Tag Archives: Judaism

For our teens: what does it really mean to be Jewish?

 

What does it mean to be Jewish?

Is this what it means to be Jewish?

 

A portion of this post can be a lesson plan for Jewish teens, with the image above as the trigger.

It would be an interesting exercise and not entirely out of context as a beginning to a discussion about Jewish values (that is, if Google defines our context).

The photo came up in a Google Image Advanced Search (free to use or share) for “Why be Jewish?” and struck me immediately as a conversation starter for this topic.

So, if showing this on a projector to a group of Jewish teens, some introductory questions to ask them would be:

What is your first reaction to this image? What strikes you about this picture?

How does this image make you feel?

What does this image say to you about Judaism? Jewish life? (the whole concept of talking about life within the framework of death is a teaching moment in itself). (Psalm 90:12, Psalm 39:5, The Kaddish, etc.)

What are some of your thoughts about Jewish belief?

It might be interesting then, to move from the image toward their personal beliefs about being Jewish.

What defines them as being Jewish? Push hard on this question…don’t accept answers that are superficial and have been called “bagels and lox” Judaism.

For us as parents and Jewish educators, answering this question for ourselves is primary, and not at all an easy task.

List at least seven things that define your identity as a Jew, and you might ask the teens to do the same.

It would make for a very rich conversation.

With that completed, you  might move on to your responses to why should our teens be Jewish?

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.

Then the hard bare reality might hit——many of us don’t want them to feel different either….since we may well remember what that felt like. (So, what do we do with that? )

Among most teens that are not in day school, religion is pretty much a non-issue among their 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 an 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 making sure our top seven answers are substantive.

Then we need to let our teens see how much we love it. 

 

Photo credit: wikipedia.org

This post is an updated version of a previous post called “Why should our teens be Jewish?”


what parents of Jewish teens told me

parentmeeting

 

I recently had the privilege of meeting with parents who attended informal meetings designed especially for them in locations across Philadelphia.

All the parents I met with are parents of teens who attend a weekly post Bar/Bat Mitzvah supplementary high school program, and the discussions were held over a period of several months–on Sunday mornings or evenings, or weeknights.

A few months ago, we asked parents to complete an anonymous online survey (survey monkey), and the response rate was extremely high at 30% . Where relevant, I’ll include those results as part of this post.

What I learned might surprise you…..or not.

Parents shared a lot in these informal discussions, but it was also interesting what I learned by inference from those parents who did not attend.

What I learned from Parents

 

#1. Parents of these teens are really, really tired and really, really busy.

Or really, really not interested in coming out for a meeting to discuss a Jewish education program where their teen attends. I can tell because we had a very low response to these meetings. However, parents did not seem to mind filling out the satisfaction surveys and wrote in plenty of comments to ponder.

For the most part, the parents who attended the meetings seemed just as busy as those who didn’t—-and even they were puzzled as to why more parents did not show up.

I was less surprised, as over 30% of parents responded that they weren’t interested in additional programming that we might offer them.  Others opted for parenting workshops (13.8%),  Adult education classes (23%), or Social programs (26%).  The largest percentage of parents  (43.7%)  were interested in College Readiness Programs, which brings me to point #2.

#2. The pressure is on. Parents of students in middle school were curious about college credit options in the program. This no longer shocks me. It did shock me 10 years ago. I’m sure the teens are feeling it either directly, or by proxy so to speak. Their teens are stressed and overworked, and it’s a question as to who is picking up on the stress from whom. That would make for an interesting  and valuable Parenting/Teen workshop.

#3. Parents appreciate the space their kids have in our program to talk about ethical and moral choices: they are pleased that they’re learning “Judaism’s view on_________________ ” (insert trending topic). They feel that there just isn’t time in a school setting to delve into the issues, let alone offering a Jewish context for those choices.

#4. Parents who attended are vocal about the reasons why sending their teen is important, although a large percentage seem very hesitant to make this a ‘have to’ if their child, for any reason, was not happy.

#5. Back to #4, Happiness seems to trump everything. Very few parents were willing to force the issue if his/her teenager did not want to continue.

#6. Parents want their kids to have a wide social network, and are concerned when their teens are not connecting socially with others in the program. For some teens, this is their sole Jewish connection in a neutral and casual setting. It is essential therefore, that we build social support systems into our program, to ensure that teens feel part of the community. This means more mentoring programs, linking students with each other beyond the usual ice-breakers,  and seeing that we continue to provide a safe space for all.

#7.  Some of the parents who send their teens to us are still in the “Hebrew School Drop Off Mode”….meaning that our program is just one more activity to which they are shuttling their kids.

In all, it will take some effort to create the partnerships we are aiming for, but I believe we are up for the challenge.

Photo courtesy: sha3teely.com


Jewish Teen Education by the Hour

How much time is too much?

How much time is too much?

How many hours does it take to become knowledgeable about something?

I know, it’s a very broad question….but try to humor me. Your task is to become more learned about Judaism…..to become literate.

How many hours would you need to spend?

Okay, got it?

For comparison’s sake, students spend on average, 181 days per year in a K – 12 school environment, which translates into approximately 900 or so hours per year.

Many people don’t even think this is enough, especially when compared with the more rigorous school schedules of other countries. (And we know the U.S. is continuing to lose ground in the education of our youth).

Hourly disputes aside, no one would say that at the end of high school, one’s education is complete if mastery of a subject area is the goal.

Yet, (you know where I’m going with this), at the end of just  few short years in Hebrew school, at what amounts to a paltry number of hours, parents and students are calling it quits. (This post is not directed at teens enrolled in a Jewish day school).

Think about it…..if you’ve been to college and are reading this….how many “credit” hours did it take as an undergrad to major in something?  And if you added all the studying to those credit hours, what number would be your total?

More importantly, as a result, if you had to rate your knowledge about the subject, what score would you give yourself on a scale of 1 to 10?

(I’d love to read your comments on this).

When I googled the topic online, wiki answers provided me with this clarification of my question: “How many hours in your major do you need to graduate from college?” and generalized (though varying from institution to institution) that between 30 and 40 credit hours suffice for a major, with general agreement that each credit hour represents at least 15 hours of class time (exclusive of studying time).

So, back to Jewish teens and post B’nai Mitzvah education.

How many hours do you think teens should devote to learning about their heritage, language, culture, history?

Remember, these are the years when critical thinking kicks in…and teens can begin to wrestle with beliefs, tradition and change.

So, how much time in total per year? 

How about in aggregate, from between ages 13 – 18?

So, in all, how much time on the clock does the average Jewish teen spend on learning about Judaism?

I think the answer would astound you…..it shocks me.

In the best case scenario, where teens attend a Jewish educational program at least once a week, the time they spend watching TV is more than twice the amount of time spent learning about Judaism.

That’s the best case–and kudos to the parents and teens who are at least making that choice.

What does this say about the teens who are in monthly programs? Or those who are not participating in any learning during the academic year?

Malcolm Gladwell aside, we don’t need to create 10,000-hour experts, but teens wouldn’t even rate in any bare minimum category with the limited hours that are devoted to Jewish learning.

Years ago, a teacher I worked with said that parents were only interested in (this will sound dated) “Kodak Judaism”. When I looked puzzled she said “They’re only interested in exposure…as long as their teens are exposed to Judaism, that seems to be enough for them.”

Right about now, you might be thinking that immersive experiences offer the perfect answer…after all teens are living Judaism non-stop for hours on end in a Jewish summer camp.

The problem is, our teens are Jewish all year-long, not just in summer. Otherwise we’re perpetuating our own pathetic version of the well-worn campaign “What happens in Jewish summer camp, stays in Jewish summer camp”.

Somewhere, between exposure and 10,000 lies a reachable goal. We need to get there.

Related Posts:

Judging Jewish Education by Fun

One Comment I Never Hear as a Jewish Educator

Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely


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


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.


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 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. 


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