Tag Archives: Jewish Teens

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Let’s not sell the Seder short by using educational techniques that are outdated.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


Four Simple Steps Teachers Need to Engage with Jewish Teens

See on Scoop.itJudaism, Jewish Teens, and Today’s World

This is for teachers in supplementary schools, particularly those who work with Jewish teens.  I’ve been invited to observe classes where teachers really feel that they’re doing a great job.

They feel that students are attentive, absorbing material, and advancing their learning.  I’ve seen some of the best, yet….there are so many that just seem to miss the mark.

How do I know?

They’re talking, and often teens are texting (under the desk or in pockets or defiantly, right out there).

There’s no excitement or signs of life in the class, save for the teacher talking, talking, talking in front of the room; center stage.

Their students’ faces belie boredom (why don’t the teachers see this?)

Here are four simple steps to take that I believe have the power to transform how you work with students.

1. Back off. Yes, sounds a bit harsh I know, but I need to make the point. Try ‘retreating’ from the space in front of the room. There’s no podium in the front of the class, so no need to stand there.

Test yourself. See what happens when you move around and view things from the back of the room—from their perspective.

Even more important, make sure that you’re listening for a greater percentage time than when you’re talking. That will do wonders by itself.   Get rid of the frontal dynamic by making sure students work in groups.

2. Ask questions. Good ones. Ones that don’t need a yes or no answer. If you haven’t mastered the art of inquiry, read up. There are tons of materials out there. Make sure you’re not just asking to ask…really pay attention to the responses and respond back. Every student needs to feel valued.

3. Get familiar with social/emotional learning and reaching students down deep. It makes for more impactful lessons. Focusing on making that emotional connection will help you make sure that you’re reaching all students, not just the ones who are either the most vocal or the most problematic.

4. This is so obvious, it’s embarrassing to say. But here goes. Know every single student by name. This is an absolute must and tells your students how important they are to you.  If you have a bad memory, ask them to make name placards and bring them with you. No excuse. Every student needs to be valued in this way.


Parents: Are you sure that your teen will ‘do’ Jewish in college?

Hillel has built some stunning buildings. Will your teen walk in the door?

Hillel has built some stunning buildings. Will your teen walk in the door?

What is the college campus like today?

How does it differ from when you attended and what new challenges will your Jewish teen face once there?

We know from several research studies that affiliation rates are on the decline, particularly among young Jewish adults. In addition, Jewish teens and young adults are feeling less of a need in college to differentiate themselves from their peers.

For sure, some students gain even greater connections to Judaism and Jewish practice once in college, but that is not the norm, even with the kick-start of a Birthright trip.

The Jewish community is rightfully concerned.

Here are some things to think about:

1. Having a Hillel on campus is not a guarantee of  a Jewish connection.  Hillel has made great strides in the way they reach out to students, but making sure that your teen wants that connection is the concern. Through a strategy focused on relationship building, Hillel-sponsored interns reach out to their peers  and engage them in participating and taking ownership of their Jewish journey. It has greater potential than anything I’ve heard in a while, but of course holds no guarantees.

2. Chabad also reaches out to students through a variety of programming, mostly focused on Shabbat experiences and learning sessions. But often that connection needs to be student-initiated. 

3.  On campus, just because an activity is “Jewish” doesn’t mean that participation by your teen will be a given. Jewish college students I’ve interacted with sometimes labeled those who were highly involved with Hillel as people they wouldn’t ‘hang out with’. Others described students who aggressively pursued Jewish social activities as “superJews”. 

4. Many groups compete for your teen’s attention, and some of those groups represent other faiths.  Peer pressure is stronger on campus than you’d imagine, students tend to ‘go with the flow’, especially in the early years of college. If the activity is perceived as ‘cool’, students are more likely to attend functions sponsored by other faith groups. 

5. Colleges are becoming less ‘religion-friendly’, not more. It’s a challenge for Jewish students to take time off for holiday observances, and colleges that used to have days off to accommodate  are stopping that practice in favor of being more fair to all religions. This is especially difficult in the fall, when most Jewish holidays occur, and students are just beginning classes.  During other holidays, when students are less likely to travel home, finding a Jewish community experience may be just as hard. 

So, what is one message you might take from this?

Don’t wait until your teen gets on the college campus in order to ‘do’ Jewish.

From what we know, chances are not great that a Jewish connection will suddenly flower.

Instead, make sure that Jewish education continues after Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the typical drop-off point.

Make sure they’re involved in Jewish learning during the high school years, the precise time when questions about identity, God, and belief tend to occur, so they’re ready for some of the challenges ahead.


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”.


One odd recommendation to help #Jteens reduce the academic pressure they feel

Enlightened teen  education

Enlightened teen education

What I’m about to write is counter-intuitive, fair warning given.

The phenomenon I’m about to describe has interested me for over a decade.

It’s the one big thing that I’ve seen make a difference in teens’ lives, often enabling them to cope with the stress of being at public or private schools during the day.

It’s attending more school –though of a different kind entirely.

They attend this school in the evening, or on Sunday mornings. Surprising, no?

It’s mostly a laid back school—a supplementary high school for Jewish teenagers.

Hundreds of Jewish teens attend a weekly educational program and absolutely unwind when they arrive. They rarely miss attending–despite upcoming mid-terms, papers, and after school obligations.

What do the teens mostly do?

They visibly relax, smile, laugh, and spend some down time with each other before, during, and after class.

They listen to each other, discuss interesting topics with skilled teachers who want to hear what they have to say.

It’s powerful.  

In what they feel is their own space, teens get to network with each other about strategies to cope with school, how to deal with upcoming tests, which study guides are best….and countless other tips shared with each other in a relaxed and supportive environment.

More school? Who would have thought…. 

Related Posts:

Do Jewish Teens Need an Ethical Tune-Up?

One Comment I Never Hear as a Jewish educator


What 7 of today’s top headlines tell you about teens today

Where's the good news?

Where’s the good news?

When it comes to teens, it seems that “Headlines” are usually “Dead Lines”….yes….news about deaths, teenage thugs, bullying, and more.

I’m tired of reading all this bad news about teens.

You might ask: “So, just look for the good news, what are you complaining about?”

It’s not that easy.

I get news alerts from Google and Yahoo sent to my Inbox, and generally what comes up, almost on a daily basis, is what you see below.

News

Tired teenagers may need a new mattressFree Malaysia Today  - 20 hours
The researchers found that teenagers’ mattresses were often too small to accommodate their rapid growth. Moreover, they were often worn out …

Teenage thugs locked up after brutally attacking cyclist for being ‘ginger’Manchester Evening News  - 25 minutes
Court is told that the four teenagers launched an ‘unprovoked attack’ on the cyclist as he stopped at lights in the city centre.

New wearable tech Ringblingz to help teenagers stay connectedNew Kerala  - 16 hours
Washington, Feb. 09 : A new wearable technology has been reportedly launched that helps teenagers stay connected based on the social media …

Teenagers held over car theftsThe Herald  - 2 hours
TWO teenagers have been apprehended by police and three stolen vehicles recovered after residents raised the alarm about suspicious activity.

Two Tucson teens arrested in murder plotFOX 10 Phoenix  - 11 hours
Two Tucson teenagers are facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder after Pima County deputies say they were plotting to kill an …

Cincinnati Police arrest four teens in weekend aggravated robberiesFOX 19 Cincinnati  - 14 hours
Cincinnati Police have arrested four teenagers in connection with two aggravated robbery offenses during the past weekend in Northside.

Russian teen project charged with “gay propaganda”Scoop.co.nz  - 9 hours
“The Children-404 project is being prosecuted for “gay propaganda” because it provides sympathetic, supportive advice to isolated, bullied, …

dam nearly finished

I’m not saying that teens are not often a troubled lot, or that teenage rebellion is something we should be surprised about.

After all, James Dean, Catcher in the Rye, and all that…..we’ve all been sensitized to the plight of the adolescent.

However, it is worse now with bullying occupying a virtual limitless space and even bigger social platforms where often teens feel unwanted, unloved, and ostracized.

I’m just saying that I need a break.

So please, to all of you out there working with teenagers or reporting about them…..just write more of the good stuff, if only so it takes up more space in my Inbox.

 

 


Do Jewish Teens Need an Ethical Tune-Up?

cheating

How ethical are today’s teens?

When given the chance to cheat, what would the teenagers you know do?

A recent New York Times article on the subject of Ethics in Life and Business explored the difficulty adults have in making the right choice.

The author says: “The problem, research shows, is that how we think we’re going to act when faced with a moral decision and how we really do act are often vastly different.”

How much more challenging is this for teens growing up in a confusing world of right and wrong?

Months ago, I was surprised to learn how teens defined cheating while defending their behavior.

Since the scandals of the 80′s, businesses and researchers were propelled to give ethics serious consideration and there is now a website devoted to the matter.

As the article states, the difficulty in teaching ethics is that there is a difference between the ‘should’ self (what should be done in a given situation) and the ‘want’ self (wanting to be liked, accepted).

I imagine that with teens, that ‘want’ self is really strong in the adolescent years.

Social media hasn’t made things any easier for them, where there is even more of a pull to be one of the crowd.

Academic pressure hasn’t helped either, with the resultant urge to cheat becoming ever stronger.

Based on everything we know, there is a real benefit to training teens in this area while giving them real skills to succeed in the world of business,

So, how to we hope to teach ethics to teens?

By practice. Repetition. Role-plays. Scenarios where teenagers get to act out their choices.

High schools rarely offer ethics as a subject area.

Monthly programs for teens can not begin to instill these skills, there’s just not enough time to make anything ‘stick’.

Jewish educators who meet with teens weekly have an exceptional opportunity to give them a much-needed tune-up.


“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.

astrostar

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.


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.


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?


Jewish Parents Who “Get It” and Why: Generational Gifting of a Jewish Education

Image

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.

Negative.

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?

 


“You’re Not Invited”: Teen Victims of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Years and What To Do About It

Mazel tov hats at a bat mitzvah

Party time (for some)

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


Why Should Our Teens be Jewish?

Being Jewish? Too easy!

Being Jewish? Too easy!

The image above came up in a Google Image advanced search (free to use or share) for “Why be Jewish?”.

The image speaks to the casual nature of being Jewish, and some might think that it actually pokes fun a bit…after all, how many Mountain Jews do you know?

The fact that we might just accept this image without even thinking twice, kind of makes my point.

Answering the difficult question “Why Should Our Teens be Jewish”  is an extreme challenge for parents and Jewish educators.

It’s a basic question that we will need to grapple with for several reasons:

1.     In today’s open society, Jewish values resemble good old-fashioned American humanistic values.

Kindness to animals? Check.

Respect for the elderly? Check.

Caring for the environment? Check.

Social and humanitarian causes? Check.

Well, you get the idea. Our teens are so much a part of the American (Judeo-Christian) value system, that selling them on Jewish values is tough.

Not only that,

2.     Jewish teens don’t perceive themselves as different from their friends, nor do they want to be different.

Religion is pretty much a non-issue among friends. In high school, most kids aren’t staying up into the midnight hours talking theology.

Chem? Yes.

Advanced Physics? Totally.

God? Don’t think so.

3.     Jewish teens aren’t so much interested in doing things that are devoid of personal meaning, and many rituals connected with Judaism have not passed                that test for them. What’s been missing is context.

Ritual without it is pretty empty, since there isn’t the automatic compulsion to follow ritual for halachic  (Jewish legal) reasons.

You can try this. Just ask them how important it is for them to….say Kiddush. Motzi.

Thought so.  (We’re talking about most Jewish teens here, not those for whom a context has been provided).

4.      Back to the God thing. In high school, Reason is King. They haven’t delved far enough into the sciences to really, really comprehend the mystery of it all, which when they do, (later, in college perhaps) can be an awesome and spiritual experience.

Yes, they’ll talk string theory, and quantum physics, but won’t really be able to absorb all of its implications. (Check out my earlier post: Thinking about Religious Truths and Scientific Lies, ). In short, they’re not there yet.

So, we have a job to do. Far more than even worrying about Bar and Bat Mitzvah drop-off.

We have to get them to want to be Jewish.  They need to Love Being Jewish. 

The very first step, is letting them see how much we love it. 

Photo credit: Deviantart.com “MountainJew” by grenadah


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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