Category Archives: Life

What do you want to read on a synagogue sign?

 

thou shalt not.jpg

We live in a visual world, right? So why not go with that? My morning commute is peppered with the various church signs I pass on my way to work. I wonder who actually writes these pithy things.  Is there a team of writers in a back room somewhere brainstorming a year’s worth of compelling sayings to post outside on the church lawn? Do they mail a smattering of weekly messages to the church elders who get to select which ones to post on their outdoor billboard sign? Seriously, who writes these? I smile as I drive by signs like “Yes, We’re Open Between Christmas and Easter”, “Home Improvement Needed? Bring Your Family Here”, and “What’s Missing Here? Ch….Ch. UR!”.

Signs like these are old buddies, enticing you in, knowing your faults but pretty much accepting you as you are. “Haven’t been here for a while? Don’t worry, c’mon in, you’re good here.” “Having a bad day? I can relate. Stop by”. The welcoming spirit is what these churches advertise, it’s what they’re about, and they know it, and they’re just waiting for you to come around.  Take a peek at these church signs which are so engaging to read.

Not so with the synagogues I see. When I Googled (in images) ‘synagogue signs’ not a one made me chuckle. They were all quite boring, actually. Not exactly like a beckoning buddy, but an authority figure; more staid, formal, and reserved–and sometimes even indifferent: “Here’s our name. Isn’t that enough?”. “Here’s a list of services and times.”

Am I wrong? Sometimes you can’t even tell it’s a synagogue that you’re passing by  –fear of ensuing graffiti? Attacks? Perhaps. On the whole, synagogue signs don’t accuse you for not believing, cajole you to enter the sacred space, or even seem to welcome you in. Lack of judgement can often substitute for apathy. Okay I’ll admit, there might be some signs that say “Welcome”, fine. But sometimes being so mild-mannered can be construed as disinterest. We all know that person who doesn’t want to ‘intrude’ in our lives by asking us questions, but to us, it just feels as if the person can’t be bothered.

What I do see sometimes are program announcements on billboards: “Rockin’ Shabbat”, “Shabbat Under the Stars” and once I even saw an audacious sign that proclaimed:  “A Synagogue You Can Believe In”.  Take that one in and let its spiritually arrogant message sink in. It’s revealing that the sign is about the building. Really? I’m going to join because of that? What exactly are synagogues of today offering? The most common thing I see on signs is the word “Free”. If a consumer message is what is displayed, what else would someone think about?

Why should the synagogue downplay its message? Are we that insecure about our spiritual lives? Perhaps we’re not as clear as we think about who we are and what we communicate to the outside world. So, what would you want to read on a synagogue sign?

 

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How to Deal With Angry Words in Troubling Times

 

Can you stay calm in an angry world?

Can you stay calm in an angry world?

I almost can’t watch the news anymore. For me, no matter what channel I turn to what I hear are words that seem to incite an emotional response and cause me to feel a great deal of angst. Reporters and screen crawlers alike parse out words and headlines that increase my heart rate, making me very anxious about what to expect (or not) next.

I am definitely on overload. I can tell because right about now I could use a strong dose of several Hallmark movies just to offset all the negativity that surrounds me. Or a Disney film. Anything without violence, terror, bloodshed, or senseless killing. There’s enough of that via the media that seeps into my home on a daily basis.

How do you respond internally to all of these caustic attacks? Does it affect you? Do you want to turn off the TV? Do you want to shout back?

I believe that we are affected by all that’s around us, including the words and images we let in, and that we also contribute to our reality by either accepting things as they are or by doing something to offset it.

Words matter. According to some Jewish traditions, the entire world was created with words.

Whether or not that is your belief, we all know that words have an immense ability to create, change, and mediate our reality.

We should not take words lightly. I remember this acutely after Yitzhak’s Rabin’s assassination, when there was much in the media about the verbal incrimination and incitement that led up to it. Libelous terms were casually used, and the level of poisonous words escalated when reporting about the opposition to his pursuit of peace. An account on CNN’s site last month (on the anniversary of the assassination) said “They called Rabin a traitor; some went so far as to liken him to a Nazi SS officer.”

Our own American reality has changed in just the past few weeks. Terror shootings have shocked us all. The death toll in just the past few months is beyond belief.  The ways in which we cope with the portrayal of these violent acts tells us more about who we are as a society than more benevolent times. How are we coping with this?

Many reporters, politicians, and pundits try to top each other by using acrimonious labels, venomous attacks, and ever more harsh statements. Reading or hearing these words would have shocked most of us just several months ago. We have to be careful that these experiences do not become our new normal. Very careful.

How can we possibly change what’s already happening? By doing what we can in our own small circle. I know this might sound very simplistic, but by making sure we behave the way we were intended to be–with honor, civility, and kindness, we can create a reality that is very different from the one we’re constantly exposed to.

We can change things by focusing as much as we can on our own choice of words.  Be more aware of the words you use to describe something you don’t like. Dare to do the opposite of what you’re reading and hearing.  

Speak more kindly.  Use even more care with how you speak with others. The power of your words will affirm that creation is Good.  “And God saw all that God had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:35).

 

 


“This is not Camp!” How Parents Can Be More Welcoming

CampLake

If your child is returning home from overnight camp, expect that your laundry room will be filled with the dirtiest, grimiest piles of clothing you’ve ever seen since—well, never. Is it a surprise that you’re contemplating just chucking the whole lot and starting over for the coming school year? After all, do you really want to put the items with stained evidence of sleep-outs, mud slides, s’mores and who-knows-what else into your nice, shiny, clean washing machine? Though it is a formidable machine (which in some cases ought to pay rent for the space it takes up in your home) clearly intended to do the job of cleaning all manner of dirty clothing, you just don’t believe these clothes will ever be clean, no matter what the ads say.

(I’d like to introduce you to my new blog….please continue reading here on “Double Take”, and let me know what you think!)

Double Take


My Advice to Parents Before Your Teenager Leaves for College

College readiness for parents

Dorm stuff? Check. Water? Check. Values?

For those teens who have hopefully garnered enough college acceptance letters to make some choices, parents will need to make some choices too.

In a short time, your son or daughter will be packing bags to embark on a most amazing journey of self discovery at a college.

How does this new change redefine your role?

In what ways will you need to re-adjust your definition of parenting?

What would you say would be the best outcomes for your teenager during and after the college experience?

Do you both have the same set of expectations?

Recently, at a parent workshop on college admissions, several parents were very concerned about their child’s employability after college.

This is understandable. After all, college expenses are high, and in our culture, we’re very concerned nowadays about ROI (return on investment).

One set of parents explained that although their daughter was very interested in the arts, and it was her passion since elementary school, they felt that majoring in that field would be ‘a waste’, since it would be hard to earn a living after graduation.

Another set of concerned parents said their son, who loved sports in high school, was determined to attend a college with a great sports team, so he could try out and fulfill his desire to play baseball. However, they felt that his focus should be on a career instead, and since they felt that he didn’t have the skills to make the team, and he should redirect his focus now toward something more practical.

What is your priority for your teenager’s college education? Would the same outcome goals satisfy you and your teenager?

Should the main goal of college be to prepare your child for a job? Prepare your child for life? Give your child essential experiences to develop character? Encourage and develop passions? Create a lifelong network of friends?

In the examples above, it took some effort to redirect the conversation from the concerns centered around monetary success to ones that centered on the goals of a college education.

In recent years, I’ve seen increased pressure on teenagers to determine their life goals while in high school…in order to ‘maximize’ the college years. I remember being very surprised when a high school sophomore told me that she wanted to be a lawyer, in the business side of the entertainment industry, primarily negotiating contracts with singers.

Curious, I asked if she had taken a career inventory, or read a book on career development, or completed a career workshop because her goals were so specific. Her response was that her parents thought that since she was interested in singing, choosing that career would be a way to for her to make a lot of money.

So, what do you really want for your teenager in life? Are those the same things that your teenager wants?

This might be a great time to talk with your teenager about how you and he/she defines success.

Having all the dorm paraphernalia is important, but more important is having one of those conversations of a lifetime, so all parties have their values in alignment before bags are packed.

Image: http://www.flickr.com labeled for non-commercial reuse

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Jewish Parents: How to decide the best option for your teen this summer

Summer: a time for choices

Summer: a time for choices

 

Jewish summer camp.  Arts classes. Internships. Specialty Sports Camps. College Prep Programs. Travel programs. SAT summer prep classes. Employment. Volunteer work.

The list of options for what teens can do in the summer can go on and on.

As the list gets longer, the frustration grows proportionately. How is a family to choose? In addition, there are a multitude of factors that also need to weigh in: the family’s work/life balance as parents juggle their own work schedules and vacation time, funds available at a time when resources are at a premium (pre-college), plus taking into account your teenager’s specific interests and career goals.

No wonder why so many parents are feeling overwhelmed. How do you help your teen choose what to do? What takes priority? The choices above are amplified by the following questions:

  • Should your teenager take on an internship?
  • Or do volunteer work?
  • Or use the time in the summer to prepare for college entrance exams?
  • What about taking a leadership role in an activity…is that off the table for the summer?
  • Should your teenager begin working so he/she learns responsibility and the value of a dollar?
  • How about making sure that your teen shows continuity by enhancing skills in a sport or activity that he/she excels in?

Another way to help, is for you to reflect back on your own summer experiences.

Which summer options continued to stick with you a long time after and why?

What would you have wished to do if you were able?

What mistakes did you make that actually contributed to the choices you’ve made now? (In other words, thinking about the positive outcomes of choices that might not have been the best might ease any guilt you might feel now of not making the perfect choice)

Here is my recommendation: select those activities that will continue to have meaning later in life.

When high school is a faded memory and your teen is already immersed in college–what activities will have made an impact?

Try thinking through summer activities with those goals in mind, despite how tempting it might be to fulfill short-term needs.

And I need to say here that you might just need to make sure that your teenager is occupied everyday while you’re at work. I get it, it is tough out there, no question. 

If you are thinking about what would be best for the college resume, college counselors and admissions officers have told  me that after reading thousands and thousands of applications, they can see through the haze of shallow but well-intentioned lists of extracurricular activities that have breadth but no depth.

So, you need to maximize your teen’s time, short as it is. So, keep in mind that the grander purpose of these activities is to give your teen something that will add to his/her character, something that will have long-term meaning.

Photo credit: wikipedia

Are you struggling with summer decisions? Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.


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.


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