Tag Archives: Jewish teenagers

“What if I don’t believe in God—am I still Jewish?”

what are we teaching teens about belief?

what are we teaching teens about belief?

A confident, tall, yet boyish 11th grade teenager asked this question of Rabbis who were participating in a panel called “Ask the Rabbi Anything”.

The teen who asked the question wasn’t just any boy–he is already different from most other Jewish teens his age.

He’s attending a supplementary school program one day a week and working as a Hebrew school teacher’s aide a second day.

His plan is to earn a Teaching Certificate at the end of a two-year program.

Yet, he had a concern about whether or not the community considered him Jewish simply because he has doubts about God.

The good news?

He received warm and thoughtful responses by all Rabbis that I’m sure allayed any concerns he had, plus gave him plenty of things to grapple with and think about.

There were about 45 other teens in the room that seemed really interested in hearing the answers….so we can assume that the question resonated with them as well.

So, what can we learn about from this very important and urgent question? 

We need to create the space for teens to share their feelings of doubt.

How well have we taught our teens that asking questions is the beginning of a journey? 

How many of the teens we work with feel discomfort about faith? God? The bible?

How many teens might turn away from Judaism believing that they don’t quite measure up to some arbitrary definition of what a Jew is?

Judging from the thoughtful questions the teens asked and the depth of their comments, it was apparent that they experienced a wide open and accepting space to begin to figure things out, and for me–I was happy to share that space with them. 


Writings about Jewish Teens: 2012 in review

The WordPress.com team sends me a summary e-mail at the end of the year (complete with fireworks!) that lets me know my progress (I’ve been blogging for two years) and more about what you, the readers of this blog, find interesting to read about Jewish teens.

There is a list of the most viewed blogs–can you think of a better motivator?  Even in my very, very small niche world, this list gets compared (ready?) to the number of climbers of Mount Everest! See below.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 12 years to get that many views.

See what I mean? Here’s the list:

A Few Top Posts from 2012

1. From Jewish Camp to Synagogue: Five No Brainers

This post talks about the chasm experienced by many campers when they return home after a summer injection of Judaism, and what synagogues can do to bridge the gap.

2. Judging Jewish Education by Fun

What are the trade-offs between programs that offer fun and those that offer content?

3. Five Things Parents Should Know

I know what you may be thinking. People seem to like the number five. (See number 1.) Interesting, no? These are things that parents should know about Jewish education for their teens.

4. Hiring Teen Aides? (Full disclosure: this title had the number five in it too, but on my end, it’s just how many tips I wrote at the time).

Synagogues use/hire teen aides in the classroom for all sorts of reasons. Here are some reasons to think about the intentions of these efforts.

5. One minute, three reasons why Jewish education helps teens focus on what’s important.

The title pretty much says it.

6.”Please feel free to contact me….”Advice for #Jteens and others

I wrote this in response to an e-mail I received from a job applicant, and found the comment an ironic one from a person wanting to make a favorable impression.

7. “Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

I wrote this post after hearing a student tell this to another student in a Jewish values class. It’s interesting to see the students’ take on just how “Jewish” things are.

One more thing, a 2011 post made the list, and you can read that here:

What I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish community high school 

You might have missed some of the ones above, or want to read more about Jewish teens. Hit the subscribe button, and you won’t miss a thing!


Chanukah Ornaments? How some Jewish teens voted

A friend of mine who works for a collectibles company sent me an e-mail last week with a curious query. The company is considering developing a  a new line: Chanukah ornaments. These could be placed either on a “Chanukah Bush”, Christmas tree, or a small miniature metal ornament tree (next to the menorah, probably).

Would I (or anyone on this list serve) be offended? I wondered how a group of Jewish teens would react.

English: A bauble on a Christmas tree.
 

I thought they’d have a lengthy discussion about values, lifestyle choices, religious symbolism.  The conversation was over faster than you can say “December Dilemma.” I was ready to bring on the choices: A Star of David? Hamsa? Dreidel? No one was interested and told me they found the idea offensive.

They thought that Christmas and Chanukah were already over commercialized, so why add to the array of ‘stuff’? By the way, some of the teens who were the most outspoken came from intermarried families.

Not that I have an interest in the success of collectibles, but I proceeded to ask them what they thought about re-purposing the items…what if they would hang them from a car mirror? Locker hook? Nope.  Okay, so I just wanted to make sure.

They wouldn’t buy it. So, what do you think?

Do you agree with these outspoken teens who desire a get-back-to-basics approach?

Lest you think they are against paraphernalia, don’t kid yourself.  They are totally ‘gadgeted out’, it’s just that it seems they have their limits.   How would you respond to this question?  Would this work for your family?

Image via wikipedia


“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.


Why Do We Hate Teenagers?

The New York Times logo

Image via Wikipedia

Did this headline grab you? You’re not unique. It’s what seems to work for newspapers and television.

This is what I read in the New York Times this morning: “Raising a Teenager? What’s Not to Hate?” Not exactly what I like to read with my morning coffee, and I found the wording pretty distasteful.

What I wondered is how many click-throughs that headline got. But it got worse.

The article turned out to be a review of a tv show debuting tonight and actually said very little about teens and their parents. Except when the author made this indictment of children and teens everywhere:

“There’s nothing wrong with hating children, and teenagers all but ask for it.” 

I don’t think the writer said this in jest; the article was more serious than that.  Now my distaste has turned into disbelief and way more than dislike. I’m disarmed.

Why do teenagers seem to get a bad rep?

They are our future leaders, our creative spirits, and sometimes our conscience.  They make us think about who we are and what we represent. They ask great questions.

There have been countless times, when planning programs  in different venues, that the proprietor asked “You mean, your program is with TEENAGERS? How many? Will they be supervised? How many chaperones will there be? Are you insured? Has this been done before?

Even in the space our school shares on a weekly basis, there is an attitude that during break time ‘the kids are loud, create a mess and hang all over the furniture’. 

Break time is what I love.  There are close to 150 teenagers, all hanging out together, connecting with each other and their cellular devices…and it’s all good. 

Put that into a headline.


What today’s Jewish teens are ‘okay’ with

KJeanPhotography. Use does not imply endorsement

My weekly experience working with a class of 8th graders serves as a counterpoint to the doom and gloom I’ve read about lately in studies that report on the current state of Religion in America (specifically those concerning Jewish youth).  

The students are upfront, forthright, and spiritually aware and are not afraid to talk about what they do and don’t believe.  They have already formed some really strong opinions about Jewish belief and practices, though it was evident from our talks that they are looking at Judaism through fogged glasses (no fault of theirs, their education has been limited).  

We need to pay attention to what they really need, and not what we think they need.  Even if we didn’t change anything about our current organizations and programs, and continued with things just the way they are, we’re already missing countless opportunities to help students create a meaningful Jewish experience.  

About 45% of these students attend this supplementary high school twice a week.  About 25% go to a Jewish summer camp (they see it as a social, not a religious experience, and go to be with their friends).  About 75% have older siblings that are or have been in the program.  Yet, most haven’t discussed their ideas, feelings, and opinions about God…either with their parents, siblings, or friends. 

Not because they wouldn’t want to, but because the subject never came up. I asked what they thought about that, and they said they were ‘okay with it’. 

When we talk about what their conception of God is, they are surprisingly articulate.  Some retain the ‘puppeteer’ idea (that God is pulling all the strings and is responsible for everything) while others see God as a ‘helping hand’.  Some don’t believe in God at all. These ideas will all be explored with them in future classes, but in the meantime, catch the following:

In the year immediately preceding their Bar/t Mitzvah they do not remember any serious prolonged conversation with a Jewish professional (educator/clergy). They were not asked about their beliefs, doubts, concerns, or what they thought about God.  They seemed not to expect more, and were ‘okay with that’ too.  

They remember that they were busy with the pre-ceremony stuff: speech writing, practicing chanting, public speaking skills.

When they were asked questions about their present and future connection to Judaism, predominantly it was through a youth group lens: would they join? Be involved? Take a position? 

I asked them about these things. It’s not that they wouldn’t have wanted to engage in deeper conversations, it’s just that they weren’t asked.  And yes, they seemed to be ‘okay’ with that.

I’m not. I’m not fine with ‘okay’. Not in the precious time we have with them. Are we settling for just ‘okay’ when it comes to how they will connect with Judaism? 

What if we began to have these types of conversations with our teens? On a regular basis?

Even if we create the smallest pinholes of opportunity, light can come flooding in.

It’s not that they’d mind, and actually, they’d probably be okay with that.

 
 

Teens and the Road to College

Finding your path

This year, thousands of high schoolers will be entering college. Sometimes I think they have things way too figured out, and am not sure whether that’s good or bad in the grand scheme of things.  

For example, I was interviewing an internship candidate who just completed her junior year in high school. I asked her what she thought she’d enjoy taking in college. Her response was not a version of:

 “I’m not sure yet” or

 “I haven’t given that much thought” or

 “I have no clue, just feeling good about finishing out the year” or

“I’m waiting until I get to college to work that out”

She proceeded to tick off two to three very specific careers she was thinking of pursuing: pediatric dietician work, or pediatric emergency medicine, and a third which I can’t remember because I was still in awe after hearing the first two.

Although she hasn’t yet selected a college, she’s pretty sure of what her path will be once she gets there.  What is wrong with that? Don’t we want our youth to be focused and thinking ahead? I doubt this bright young junior is the only one who has these things all worked out, yet it seems to me that the time of exploration and wonder has been way too condensed.  

College used to be the place that you could spend a year or two sampling courses, musing about majors, optimizing degree outcomes, and generally taking some time to work things out.  It was like experiencing an all-inclusive educational buffet and sampling a range of offerings.  Now it seems that the pressure is on to have a career path in mind before you arrive. 

There are all sorts of reasons why this has occurred, many of them economically driven.   Many colleges, complicit in this, pressure students to declare an early major.  The risk of not doing so may mean thousands of extra dollars spent on courses that may not ‘count’ toward the final destination. 

Overall however, we might be pushing our teens too hard and not letting them swim in the soup of indecision long enough.


%d bloggers like this: