Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

“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. 


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.


Some important questions you need to answer about Jewish teens

Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew (Photo credit: pellaea).             I’m a wondering Jew

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.

Posts about parenting, marketing, college readiness, Jewish identity, school aides, cheating, allowed me to share observations and frustrations.

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.

Thank you!


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


How to Make Jewish School Cool for Jewish Teens

English: Self-made Star of David in Adobe Illu...

Judaism: Where’s the cool?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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


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