Category Archives: Jewish Teens

Hiring Jewish teen aides? Five things you should know

I promise, keep reading, and you’ll get to my five suggestions. But first, some advice…..for a student named Rachel.

Here are some things about Rachel that you should know:

She absolutely loves working with kids, and has done so for the past several summers at a Jewish camp. The kids love her, parents rave about her as well, plus she has a lot of patience. In addition, everyone says that ‘she’s a natural’. And naturally, she’s thinking of majoring in elementary education. If she went to college, in four years, she would earn a teaching degree, and may even decide to go for an advanced degree. College costs are a real concern for her family, though her parents assure her that with loans, they will be able to handle the tuition payments at a state school. Just last week she was offered  a job as a classroom aide at an after-school program. For her, it would mean a real job and money. Now. She could save some money by living at home, at least for a year, and she could also save for college to show her parents that she is willing to help. Besides, she wouldn’t get to work in a real classroom until her junior or senior year in college and the after-school program really thinks that Rachel will be an excellent role model for the younger students, and taking the job would mean that she could make an impact on those children—-now.

What should Rachel do—work as an aide now or continue her education?

You probably are wondering why I’m asking the question, but please continue reading because you know I have to ask: what is your advice for Rachel?

Right about now, you might be thinking that this is a no-brainer. Would anyone recommend that she forego her own education in favor of the immediate: earning some money even though she’d be using her talents and skills? We know that society places a real premium on an education.

So, let’s take a leap and say that Rachel celebrated a Bat Mitzvah, and is being offered a job at her synagogue’s Hebrew School. What could be wrong with that?

In many synagogues around the country, on a weekly basis, students get paid to work in Hebrew schools at the very age when they should be furthering their own education. Sure, their choice is not necessarily to go off to college to earn a Jewish studies degree, but why is their own education sacrificed in order to hire them as classroom aides? I’m specifically talking about the many students I hear about each year who say that they can’t go further in their Jewish education because they’re working as an aide at a Hebrew school and would be too busy.

Here’s FIVE reasons why synagogues should supplement teen aide programs with an educational component:

#1. Why shortchange a Jewish teens’ education at this important time in their lives when they’re ready to intellectually grapple with Jewish ideas?

#2. Hiring teens creates ‘instant role models’ at your synagogue, but you’re also saying that really, continuing Jewish education isn’t nearly as good as getting a paycheck.

#3. Hiring teens makes the statement that there isn’t much to a professional Jewish educator, after all, someone who has just completed a bar/bat mitzvah is perfectly suited to help out in the classroom.

#4. Students working in these classroom rarely receive the additional support or training to deal with the many issues that come up or the questions they have.

#5. Instead of learning to change paradigms, and thinking creatively about Hebrew school options, students often cycle through the very ineffective system that they experienced.

A recent study regarding the placement and retention of close to 3,000 public school teachers found that when they were student teachers, they should have been considered students, and not teachers in order to get the support they needed. How much more so would this hold true for our Jewish teens placed in classrooms? 

Still, it is really wonderful to have the teens around, as a presence in the school. Additionally, it’s a built-in retention tool for engaging members past the usual drop-off Bar/Bat mitzvah age.

So, what is a Hebrew school to do?

Well, for starters, tell the aides that in order to work in your school they must be enrolled in further Jewish education (online, adult study, Hebrew high school—- something). An additional option is to offer teens a training program, to receive the much needed support I mentioned above.

Unless we do that, I believe we are failing our youth with this practice.


Jewish Teen Engagement: Do We Want to Win or Lose the Game

Place your bets on teens!

Place your bets on teens!

The Jewish community is the throes of change that at times seems to be at a dizzying pace, yet there are still so many obstacles that seem to discourage the participation of Jewish teenagers in Jewish life.  (I’ve written about some of them here and here).

By the time we figure this all out, we might have lost our chance.  The adolescent years is a time for making decisions about identity, but that opportunity gets lost in the wave of programs trying to perpetuate themselves, rather than perpetuating a relationship with the Jewish people.

This is best explained through a case study.

Let’s pretend you’re a teenager who is part of a synagogue community. Your bar/bat mitzvah was a few years ago.  It was a great experience, and as you said in your speech “all the work you had to do was worth it in the end”. Your parents were so proud.

You were glad to ‘be done’ but against all odds, you decided to continue in your synagogue’s Confirmation program. You were surprised though that 50% of your friends dropped out. They were too busy they said (but aren’t you?) or their parents said they weren’t going to  ‘make them’ attend (your friends told you their parents said they didn’t want them to resent their parents later).

So, now, from a class of 25, there are about 12 kids in your weekly class. You really enjoy studying with the Rabbi, and talking about the issues that matter to you. You really are beginning to see the relevance of Judaism in your life. Some of your friends in other synagogues have a different set-up, they work in their synagogue schools every week and earn some money. Sometimes you wonder whether that would have been better, since your parents talk about college expenses so much. But, you do like learning…..so much so, that you might want to continue—-even after the Confirmation ceremony, but the only option is Adult Education, and that would just be too…..uh…..nerdy.  You’ve heard that your friend’s synagogue has a class for 11th graders, but you don’t belong to that synagogue.

If you are lucky enough to find out about a community Hebrew high school that offers programming for 11th and 12th graders (some community schools are seen as competition to synagogue offerings), you’d be one of the few to do so, because by about now, there are 75% less of your friends who would have made this same choice (so now you’re down to about 3 of your friends). Your other friends were too busy (but aren’t you?) and they have college to think about (don’t you?) and get their grades up to speed (don’t you?). And chances are, your synagogue might not have shared this information with you.

If you find a program to attend, you might want to learn conversational Hebrew, or take leadership classes, participate in an internship program, or even take a college course. Little do your friends know that this experience will actually help get you into college, prepare you to think more broadly (your Bio-Medical Ethics class is so issue-oriented), and gives you so many chances to develop your skills in public speaking (you plan programs for the school), attend college readiness programs and establish relationships with teachers….not to mention the ‘street cred’ of being able to handle everything you’re already doing plus this academic program.

But you are one of the lucky ones, and you probably will be among the future leaders, simply because the education and involvement you’ve had puts you there.

So, with you, the Jewish community won. Your friends? Well, time will tell.


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.


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?”


the challenge of raising teens in a country missing moral clarity

Ethical clarity? Clueless

Ethical clarity? Clueless

The year is newly born, yet through the lens of ethics things feel quite stale.

The clarity that should come easily when as a country, we are faced with ethical challenges, eludes us and sadly, our teenagers.

This evening, the news reported that yes, in fact, the White House made a mistake by not sending a noted and visible government official to the protests in France. This admission by our leadership, came a full day after everyone was shaking their heads in confusion about why the U.S. was absent from such a history-making event.

On January 11th, Paris was the place to be, a place where world leaders and millions gathered to support the lofty goals that make us human.

The coverage yesterday billowed with those intangible ideals that some risk their lives preserving.

What could have been more clear than for the U.S. to show support not only for the freedom of free speech (#JeSuisCharlie) but for freedom of religion (#JeSuisJuif). Both exemplify the values our country was founded upon.

usflag

Ideals are the very thing that inspires our youth, especially Jewish teens. Our teens need to  see that the world has the capacity to stand up against anti-Semitism, terror, and cruelty. That’s the message that we would want our civic leaders to share.

In today’s times, when our youth need to grow up with a clearer ethical direction, instead they often experience the swampy murkiness of political correctness, hedging, and wishy-washy behavior.

Yesterday for me was a chance to purge ourselves just a tiny bit from the overwhelming heap of moral misses: cheating on tests by school districts, abuse by teachers, stealing by politicians, abuse of power by the famous and infamous, and an increasing distrust of those who serve to protect us.

What better time than now, to reflect on what has the potential to make humans great, instead of what havoc has been created from terrorists.

Our teens hear too much from the dark side and subsequently, the downside of being Jewish. The past year has been challenging to embrace Judaism and its future. This was the year of the Gaza war, the signed petition by university academics boycotting Israel, the increased visibility of the BDS movement, and the Pew report on the disaffiliation rates of American Jews that take their searches for meaning outside the typical synagogue experience. Hitting closer to home was the debate about Open Hillels and the USY controversy, creating many opportunity for rich discussions, but when not taken, just causing more confusion and bewilderment.

Yesterday, at least for that day, although I hope and pray for much longer, we could have thought about the fact that Jews are not in the freedom fight alone. There is a world of people out there who care about fairness, innocence and who are willing to call evil and terror just what it is.

Reporters worldwide were talking about Anti-Semitism in France, for the first time.

And Jewish educators felt vindicated: yes, there are these horrible things that happened and the world took notice.

Except their own country was not visible on that day. And yes, it was a big deal and a big loss.

(I wonder how the history books will retell the march in France….would it be noted as the historic event it was, or will be downplayed because the U.S. did not participate?).

It is up to us then, to make sure that the lessons of the day, unlike the transitory images on the screen, don’t disappear. I am embarrassed that my country did not choose to be visible and laud this event for what it was: an opportunity to gain moral clarity for our teens.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography.com


Surprisingly Simple Strategies: How a Presbyterian Church Reaches its’ Teens

All Teens Welcome

All Teens Welcome

What might other faith communities teach us, as Jewish educators, about engaging large numbers of teens in religious activities?

We clearly have what to learn, as more and more teens are opting out of Jewish learning past the age of 13, just as they’re beginning their adolescent journeys.

Recently, The Jewish Education Project hosted a webinar called “Interfaith Teen Engagement Exchange” with a team from the Christ Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.  The purpose was for us to hear how they successfully reach teens in a new engagement model.

Briefly, I’ll distill for you what I believe worked for them.

Some of the strategies will not give you an ‘aha’ moment, and even if they did, some would require a more long-term approach, as in building a culture of volunteerism with active lay leaders.

I’ve simplified things a bit by including several related things in one category. Where that was not possible, you can see additional notes at the end. So, here is my take on the three top strategies that help create their successes:

#1. Empower and train volunteers.

There was an entire system of engagement based on the tireless efforts of unpaid individuals. An army of volunteer coaches, mentors, house group leaders, and peer leaders are part of this model. The volunteers are on board with how important it is to give their teenagers a moral grounding both for socialization in high school and to ensure a connection with their faith later on.  All peer facilitators are trained before becoming a leader, and receive support from a coach or mentor throughout.

#2. Make the program goals ‘stick’.

Create a system of credentialing for leaders. The teen peer leaders have to apply for the position, then are interviewed, trained, and supported in their roles. They can, after a period of time and with further training, move on to other roles. Although the program seems informal at first, with a closer look there is a hierarchical structure that supports the structure and gives teens goals to achieve more responsibility (and status). There are requirements of time and attendance that are clear to volunteers and participants alike. In addition, peer leaders make a multi-year commitment to the program.

#3. Relationship-building is part of the program, not a by-product. Move from small to larger groups. 

The weekly program begins with teens participating in small groups (7-10) where they get to know their peers in safe settings. In those groups, they learn a piece of text that their peer leaders have already experienced in their own training sessions. The discussions are informal, but have a purpose: to relate the text to real life experiences. After the small group discussions, everyone moves to a larger session (100 or more teens). The focus is on fun, interactive, and dynamic experiences: a game, simulation, workshop, or contest.

Additional Techniques:

Branding: the levels of responsibility were given catchy names and logos

Getting out of bounds: An important part of the program was to create relationships within small communities. These meetings were held in people’s homes, with House Group Leaders in charge of the program. People willingly open their homes on a weekly basis to host these programs.

Frequency is key: The programs themselves were not that long (1 hour, 15 minutes from small to large group), but are held weekly. Again, relationships deepen when experiences are shared regularly.

Have you found these strategies to work in your settings?

What would aid in the implementation of such a model?

I’d love to read your feedback! Please share below.

Photo courtesy of wikimedia.org


Top Ten Questions You Should Ask When Visiting College Campuses Through a Jewish Lens

Finding your Jewish path at college

Finding your Jewish path in college

 

For my family, when selecting college options, it was never solely about the numbers of Jewish students on campus. It was more nuanced than that, because in today’s environment, there are so many more factors to consider other than statistics.

For example, a school may have a large Jewish population, but precisely due to that size, students might not opt for specifically “Jewish” activities when given the many choices there are in a large school.

So below is a top ten list of questions (actually ten main questions, with lots more in between) you might ask when selecting colleges that match your teen’s interest level for Jewish engagement.

Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, has a searchable online tool that answers some basic questions about sheer numbers of Jewish students, but does not offer specific answers to most of the questions below.

  1. Is there a Hillel or other Jewish options on campus (Chabad, Meor, Jewish Student Unions are examples). How far are they from the main campus? How well attended are the events they sponsor? Are there different choices for prayer styles? What is the attendance like? Are there students who take leadership roles? Is the staffing full or part-time? Does the Hillel consider itself an “Open Hillel”? Does the Hillel sponsor a Birthright trip?
  2. Is there an option for Kosher Dining on Campus? Is there open dining, so that students can eat at both places as part of the meal plan?
  3. Are there opportunities to major or minor in Jewish Studies? Is Hebrew language offered? If not, are there partnerships with other schools that have more choices? Will the school easily accept credits in these areas from other colleges?
  4. What is the environment like concerning Israel? Is there an active “Students for Justice in Palestine” group on campus? Have there been anti-Israel rallies? Is there a BDS movement on campus? Have any Israeli products ever been banned from campus stores?
  5. Are there travel abroad opportunities within the State of Israel?
  6. What is the school’s policy about Jewish holiday observance? Are there provisions on campus to celebrate Passover? Are there on-campus holiday services?
  7. Are there Jewish fraternities or sororities? Are they in the same location as other Greek groups?
  8. How many synagogues are there in close proximity to the campus? Is there an opportunity for students to participate at neighboring synagogues? Are there jobs in local synagogues for teachers? Youth group leaders?
  9. Has the college been in the news concerning issues surrounding academic freedom? Have the professors signed any petitions for political causes?
  10. What is the roommate selection process like?

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by this list, well….don’t. College costs are high, and the stakes are even higher. Ask away, then make a decision that is informed.

 

For more general information:

http://www.petersons.com/college-search/ask-experts-college-visit.aspx

 

 


2014 in review

Thank you for visiting Jewish Teens this year and reading my blog! Below are interesting stats from the 2014 annual report prepared by the WordPress staff.

concert-december-31-firework-3863-525x350

This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014, with visitors staying to read an average of 2-3 additional blog posts!

The next time you sit down for a cup of tea, I’d like to keep you company! Check out some of  my older blogs that are still relevant today, like this one: “Today I am a Brand”

cupoftea

Have you read the most popular posts from this year?

# 1     Teens Lose Out When Jewish Education Becomes an Activity

# 2     “Lesson-Plan” Your Passover Seder: Ways to Involve Teens

# 3    “You’re Not Invited”: Teen Victims of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Years and What To Do About It                                         This post was written in 2013, but still made the list this year

# 4     what parents of Jewish teens told me

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

If there are topics that you think I should write about, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Jewish teens are a very small niche group, if you think about the percentage of total Jews worldwide.

Where do readers reading about Jewish teens live?

mapworld

Most blog readers this past year were from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K, however there are readers from a total of 66 different countries!

Thank you for showing an interest in Jewish teens and Jewish education, and I look forward to your visits and comments in the coming year!

May you have have a Happy and Healthy 2015!


For teens who want to write a better college application

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be.....

Take five, relax, let yourself think about who you want to be…..

 

Before you read further, you need to know this.

I am not a college advisor, consultant, or guru.

But I am a mother of two who gave her kids and their friends some advice in how to best present themselves on a college application.

My experience as a career consultant, evaluating and helping others write thousands of resumes helped prepare me for the task.

Whether due to my editorial help or not, thankfully, my kids got into the colleges of their choice.

I can relate to the intense pressure right about now that teens face in finalizing applications and putting the finishing touches on that all-important college essay.

With the upcoming flurry of activity surrounding Thanksgiving, I’m sure most teens will not be really, truly thankful until the last application has been sent off to the seeming abyss of the college admissions office.

Although much of the focus might be on the college essay, you might want to pay equal attention to how your application (or resume) reflects the story of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Yes, you need to squeeze meaning out of every word so your essay (in addition to meeting the new 500 word upper limit for the Common Application) must be attention-grabbing. However, you can be equally thoughtful and creative with factual information.

Many teens overlook how they appear on the application or college resume.  Consider these points before you tackle the job:

  1. Know who you are. This is the most crucial thing you could do right now. Some call this ‘branding’, and although I may not love the term, thinking of yourself in the third person, as a brand so to speak, will help you define more carefully what you want to present. What are your interests, hobbies, skills? Are they reflected accurately in your activities? Could someone figure out what’s important to you by seeing the totality of your activities? If not, you may either have too many activities listed or too few. No one says that you have to write about every single thing you’ve ever done. If need be, edit out those things that don’t add meaning to your presentation. Being a marginal member of a group for a few years won’t add to the portrait you’re trying to paint.
  2. Learn how to write a resume. The experience will help focus you and help you limit your words. Make sure you use action words and show results where possible. For example: “created unique fundraiser that engaged over 70% of students, raising $5,000 as the most successful event that year.” is way better than “planned or chaired school fundraiser.”
  3. What experience can you share that will set you apart from the crowd?  Try to not to list things that are general, but instead show off your specific contributions. For example, “contributed to a monthly blog for the school paper that received regular reader comments….” instead of “wrote for the school paper” or “was a reporter for the school paper”. Similarly, if you list commonplace activities that all of your peers are also listing, well, it’s just ho-hum. Think hard about what you do that others are not doing. For example, taking additional academic courses shows that you’ll be able to handle a challenging course load in college.
  4. Show a commitment over a long-term to some activity, cause, youth group, camp, or educational experience, that perhaps led you to take on a leadership position. If you can articulate that, even better. For example: “participant in youth group for three years, taking on successive leadership positions and am now Vice President of Membership.”
  5. Make sure your language is colorful, descriptive, and not boring. Hopefully your personality will shine through and you’ll get to the college of your dreams!

Please comment if you have additional ideas to add, everyone will benefit!

 


Read the Scoop on What Bar and Bat Mitzvah Bios Actually Reveal

What happens after dessert?

What happens after dessert?

Synagogue newsletters: not everyone’s optimal reading material when finding a treasured bit of rare, spare time.
It doesn’t help that many feel like a throw-back to a different era with some of the most musty names like Beacon, Herald or Courier.
The part that I do enjoy reading, when available, is the pithy, brief biographies that young teens write (or have ghost-written by phenomenally proud parents) prior to their B’nai Mitzvahs.
Some are unbelievably artistic and have bios that rival Carnegie Hall performers: (names are changed, but quotes are exact)

“Shaya is an accomplished dancer (she enjoys ballet, jazz and hip-hop) and musician (she plays piano and guitar and enjoys composing, playing and singing).”

Notably the guys in the group, seem to breathe sports air:

“Jonathan is passionate about sports in general: baseball, tennis, squash, soccer and basketball.”

Some are jet setters, even at this early age:

“Shira loves her pets, piano, photography and travels to both coasts and abroad.”

Most are highly involved in the mitzvah part of the event:

“Steve has baked for Ronald McDonald House and helped clean up Yellowstone National Park.”
“Rebecca has been participating in Street Soccer, USA, a nonprofit that helps homeless men and women learn skills beyond the field, by playing soccer with as well as collecting donations for a Philadelphia team.”
“Max participated in the Little League Challenger Program in which he helped kids with special needs play and enjoy the game of baseball.”
“Michal is coordinating donation efforts to bring indoor sports equipment to the JBH playrooms and is organizing and leading several activity nights for the children.”

It doesn’t need mentioning that we want our teens to be active and involved members of the Jewish and American community. Plus, parents want their kids to excel in areas of their interest, and do important service and community work.

But isn’t it odd that the community service these teens accomplished did not occur within a Jewish organization?

Of the ten teens whose faces and bios are featured in the B’nai Mitzvah bios with accompanying meaningful descriptions of their activities, not ONE mentioned what the teenager’s plans were for continuing their education past the much awaited-for ceremony.

Not one.

Even though the information above is excerpted from one synagogue newsletter, from those I’ve read, this one was not unusual.If there is a template that all the kids follow, why is the question about continuing the journey of Jewish education missing?

Is not the ceremony part of an ongoing developmental process in a journey toward Jewish adulthood?

Beyond all the tumult, hype, sweat equity, and of course unparalleled joys leading up to the actual ceremony, we have to ask ourselves questions about why so often the very purpose of the ceremony seems to be absent.

Even in the best case scenario, when I’ve seen teens communicate their intention to continue a commitment to further their Jewish education from the bima (podium), it doesn’t seem to appear in other places.

So, I ask again, why is their place in the Jewish community of the future a mystery?


The New Pew Report on Parenting, Priorities, and Faith

will your family values fit on a T-shirt?

A Pew research study says that families have much in common when it comes to values about parenting.

According to the website the findings “are based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted April 29-May 27 among 3,243 adults, including 815 parents, who are part of Pew Research’s new American Trends Panel, a nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults surveyed online and by mail.”

The study isolated values such as responsibility, hard work, obedience, being responsible, helping others, curiosity, and more.

What the study reveals upon closer examination however, is that parenting takes an entirely different turn when it comes to faith. As a value, it scored relatively high [although only 31%  of  parents say the teaching of religious faith is one of the most important values to teach children, it ranked third against the top two–Hard Work (44%) and Being Responsible (54%)].

Looking more closely however, the value of faith ranks close to the bottom when factored for ‘net importance’ i.e. how it stacks up against the other values overall.

So, compared to other values, faith scores only higher than curiosity among the twelve values.

One can play with these figures of course, and for those of us for whom religious education is important, we can certainly salve ourselves by saying that after all, having faith includes so many other values….

But we know better. Faith as a value, as something we aspire to, as something that we strive for……..is in crisis, and has been for some time.

In a recent conversation with an Education Director at a very large Reform synagogue, she bemoaned the fact that many of her teen-aged students, enrolled in private schools, tell her that “since they are doing volunteer work with their schools they are fulfilling the mitzvah (commandment) of  ‘Tikkun Olam” (Repairing the World through Service), and that they don’t really need to be at the synagogue anymore.

Ouch.


Teens Lose Out When Jewish Education Becomes an Activity

How Much Time to Spend on Jewish Education?

How Much Time Is There to Spend on Jewish Education?

People are setting into new routines and school is still in its start-up phase.

Schedules are being rewritten, dates are being calendared, and carpools being arranged.

From the myriad of after school activities that teens get to choose from, the options become dizzying. How can parents prioritize?

There are those activities that just might nail a college scholarship.

Then there are those that show the ability to be part of a team and as a plus, perhaps gain a honed skill in a much desired sport.

There are also those that demonstrate a level of creativity and talent.

Or a willingness to volunteer for a great cause and work towards an intangible goal.

Or demonstrate leadership by taking an active role in student government.

The choices are really endless, the goals often meritorious, and the pressure to succeed is on.

But what about the opportunity to talk about the larger issues in life?

What about teens who need to ‘download’ their day within a Jewish context—especially now when we’re confronted with so many moral and ethical challenges?

In the past few years, there are many more students who have stress-related disorders, and getting them at younger ages than ever.

The pressure to be busy has intensified, and Jewish education is suffering as a result, because it becomes a choice about which activity to do.

But what is the reality?

Actually, most teens have more time on their hands than parents realize…like spending the equivalent of almost a full day involved with social media: In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “Today’s teens spend more than 71/2 hours a day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games, and that number has surely increased by now.”

Teens: Making the right choices?

Teens: Making the right choices?

So, if we get rid of the time obstacles, what might some other barriers be for today’s teens to participate in a regular Jewish educational program?

1. Cost might be a factor. Welcome to the age of “free”. Some would say that it all started with Birthright trips and the expectation that it was important enough for young adults to have a memorable and strong identification with Israel that trips were/are free. Other freebies followed suit in the manner of free Hebrew schools. So, actually paying for a program is not a given anymore.

2. Lack of commitment from Parents. Some parents are hard-pressed to make the tough decisions to have their teen attend a supplemental Jewish education program, not wanting to ‘force’ their kids to do anything that they might not automatically be drawn to. Some have said they are afraid their teens will ‘resent’ this later. (my experience is just the opposite, so many adults have said to me, after learning on their own or through an outreach organization, that they wished their parents ‘forced’ them to learn when they were younger).

3. No experience of their own to draw upon. For parents who themselves did not continue after the age of 13, (or didn’t pursue the extra education mentioned above), they don’t know what their teen will be missing, and therefore can’t ‘sell’ the concept.

4. False choices. Some parents think a ‘Jewish activity’ is important, but limit their teen’s participation to one thing, reinforcing the idea that Jewish education needs to ‘fit’ into a greater scheme of commitments. This is more difficult to understand and accept when the one thing is only a monthly program!

5. De-valuing of the Jewish educational experience.To a certain extent, we can choose to blame Hebrew schools as a convenient scapegoat, or we can look deeper into versions of “American Judaism”  by-the-movements that did not speak enough to the deep need people have to connect. (Many have written about this, read further from authors such as Wertheimer, Sarna, Schwartz, Wolfson, etc.)

6. Parents are tired. Some say that their kids don’t want to have to 1. wake up early or 2. get home late, but often it is the parents themselves who are beat, can’t/won’t do one more carpool, shlep to one more activity. And this brings us to the point of the post. 

Avraham Infeld is famous for saying “Judaism is not a religion.” What I’d like to add is “Judaism is not an activity”. It’s not what we squeeze in or have to fit into our schedules. It’s who we are. It’s about who they will become.

It’s what teens need time for….to figure out how Judaism plays a role in their lives, now and in the future.

Let’s at least make sure our teens are not losing out on this opportunity.


Three Jewish Teens: Lives Lived and Lost

yahrzeit

 

 

 

We lost three teenagers today, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel…Baruch Dayan HaEmet…Blessed is the Righteous Judge…

In the tremendous tragedy of the loss of such young teenage lives, I am left wondering if many of our Jewish teenagers in America are truly aware of what happened. Or care.

This is truly a painful question to ask.

Yehi zichronam baruch—May their memories be for a blessing…our hearts go out to their families and friends for the pain that must feel like it will never, ever end.

For some of us, this loss is felt quite deeply, as if our own family was torn apart.

But what of our teenagers here in America? Is there a similar feeling among our teens that their peers are feeling in Israel?

We don’t want our children to ever experience pain, but Israel’s similar wishes for their teenagers already passed that point.

There’s loss woven into the entire fabric of the country.

Do American Jewish teens have a special feeling for the collective Jewish family?

Do they feel connected in any way with other Jews around the world?

I fear that they don’t.

Why not?

The world is made smaller via internet, so we should be more connected, not less.

But I know that this is not true.

This was not an active topic on social media, where our teens tend to live.

In fact, the absence of sharing about the loss of these three teens on twitter was gaping. Likewise elsewhere.

Why is it so different for our teens today? How can we work on making them feel more connected to the Jewish family as a whole?

Do we need to wait for birthright and Pilgrimage trips for this to happen?

This tragedy occurred when our teens are busy with their own lives. They are not in our weekly programs when we can discuss this with them, debrief our communal pain, and talk about the sense and senselessness in life.

For teens who are by now at Jewish camps, they will have a collective community in which to share their grief.

For other Jewish American teens who are not so connected, they hopefully will have conversations in their homes and synagogues.

But I also know that the reverse may happen…that this tragedy will be lost amidst the shuffle of every day life.

The question worth repeating here is how can we help our Jewish teens feel more part of K’lal Yisrael, part of the Jewish family?

If we first stop to ask this question of ourselves, our efforts will be more meaningful for the future.

Let’s work toward this goal.

 


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