“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: Judaism
A while ago, I reached some kind of milestone. I’ve been writing incessantly about a niche group within a niche group.
I’ve written over 100 posts on the topic of Jewish teens.
I am so lucky to have the opportunity to write about what matters to me in Jewish education.
When I started writing, there were virtually no relevant results for Jewish teens on my Google search.
Thankfully, that has changed, but many things haven’t.
The most important question we need to ask ourselves, especially in light of the Pew study, is “are we doing enough for our Jewish teens?”
Do we have answers for the following?
1. Day schools continue to be the darling of funders, who fail to realize that the largest percentage of Jewish teens are not going to day schools, despite scholarship incentives. Yet, students with at least seven years of supplementary Jewish education fare very well when compared to day school students. Why?
2. Serious (yes, I did just say that word) supplementary high school programs work, yet get no recognition for the leaders we send to college campuses, year after year. Why?
3. Research confirms that students are less likely to attend high school programs when they have negative experiences in elementary supplemental education, yet communal incentives are rare for encouraging teens to ‘try out’ programs. Why? (The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is taking a lead in this concept).
4. Hillels around the country don’t connect with Jewish supplementary high schools to help teens transition to their new environment. Why is there this incredible missed opportunity?
5. Turf issues continue to pervade many communities, even though some programs offer teens little choices for social and/or academic experiences. (Philadelphia, through an initiative called Jteenphilly is breaking ground in this area).
6. Teen aides in supplementary schools are generally not being served by that experience. Keeping teens in the building doesn’t mean that their needs are being met.
7. Studies have confirmed that once on the college campus, teens tend not to care about Jewish denominational lines, yet their pre-collegiate youth group experiences are most often confined to movement-related programming. Why?
I don’t get many responses to these posts, which for most, would be a red flag to do something different.
Somehow, I’m content to do what I’m doing, and hope that some things will eventually ‘stick’.
Plus, I know you’re out there (the stats confirm this).
I appreciate you–you’re that very special reader who cares enough to read about Jewish teens.
A recent New York Times op-ed article by Mark Bittman, the well-known chef and author, mentioned a new effort in agriculture. The proponent of this new system is a man by the name of Wes Jackson. He advocates for a shared system in farming. Rather than maxing out the soil with one crop only, how much more efficient it would be to plant crops that can co-exist, and even mutually benefit each other by being planted in near proximity. Not only that, the crops would come up year after year!
The author calls that a “perennial polysystem”. These quotes struck me: ”If you look around you’ll see that essentially all of nature’s ecosystems are perennial polycultures; that’s nature’s instruction book.”
“……In perennial polycultures, the plants may fertilize one another, physically support one another, ward off pests and diseases together, resist drought and flood, and survive even when one member suffers.”
What an incredible way to define centuries of Jewish history! Judaism evolved through processes of change, warding off challenges throughout the centuries, but we survive, as a polysystem.
The one-crop model is not nearly as efficient as the one that is sustained through diversity. There is much to learn from this.
We’re seeing struggles now that challenge many deep held beliefs about Judaism. We are going through an intense period of change. Yet, in some of our lifetimes drastic changes already took place, and we survived. Millions perished. Millions began anew. A new home became a haven. Now our new home faces yet more challenges, internally and externally. Judaism is being redefined as I write this, with many developing incredibly creative responses to continue the expansiveness that is Judaism.
Discussions about the recent Pew Study abound. What will we do with this information? How will we respond? What new developments will occur to meet these challenges? Every prophet made us stop and take notice, and we desperately needed their warnings. Let the Pew report on American Judaism be our substitute prophet, warning us so we can respond. The Perennial Polysystem of Judaism will survive this too.
- Contrasting Judaism and Americanism (dkquotes.wordpress.com)
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 (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- A fundamental flaw with much of Jewish education in America is that it forces us to view Jewish identity within a vacuum (dkquotes.wordpress.com)
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.
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?
- Why Should Our Teens be Jewish? (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- He Said / She Said: Engaging Synagogue Youth (ejewishphilanthropy.com)
- “You’re Not Invited”: Teen Victims of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Years and What To Do About It (jteennews.wordpress.com)
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
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)
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
- Judging Jewish Education by Fun
- Jewish Teens Need More
- Jewish Teens Reinvent the Synagogue
- Judaism 2.0 – A New Generation of Synagogue Websites
The Pot-Hole Problem
We’re already past pot-hole fixing season, so I can reflect on it with some degree of dispassion.
Disclaimer: I know not a thing about road-fixing, pot-holes, construction workers, unions. What I do know is that the cycle of pot-hole making and fixing has no end in sight.
Years ago, after driving over one particularly large one, I must have ranted about it, not knowing that my very young son, in the back seat, was particularly paying attention. He pointed his finger in the air and loudly exclaimed in a royal voice (obviously pretending to be some sort of king): “I declare, there shall be no more potholes on the byways and the highways.”
This became a family joke, since, really, if he had all that power, would pot-hole fixing be such a priority?
Well, now that I think about it, maybe.
Gaps in services in the Jewish community are what we all can agree on, but the short-term fixes are just temporary. Unless I missed something somewhere, where are the long-term fixes?
We’re all too familiar with the band of orange-clad road workers, guiding you past their work area (most likely in rush hour), with the knowledge that they’ll most probably be there again, in seemingly just a few short months,doing the very same thing.
Why, when it is perfectly obvious that pot-holes occur in the same spot every year, are we trapped into that model of crack, repair, crack, repair.
I can think of several reasons, all of which can apply to the Jewish community, just substitute ‘pot-hole fixing’ for ‘(teen) leadership development’:
- No one wants to invest in pot-hole fixing, it’s just not a campaign grabber or an interesting-sounding project
- Even though everyone agrees that it is a recurring problem, the money to fix the small problem is much more manageable than to fix the problem for the long-term
- It’s easier to redirect traffic in the short-run, than to try to convince everyone to get behind another method
- In some areas, different methods have worked, but wouldn’t necessarily apply to another (weather, traffic, road conditions, etc.)
- There is no overarching state agency that has the funds, to invest in the long-term solutions
- There are not many local organizations that would have the infrastructure to manage the above, since they’ve been designed for the short-term fix
A Command Center Approach
More disclaimers: There are wonderful programs that build teen leadership. But, we lack connectors from these programs to other programs. Missing are the follow-up programs and the links to the larger Jewish community.
Where are the natural bridges linking the teen years, the college experience, and mentoring from Jewish communal professionals?
Movements have talked about teen engagement, but for sure, it doesn’t seem that they’re talking to each other.
Birthright, agreeably one of the most successful programs to launch a young adult on the Jewish identity path, has no pathways from the teen years—although everyone seems to agree that reaching teens is crucial regarding Israel education and identification. Instead, what has happened, is that many youth-sponsored Israel trips have suffered because potential participants end up ‘waiting for the free trip’ in college.
Crack, repair, crack.
We need large, systemic changes. We need a “Department of Transportation” that truly cares about the road ahead. These changes are possible. We’re living in a connected world. We can pave a smoother road ahead.
(Warren Buffet is known for his preference for investments that pay off in the long-term).
- How We Are Shortchanging Jewish Teens (jteennews.wordpress.com)
Photo credits: Wikipedia
Some time ago, I wrote a post called What I learned about marketing from working at a Jewish Community High School. The “Aha, yes, you got it right” e-mails never came, but I wrote that post mostly for myself anyway. It was a way to help me clarify some of the challenges inherent in my part of the Jewish world, because getting buy-in from Jewish teens was just too impossible of a job and I needed to explore why that was so.
Well, things have gotten much, much harder. Then, I carefully outlined the primary reasons for the recruitment struggle, giving much detail of the built-in synagogue realities that make it even harder than anyone would think it would be.
Taking stock is a helpful exercise, but expecting change is another matter entirely. In fact, looking back, I was naive because I thought the challenges I referred to were the major obstacles to scores of teens signing up for enhanced Jewish education programs.
Boy, did I underestimate things.
What I didn’t experience so much then was turf, mostly because things just a short time ago, weren’t that bad. I’ve encountered it so much that I feel shell-shocked from the experience.
Let’s say that in a sea of drowning people, no one is going to throw you a lifesaver.
Specifically, no one is going to ‘share’ precious resources i.e. members. The Jewish community is in a period of deep change (though some have said chaos), and I can almost see the curtains being drawn and shutters being shackled as many organizations and synagogues are just trying to weather the storm and hold their own.
This behavior has not necessarily held true for the number of partnerships that are beginning to sprout up everywhere, albeit out of necessity. The economics of sustaining organizations has driven collaboration and that is a good thing to come of all this.
The issue I’m focusing on is limiting choices for others when the desire to hold on to them becomes paramount.
I respect and value the desire of synagogues to create ways of keeping their teens involved–especially as it pertains to keeping Post Bar/Bat Mitzvah teens on site—-we know how powerful Jewish role models can be, and that goes both ways. Jewish teens are role models for the younger students, and the professional leadership are mentors for the teens. That works.
Except when the teens themselves are being short-changed out of their own educational opportunities.
Holding onto your Jewish teens is wonderful, as long as you’re providing them with substantial, content-laden experiences. It’s just not okay if you simply want them on your real estate.
I’ve heard comments like “We just like to have them in our building” to “Our teens are needed here because they sell snack at break”
Sorry, but the way to have teens on hand, is not simply to have them give a hand. They need more.
Having classroom aides is not a bad idea in and of itself, when done correctly. As an experience that stands alone, I don’t think it gives teens a fair deal. Please read here for some of the reasons why I believe that to be true.
In order to ‘weather this storm’, there needs to be some long-term planning on creating better business models, one that allows teens some choices as to how they want to play out their Jewish journey.
The reality, is that building those skills now, of helping teens actively choose their Jewish involvement, is what may make a difference for Jewish continuity when they get to college.
Over 70 seniors recently graduated from a supplementary Jewish community high school. Why was attending cool for them, and not for their friends? Why are they, who have continued this far in an educational program past the age of Confirmation cut-off, in the minority? I know, it seems everyone is on this question now.
They made this choice, and they’re not odd, nerdy, or weird…so, what’s the deal here? We’ll get to that issue later.
In thinking about how to attract more of these dedicated and amazing teens, a good place to begin is with a report on recent research sponsored by the Jim Joseph Foundation: “Effective Strategies for Educating and Engaging Jewish Teens” . The report offers very concrete steps to take for a program to have sustainability, and many creative programs are listed, although not representational of an academic environment.
In addition to the dead-on recipe list generated by that report for programs to be successful (cool is not mentioned by implied), there are some suggestions I’d add, specifically related to an educational experience with curricular goals. Here they are:
- Make sure the program holds students accountable. Somehow, we’ve been led to believe that less is better (teens are so busy, how can they possibly have time for a weekly program?). This has not been true in my experience (I think teens elsewhere are not so dissimilar), as demonstrated by the large numbers of teens who show up every single week, despite mid-terms, finals, and scores of extra-curricular activities. Programs that count attendance and record grades are not ‘old school’. Teens have said that in their ‘regular’ world, earning a grade counts, so why shouldn’t this standard apply elsewhere in an academic setting? However, it is important to give them the choice, since not everyone is motivated similarly, and putting students in charge of how they’re assessed is an important distinction to make here. Most students are academically motivated and respond to programs that stretch their minds and challenge their intellect. When attendance and participation matter, it sends a message that their efforts matter.
- Offer well-crafted and executed experiences. Whether in the classroom, on a bus, in a museum, on the floor, in an auditorium…..make sure the program is memorable and worth the time.
- Get the parents on board. It helps if the parents have attended a similar program after Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Parents definitely ‘get it’ once they’ve experienced similar programs with substance. The social aspect, and why it’s important to have teenagers be with lots of other teens, is part of their own memories. If they were lucky, they also remember learning something too. However, it’s a hard upward climb for parents who have no reference point as to what the gains of such a program might be. Holding parent orientations, open houses, educational sessions for parents, and engaging parent advocates are some ways to mobilize parents who might help (but don’t expect them to come in droves, their kids pressure them not to be involved; ‘nerd’ factor at work).
- Hire phenomenal teachers, and continually offer professional development opportunities. The best teachers offer a deep knowledge of the subject area, plus a facility for informal, experiential activities. Classrooms need to feel like camp communities. Open sharing, unconditional acceptance, loyalty to each other, and regular contact all help set the tone. However, even the best teachers need guidance and opportunities for reflective practice.
- Get your teens to talk to other teens. This is probably the most difficult challenge of all. Plus, there is a disconnect I mentioned at the beginning of this post. While graduates talk about how much they’ve gotten out of the program, they don’t understand why others don’t attend. However, the tough truth is that teens don’t like to talk about the fact that they’ve chosen to attend an additional educational program besides their ‘regular school’. Can you imagine the following conversation?
Cool Student: ” I heard you go to another school besides this one….dude, is that right?”
Jewish Teen: ” Are you kidding? Me, take more classes? Are you nuts?”
Based on the dialogue above, there goes the recruitment opportunity, right out the window marked “nerd”.
So, numbers 1,2, 3, and maybe even 4 are totally doable. The fifth is a real challenge.
We’ve asked our students, who rate satisfaction levels above 80%, why they don’t tell their friends about it, and a version of the above is the response, peppered with comments like: “C’mon, this is on a Sunday morning, you think I’d tell any of my friends that I wake up early to come here?” “Unless there were chocolate cookies coming down from the ceiling, I wouldn’t tell my friends to come with me on a Sunday.” “Oh, there’s no way they’d be interested in this. This is too Jewish for them.”
We understand the difficulty. The question is, what are some ways to deal with this? Please, feel free to comment!.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Among students I’ve worked with, the majority are really not comfortable talking about Religion, at least in the way that American Judaism seems to define it for them. As they describe it, Judaism involves prayer to a Being they can’t comprehend or even believe exists.
Granted, these conversations are held with high school students, who haven’t yet been exposed to deeper scientific or philosophical thinking. They live in a daily world where logic and mathematical constructs rule supreme. The unknowable, the impenetrable, the effervescence of life itself….those deep thoughts might come later, after they’ve captured the basic constructs they need to.
But we do need to meet these teens where they are, and most remain dubious about what they call ‘organized religion’, and words like ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ tend to make them wince.
When I’ve probed, to explore these ideas with them, the responses I get come from their limited exposure to courses in science, biology, physics–all good reasoned and rational things to know in order to be an educated person. Thoughts of anything else seem to go against what they’re learning in a secular school.
This will not come as news to most, as there are studies from both Christian and Jewish sides about the disengagement of our youth, but this post is not about new initiatives or programs, it is about the conversations that never happen, even in the best of programs.
Those are the conversations that usually occur in camp late at night, or in a dorm room somewhere, where students might grapple with the inconsistencies of life in a deeper and longer conversation.
We are limited, in our once or twice a week programs, to touch students in this way. I’m not even sure if enough day schools are tackling these concerns.
How can we jump start that process? Here is one way:
I happened on this video, on of the University of Pennsylvania’s 60 second lecture series, and thought that it would provide a great trigger to these kinds of conversations. Lying Your Way to the Truth
The video explores the need to dispel any notion that science can provide truths: “Science lets us find out the truth at the independent intersection of lies” the professor boldly states. A Penn Professor at that.
I hope you will find this helpful. I’d love to hear the feedback!
A while back, I was listening to a televised lecture by Joseph Telushkin on Shalom TV about the differences between Jewish and American Law. To greatly paraphrase him, Jewish law is about taking responsibility. There are so many laws in Jewish tradition that are based on individual accountability: regulating weights and measures, building proper roof safeguards, being responsible for a student’s progress, even watching one’s words and the effect they might have on others.
American law stresses a person’s rights: The right to free speech, to gather in protest, to be protected from search and seizure, and more. Not that there aren’t areas of responsibility assumed in the laws, but the different emphasis is clear.
So, I am holding this information against my visceral response to the news of the past week that talks of the “Radicalization” of the Boston Marathon Bombers. I wonder to myself how the power of words influences the way we think. The image of radicalization to me is of someone being deceived, duped, or similarly drawn into a process that he had little to do with. It’s almost as if that person was dunked in a pool and then came out “radicalized”.
Someone ‘gets’ radicalized, it happens to them.
What does that say about personal responsibility? What does the use of that word say about our ability to regard the person as perpetrator or victim?
What is the message the media is giving our teens? They may be just taking this in at face value; after all, it’s the media. I know there has been much talk about this issue, but frankly, I’ve tuned much of it out, and have put serious limits on how much I will listen to concerning the bombers themselves, so I apologize in advance if all this seems like it’s revisiting the obvious.
All of this stuff however, does lead us to think of the many opportunities we have to engage in serious conversations with teens about this issue more.
What do we do in the face of evil?
Is there ever an excuse for violence?
How do we cope when we see how, in seconds, life can change?
What opportunities are there to see a totally different side than the one we’re seeing in the media?
How might you write this story? What would you want to know….and why?
- Jewish 100: Joseph Telushkin – Voices (algemeiner.com)
Life is busy, so how do we get the time to interact with teen-aged kids when everybody is literally on the run?
By the time teens are in high school, the time you may get to spend with each other may be less than an hour per day–including dinner.
Try to take that in. That’s an abysmally low amount of time to talk about the big stuff of life….that is if you ever get to it.
The constant pecks of life’s immediacies, like “When do you need to be picked up?” “When is that report due?” “Did you wash my uniform?” “What’s in the frig/freezer for dinner?” tend to take over any paltry time there is in a day.
It’s tempting to put off important conversations until there’s more time, but when does that time come?
In a very short time, they’ll be out of the house.
I remember when my oldest child was going off to college, the reality came crashing in on me when she came ambling down the steps, carrying an enormous amount of stuff and shifting her weight between the backpack and a duffel bag on her shoulder.
She was taking her stuff! She was really leaving—-and for the next four years, at the minimum, she’d have a home base somewhere else.
Questions and self-doubt came pouring in.
Did I use every opportunity to have meaningful conversations with her? Was she really equipped to be on her own? Had we instilled enough Jewish values so she’d have a strong foundation to draw upon in college? Would she select friends who would be equally concerned about values and ethics? Would she make the right decisions? Would she make those choice through a Jewish lens?
My questions couldn’t even begin to cover the doubts I had, or most parents might have, before sending their teen off to college.
So, how can you capture this very precious time before your teen bounds out of the house for good?
For us, the clock slowed its frenetic pace once a week, giving us an opportunity to capture special time that only Shabbat can allow. It was our time to take a breather, catch up and check in with each other…..on a far deeper level than the trivialities of the everyday permit.
It also taught us to make the most of every single conversation and interaction.
What does it mean to maximize conversation? Don’t let things go in favor of waiting for a ‘better time’. Most likely it won’t come.
The expression ‘don’t sweat the small stuff?’….mostly ignore it. Yes, for sure, don’t dwell on the little details of life that in the grand scheme, won’t amount to much one way or the other….but DO sweat about anything that has larger life implications—like things with moral/ethical underpinnings.
Regardless of your personal observances, having an island of time (as Heschel called it) is almost an essential approach in today’s frantically paced world. So, you might want to think about instituting something like it….and the period of time between Friday night and Saturday night is a convenient reminder.
First, when making that decision, you must ignore the eye rolls and shrugs. That’s part of the script that just is. You’ll need to get over it. Let the conversations begin.
Photo credit: wikipedia creative commons 2.0 license
- Catching Catfish: Real and Unreal Life for Jewish Teens (jteennews.wordpress.com)
- What Teens Get About the Internet That Parents Don’t (mashable.com)
The entire school was taking a trip to the relatively new National Museum of American Jewish History, located in Philadelphia. The museum, with thousands of historic treasures, interactive exhibits, and multi-media presentations, has caused many people to say that they could spend days there and not see everything.
Yet, we heard that one student, when he learned about the trip, went home and confidently told his mother: “I don’t want to go. I’ve already been to the museum once.”
The comment above is not specific to the museum. It is a catch phrase for all things that kids think they’ve already done, if they’ve done it once.
I remember working with a student on his course selections for the coming year. I suggested a class that I thought he’d find really interesting, based on his background. He didn’t ask me any clarifying questions, and without missing a quarter-note, told me assertively: “I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken Talmud!”
Put in whatever word works for you here, so that the comment would be equally humorous:
“I don’t need to take that class, I’ve already taken engineering.” (architecture, medicine, fine arts, or any area of study that could be endlessly interesting if someone had the interest).
So, how as parents and educators do we get past the “been there, done that” syndrome?
With patience, explanations, and the confidence that we know better.
We should never assume because someone is in school, that there is a deep understanding of the process of learning.
We need the confidence to communicate that when it comes to learning anything, revisits are important and necessary. Gaining depth of a subject matter, seeing things again from a new perspective, is a good thing.
Let’s think about that, and let that very thought bring sweet smiles to our faces when we meet at our Seder tables and hear “But we did this last year!”