what Jewish teens taught me about family values

English: Heart Planet Earth

Last week I was figuring out a way to teach eighth graders the value of Shalom Bayit (Family Harmony–Peace in the Home).  With teens going through their own struggles for authority in that realm, the notion  of peace and family harmony might not strike the right note. 

The last thing I think they’d want to hear were clichés and platitudes about the topic and I could just imagine the yawns when introducing it.

I couldn’t argue with that.  Would anyone in the class disagree with the concept of such a positive sounding value?  As a teacher, how could you explore that further in a way that would inspire a lengthy discussion?

I needed to find a way in to this topic and create some educational tension.

So, I decided to become “MojojoBo”, an alien from another planet.  In that way, the students would need figure out how to teach the subject matter to me.  The students would need to explain teachings to this being that ‘their people’ practiced, focusing on  Shalom Bayit and family values. Since MojojoBo had a family too, it was an easy place to begin.

I began the class in character, with accent, stunted staccato speech and all.  Corny? Definitely. Campy? For sure.

MojojoBo wanted to be convinced that as a people known as “Jew” they had values surrounding family, preservation of tradition nad mutual respect. I gave more details to MojojoBo’s story so students would have a context and not get caught up in irrelevant details.

I divided the class into groups to study the textual sources. Their task? To break down the language in very easy to understand words and concepts so MojojoBo would understand what they were saying. That meant that no prior learning about the topic could be assumed. They had top break down words and concepts like ten commandments, Torah and Kavod because MojojoBo wouldn’t understand the meaning.  They went to work deciphering the texts, figuring out the best way to explain them and selecting the best ones to convey the concepts.

Taking turns, the groups made presentations. The quote “A home where Torah is not heard will not endure”  instead became: “Your home, where your family lives, needs to be a place where you can learn the teachings of your people. Not only learn them, but talk about them everyday so every one in the family understands why they are special and needs to continue being part of this people in days and years ahead. Your home is where that begins.”

I was riveted. I wish I had a video. These are today’s teens, who often get shortchanged for not being connected, being too self-centered and not always very respectful. I am hearing them say these incredible things about respecting parents, valuing tradition, being partners with God, holding back anger, commitment to Jewish peoplehood, and MORE. Their responses were stunning. I know the lesson would not have gone this way if I had used a more traditional approach.

They were teaching me things I didn’t even know they were thinking, let alone feeling, about their homes, parents, God, and spirituality. I will miss MojojoBo but will bring that dear, sweet, alien back whenever I need to learn from our amazing teens.

Image via Wikipedia

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About Ruth Schapira

As a Jewish educator and consultant, I hope to spur new ideas through this blog to hopefully inspire conversation and motivate change within the Jewish community. I'm interested in making a difference through training, leadership development, and outreach. View all posts by Ruth Schapira

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