“It should be remembered that any group that is willing to treat Israel and the Jewish people differently from any other and to deny it rights they wouldn’t deny anyone else is demonstrating prejudice.” Jonathan Tobin, “What Jewish Students Really Need”
Tag Archives: Jewish
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.
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
- How We Are Shortchanging Jewish Teens (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- How to Make Jewish School Cool for Jewish Teens (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- He Said / She Said: Engaging Synagogue Youth (ejewishphilanthropy.com)
- RAC Blog: Seven Things to Do When Teens Come Home from Jewish Summer Camp (blogs.rj.org)
I’ll paint the picture. Last night I chatted with a group of three 9th grade teenage boys, hanging out in the synagogue lobby, waiting for a ride home after attending a community pluralistic supplementary Jewish high school program in suburbia.
What I didn’t know, is that right in front of me, was such a rich representation of Jewish teen life.
Typical teens. Phones in hand, either texting or waiting for one. Yet they were so willing to answer my questions after I introduced myself.
“So, how are you guys doing?”
“How’s your time here been?”
“Cool, we like it.”
“Glad to hear it! So, do you “do” anything else ‘Jewish’?”
The three of them proceeded to tell me what they do.
They’re active (hold positions on committees) in the synagogue’s youth group, USY. There’s more.
They also attend a Jewish summer camp sponsored by HaBonim Dror (not affiliated with the synagogue/youth group). There’s more.
They also participate in a once a month boys-only group sponsored by Moving Traditions.
They also just started high school.
How do these boys have the time?
Do they get more hours in a day than the average teen? Are they more organized? Less social? Less academic?
No. No. No. and No.
You can figure it out. It ‘s what sets some families apart from others. We know who they are.
They’re the ones who know that for teens, multiple connection points to the Jewish community is proven to be a good thing—for character, and all those other intangibles I’ve written about previously.
That’s what the studies haven’t been able to quantify.
Who are those parents? What drives them to make the decisions they do? How can we support them? Find more of them?
- Jewish Teens: Do you want to be the same or different? (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- When You Say “Jewish Community,” Who are You Talking About? (jteennews.wordpress.com)
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.
- Parents: Will your teen ‘do’ Jewish in college? (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- One in 6 U.S. Jews seeking Jewish expression outside of synagogue (jta.org)
Photo source: wikimedia.org