicate activities.

I do believe that you have to think carefully about what that involvement gives back.

Yes, I’m biased, I’ve written many posts about how important I think Jewish education is to your teen’s development.

I believe that in the right setting, continued Jewish education past the typical drop-off age can build character, leadership skills, critical thinking, and provide teens with a way to determine their own belief systems.

Plus, college counselors and admissions officers see it as a continued area of interest that your teen has pursued for years.

Think about it.

Putting continued Jewish education on a college application?

Totally an asset.

Photo credit: wikipedia

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.


Teens Report What Really Happens In Classrooms

Teacher

Teachers and Classroom Behavior Photo credit: tim ellis

I read an eighth grader’s blog (!) today that resonated with me, and it triggered a memory of what Jewish teens shared with me in a discussion about bullying.

Back to the blog. This young teen wrote about derogatory and mean comments that kids said in hushed tones to others in her class. What they said was either whispered, written, or mouthed out—-all while the teacher’s back was turned.

Can you imagine the effect on the ‘victims’? Just thinking about it will probably tug at your heart.

Instantaneous changes of emotion. Heads bowed. Backs rounded. The day ruined.

And then—-thoughts of a system that offers no corrective action.

The talk I remembered having with my 10th graders was similar. They experienced or witnessed as a bystander, all kinds of inappropriate behavior by teens that was not done at recess, not on the school bus, not on the playing field, but in class!

In most cases, the teacher’s back was turned. 

Want to be shocked?  The students affirmed that sometimes, the teacher was not facing the board, or doing work at the desk.

“What happened during those other times?”, I asked.

“Ugh, the teacher just pretended not to hear or see.”

Can we think of a more challenging environment for our students?

Some feel that they are constantly the ones to point out flaws, misbehavior, or teacher concerns. They’ve told me that when they’ve actually brought these incidents to the teacher’s attention, the information is not even acted upon. And there certainly is a lot of negative feedback the teens get for doing that. (The cultural pull of not being a tattletale comes to mind).

A while ago, I wrote about our schools being Safe Havens, and reading the blog today made this fact even more potent.

No one should deduce that all teachers ignore bad behavior.

But neither should we assume that the teacher is always equipped to manage bad behavior. Or that the teacher gets support from the administration on these issues.

We can rise to the occasion, be better listeners, better mentors, and better teachers of Jewish values.

But that won’t change the system.

Creating students who want to become activists just might.

Supporting their efforts as parents and teachers is what we have to do. And oh yes, we can’t let them give up.


Let’s hope Jewish parents are smarter than this

Are we just being stupid or stubborn?

There are some obvious signs that parents might not be as smart as we’d like them to be.

Do you want to hear some of the comments I’ve heard from parents who choose not to continue their teens’ Jewish education past the age of bar/bat mitzvah?  Or  Confirmation? Keep reading.

First, you need to know that really, I understand that today’s teens are busy, committed to many activities, are often holding down a part-time job, and dealing with the pressures of scoping out a future in college. I think my posts will convince you of that.

But hey, we know in our working and personal lives that the timeless often gives way to the trivial unless we prioritize and begin thinking of outcomes.

Yet, innumerable times, I’ve heard parents opt for the immediate, for the path of least resistance, for the easiest option instead of the best option.

I’m not saying  that Jewish education is guaranteed insurance for success in college (maybe we could market that), but building a strong identity, critical thinking skills, a social network, and even earning college credits (or engaging in serious analysis) in a Jewish environment will help with college competencies.

I’m not just assuming all of these benefits, I actually hear it from our graduates.

Here is a sample of some parent comments that focus on the immediate instead of the timeless, on a path of ease instead of a path of priorities. They are not the smartest things I’ve ever heard. (My advice for parents about some of these issues are here).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“How will this be useful? I mean, we know the value of other activities (ouch, activities?), but I’m not sure about this…..”

“So and so will probably do a birthright trip in college….and that will solidify his/her Jewish identity, I’m sure.”

“In our family we’ve decided to emphasize ‘regular’ school….because, you know, it counts.”

“This falls very low on the priority scale, compared to other things that will look good for college.”

“So and so is planning on going to a college with a large/big/sizeable/impressive Jewish population, and socializing at Hillel will insure that he/she will stay connected.”

“The synagogue offered to pay so and so–and having a job instills a sense of responsibility, and besides–there just isn’t that much time to do so many Jewish things.”

Should we accept the obvious signs that parents have written off what we have to offer? Or should we continue to be stubborn optimists?

I hope that Jewish parents are smarter than this, but the burden is on us to change the game where we focus on  the benefits that our programs offer instead of features.


From Jewish Camp to Synagogue: Five No-brainers

Stanford Sailing Summer Camp in session in Red...

The more things change, the more …..well, you can fill in the blank here. This is on my mind as we approach the summer and thousands of Jewish teens anxiously await the beginning of Jewish camp.

I thought that by now there would be some changes in the synagogue world.  I’m not even talking about broad, sweeping, systemic change.  Or the changes suggested by some 15 teens a few months ago. Incredibly, I have been hoping for one small specific change ever since I was about 10 years old and attended a Jewish summer camp (which I did for 6 years after that and for 9 more in assorted roles from teacher to Assistant Director).

That change is maximizing campers’ experiences when they arrive home to their synagogue communities.  Specifically, at services (I so dislike that name for what we’re looking to experience during that time of prayer).  The disconnect I experienced then still holds true in most synagogues now. Jewish teens have described it to me.

Summer camp is exhilarating for our Jewish teens. For most, living Judaism 24/7 and not as an ‘add-on’ like Hebrew school, is a powerful new experience for them.  Their weeks have the rhythm of Shabbat in camp that usually doesn’t occur at home. They’re also socializing in a “Jewish bubble” surrounded by staff and friends who are all Jewish and who are making a commitment to be together for several weeks.

That’s why many Jewish Federations around the country and the Foundation for Jewish camping are trying to get our kids to go there through incentive scholarships.

Okay, let’s get back to focusing on the one thing: services.  At camp? Not boring at all. Sure, they’re tired in the morning, can barely keep their eyes open, but their peers are usually in front of the room leading the group, and this already makes things rather interesting. Plus, there’s a lot of interactivity and singing.  Do you have this mental picture?  Good.

Let’s switch now, to what they experience at their home synagogue. If it’s hard for you to keep a connection to services comprised of ‘readings’ interspersed with cantorial singing, how might they feel after just experiencing what they did for weeks in the summer?

It might not be too harsh to say that experiencing ‘services’ at their home synagogue amounts to listening to someone else chant—-like in a production where you buy tickets and wait for the entertainment.

If guests go up to the bimah (raised platform), it’s usually to offer a reading. Yawn.  But what about synagogues that hold a camp Shabbat honoring those teens who attend Jewish summer camps? Oh that? Yes, that’s when most often, campers are invited to lead prayers but not asked to bring their style of prayer to the “Jews in the Pews”. Usually the reason given is that people like to sing/read/chant what they already know….it’s comfortable. (I’m not making this up, I’ve been told this very thing).

It’s frightfully a sad state when there are no links, bridges, and supports from one experience to the other. There may be programs working on this, but I haven’t encountered any.

So, here we have Jewish teens who spend the summer being energized about a Judaism that is alive, pulsing, vibrant, and changeable, coming back home to experience a sterile, cold, inflexible environment. And again, I’m just talking about services. What should we do about it? Here are some suggestions for using the talents of our teens:

#1.  Mentor a group to begin a ‘camp style’ minyan (quorum) at your synagogue, even once a month for starters.  Or ask them to duplicate a service one Shabbat evening or morning.

#2.  Put one or more Jewish teens on your ritual committee to infuse it with some new ideas and approaches that they’ve learned at camp.

#3.  Give the teens a goal to incorporate one new and different thing from camp into synagogue programming for your youth.

#4.  Feature these Jewish summer camp experts as part of a panel that explores the ways in which the synagogue community can learn and be enriched by their experience.

#5.  Get these teens in front of your younger students to share their experiences and keep the legacy of Jewish camping a presence at your synagogue.

I bet you’ll notice a change. Even if it’s a really small specific one.

Related articles

Photo credit: Wikipedia


‘Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

What image comes to mind when you read the headline?

Is it the consummate Jewish nebbish, portrayed here by Woody Allen?

The words “You’re soooo0 Jewish”, said in that tone of voice, from one Jewish teenager to another, is not meant as a compliment.

So, what does it mean?

Really, take a minute.

What would it mean to you?

 

To this teenager, it meant that his Jewish friend was taking Judaism seriously, too seriously.

Not only was he Jewish, he was acting Jewish.

Forget that being ‘so Jewish’ is a little like being a human. You either are or you’re not.

But that’s not the point.

The comment was meant as a put-down, a derogatory statement about identity.

Clearly, there is no ‘cool’ factor when it comes to Jewish education for these students.

Okay, you’re wondering, what is it that this student is doing that makes his peers say he’s so Jewish?

He attends a supplementary high school program two days a week.

He’s in 8th grade, and says that he wants to graduate the program in 12th.

He belongs to a youth group.

He sometimes attends synagogue on Shabbat. And he sometimes studies with a Rabbi.

Okay, by now you’re probably convinced that his Jewish involvement is unusual, and you might be shaking your head.

Years ago, this student would not have been labeled ‘SuperJew‘.

On the contrary, that’s what thousands of teens were doing. Then.

Before their lives got so busy, complicated, college-focused and pressured. Now, based on today’s new realities and priorities, our expectations have changed. So, is the student I described s00000 Jewish, or have we bought into diminished standards?

What Jewish involvements are too much? Too little?

How do you feel about the term s0000o Jewish?

What I will say, is that the one thing, the Jewish identification thing, that will help Jewish teens be more grounded before they run off to college is the thing that tends to get low priority.

Unless of course, you’re “SuperJew” and one of the kids who is “sooooo Jewish.”


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!

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.

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“Jewish Education? I’m Done!”

You gotta read it to believe it. 

The following is an actual dialogue (with a name change) I had a few days ago with a student, now a junior, who left our Jewish educational program after 10th grade.

I was happy to run into him at a youth convention:

Hi, Adam, how are you, how have you been?

Hi. I’m good. You know I’m not there any more, I mean taking classes….

Yes, I know. I kinda noticed since I’m still teaching there.  We miss you. 

It’s because I’m done.

You’re done?

Yes, I’ve been Confirmed so I’m done with my Jewish education. My parents said that I didn’t have to go past Confirmation.

There it is. DONE. Like a finished bottle of water. “I reached the end (Confirmation) and now I’m DONE. Besides, my parents said I could be DONE.’

I continued the conversation a bit, and talked about what Jewish education means and perhaps that he might think about taking Jewish oriented classes in college.  Even Hebrew language.

He did not get this at all by the way, and couldn’t figure out why a college would offer courses in Jewish Studies, let alone teach the Hebrew language.

Did I mention that he’s a junior?

And that his parents are involved in synagogue life?

So,  in this post, I won’t even begin the conversation about Confirmation programs.

I just wanted you to know what’s really going on out there. Just in case we’re under any illusions about the enormity of the work we need to do.


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