Tag Archives: Jewish community

One New Way To Join A Jewish Community

Judaism = Community

Judaism = Community

This season, when so many emotions surge through us, it is comforting to be within a community. That’s part of the grand design, for Jews to be together to usher in the New Year. We collectively hear the shofar’s urgency of now and decide that this year, things will be different….we’ll be different. But one thing is stubbornly the same and I need to write about it.

For those who were not part of a synagogue community last year, has their situation changed? I’ve spoken with many people who don’t connect to the formalized Jewish community and miss the experience of belonging. They were once members, somewhere.

Yet they haven’t received any personal communication to return to the synagogue. Not a letter, not a phone call. I wonder what their experience is of Klal Yisrael and what our obligation is to them? (For the most part, these issues don’t arise for those who identify as Orthodox, as their entire experience of community is different).

Their feelings of being separate must hurt and are in total opposition to the goal of feeling close to G-d and community. The pain they share with me is palpable, but often buried.

Most synagogues don’t have the volunteer power to do outreach. Yet for years, as a communal educator, I have listened to stories of exclusion peppered with harsh memories and I feel helpless. The problem is so overwhelming.

Programs like ‘public space’ Judaism, online workshops, concierge services or outreach spiritual leaders are part of innovative responses to this growing problem of disconnected Jews.  But for those who are searching specifically for a re-connection to their synagogue, personal outreach is required. We need to initiate teshuvah  by encouraging them to return.

Sometimes the reasons for leaving a community have to do with finances so we need to change the dues structure paradigm by thinking beyond the synagogue. Ultimately, it might cost more to exclude those we are not reaching. If we want individuals to belong to a community, then we need to offer wider access to that community. Right now, our definition of belonging is defined exclusively by which congregation someone belongs to.

For example, my experience is that even if a synagogue event is open to the public, people from neighboring synagogues don’t attend. I’ve witnessed this phenomena multiple times, though I don’t understand the behavior at all. So, how can we make others feel welcome in any synagogue in a given community….without feeling that they don’t belong? Because every Jew in a Jewish community belongs.

A community could establish a communal membership fee, whatever amount works for them, on whatever scale, which would be a way to say ‘you belong’. A person would then be a member of all synagogues in the area. This manageable fee could be an option for people who are new to an area and want to ‘synagogue shop’ for a year or two. Or it could be for those who would like access to a wider range of social programming.since prayer may not be the way they connect to the Jewish community. The fee would also work for those who are already a member of one synagogue but elect to additionally support the Jewish community in this way. There also might be levels of giving to reflect these different needs.

Just imagine, everyone could feel part of the community, with no artificial borders and boundaries.

If some of these discussions occur, then next year, when it comes time for us to think about Teshuvah, we might just agree that the return to an old paradigm is worth a change.

Related posts: 

When You Say Jewish Community, Who Are You Talking About? 

Patchwork Fixes Don’t Work for The Jewish Community


Why Be Jewish? Rabbi Sacks Responds With A Most Compelling Answer

This piece is so important to read in its entirety. Please go to the link below.

via Why Judaism? 


Why Jewish Organizations Need To Be More Like The Food Industry

Fresh and Appetizing!

Fresh and Appetizing!

Fortune magazine recently published The Food Issue and I was struck by how the CEO’s of major food corporations are facing head-on the huge loss of market share and consumers. I mean large corporations: Campbell’s Soup, ConAgra, and Hersheys just to name a few. A top analyst in the business stated that the top 25 companies have lost about $18 billion in market share just in the past few years: “I would think of them like melting icebergs, every year they become a little less relevant.” 

Since I’ve been on the front lines, witnessing the many ways in which Jewish education is trying to transform itself, the iceberg analogy above sounded all too familiar to me. The issues we may think are isolated are not endemic to Judaism. It seems that much larger organizations need to restructure, regroup, and refocus. So I read on, wondering how the leaders of these corporations were tackling these difficult issues, and if there was anything Jewish organizations could learn from their approach.

One thing was clear, no corporation was pretending that the loss of market share was a fading or fleeting trend.

There seemed to be very little ego involved in these corporate leaders’ decisions to rework things in order to gain footing. There was also recognition and some frustration that it would take time for an upswing to occur.

So, I took in what they said, and found commonalities in the list below:

  • People want simplicity and the companies are striving to deliver: by collaborating with other food purveyors, buying smaller, successful companies, or developing entirely new product lines to meet the demand. There is an honest appraisal of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, resulting in adaptations that are essential for survival.
  • The consumer’s desire for fresh means that the recycling of old products, i.e. “new and improved” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Customers are discerning and pressed for time. There has to be a new, relevant, approach that appeals to the consumers’ needs for what they want, when they want it. Brand loyalty is not generally a factor.
  • The customer wants authenticity and integrity above all. Slick packaging or as one CEO says “the barn on the package” (referring to the false advertising of wholesome nutrients) doesn’t fool the customer into thinking that the product is all natural. There has to be substance beneath the product.
  • Large organizations, with lots of structural barriers, are at a deficit when they aren’t able to move fast enough to meet the demands of the marketplace.

Many Jewish organizations are in the midst of enacting some of the changes, but many are stubbornly hoping the tide will turn back in their favor. Time in this case, is a luxury that the Jewish community just can’t afford any longer.

Related Posts:

Judaism As A Polysystem.

Praying for Pluralism


Redeem the Passover Seder from Stereotypes

SederBoys

Free these sons from the bondage of labels.

The apocryphal story of the “Four Sons” has been a part of every Passover Seder I’ve ever attended or hosted.

The seder has a unique and beautiful educational premise: how best to involve the younger audience in the story. One way it does so is by encouraging the questioning process about the meaning of Passover. (For ideas on how to involve teens click here).

The picture above is from one of the Haggadahs I inherited from way back when, and depicts the types of questions that are archetypal of the four personality and character traits of those who are/should be asking questions at the seder.

This section comes immediately after the recitation (often by the youngest in the crowd) of the four questions as to “why is this night different from all other nights.”

Translated, the Hebrew descriptions above are:

  1. The Wise One
  2. The Evil One
  3. The Simple One
  4. The One That Doesn’t Know How to Ask (questions).

Credit goes to the artist for keeping gender references away from the Hebrew wording, although the pictures make things pretty clear that it’s the boys we’re talking about.  (Why the text only identifies sons is not a discussion I’ll be pursuing here).

The Haggadah proceeds to relate an example of how each different child asks questions and the adult’s proper response to that question. (You may want to refer to an actual Haggadah. For the content, you can find an example here).

This is where we need to redeem the children from their bondage in the Haggadah.   There is a greater picture here that we shouldn’t miss. Let’s not promote the stereotyping of learning styles but instead think beyond labels toward inclusion.

Contained in the question and answer descriptions are so many possibilities for encouraging an open discussion about values, education, ethics, parenting and more.

They are in themselves, triggers for so many additional conversations:

  • Getting Beyond the Labels (i.e. what is your definition of wise, evil, etc.)
  • Effective and Ineffective Communication Styles
  • What Happens When We Don’t Ask the Questions
  • Parenting Approaches
  • Learning Differences
  • Rebellion vs. Evil Intent
  • Effects of Being Labelled
  • Intelligence vs. Wisdom
  • Prejudice
  • Inclusion
  • Multiple Intelligences

As long as Jewish culture, history, heritage, and values are part of the discussion, any one of the conversation starters above has the potential to engage all participants, drawing everyone into the Seder’s emotional netting. Hopefully, this will bring the original intention of the Haggadah to life.

I wish you and your loved ones a Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

Related content:

Outcome based Parenting

What Does It Really Mean To Be Jewish

Family Values


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.


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?”


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?


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.

 


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

Lesson Plan your Seder!

Lesson Plan your Seder!

 

The Passover Seder is considered by many to be the consummate family education event.

This inter-generational experience can create indelible memories, savored for years, long past the momentary taste of yummy matzo balls floating assertively on top of your soup bowl.

So, why are so many seders…um….boring?

Try table reading at this Seder!

No shortage of readers here. (An historic seder with new immigrants at an Israeli Kibbutz, might have been the opposite of boring!)

Don’t settle for the all too common reading-around-the-table routine, a time-honored tradition where those around the table take turns reading from the Haggadah.

That technique might remind you of your junior high history class:  “Good morning class, open your books to page 129. Susan, please read the paragraph at the top of the page, and then we’ll go around the room and everyone will take a turn reading….”

This can be compared to the fun one might experience while watching water boil. Seriously, reading aloud in turn is a slow process with an extremely high degree of predictability–at some tired point you do get to the end.

Let’s not sell the Seder short by using educational techniques that are outdated.

Since the Seder affords us such an undeniable educational opportunity, why not plan for it the way one might plan a lesson?

What would that look like? Well, think about set induction, varied activities, opportunities to engage participants using multiple sensory experiences, asking deep questions of meaning….and you’ll be on the right track.

A sample of ways to engage Jewish teens might be the following triggers:

I. “Let My People Go” is a powerful statement in the Torah.

Why is this not recounted in the Haggadah?

What does this say about Leadership? Can one stand without the other?  

II. In a sense, this idea of obtaining a people’s freedom spurred on a revolution, which has had ripple effects even today (think of how many people are demanding self-determination).

How might you communicate that concept today in a way that people would respond? Think of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. What #Hashtag would you use? What would be your update? What would your 140 character message be? 

III. Powerful statements have offered rallied people behind a cause. Think of: “If you will it, it is no dream”, ‘I Have a Dream”, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” , and not to be too trite, but even “Think Different” (apple’s tagline from its early days). Is there a statement today that resonates with you? Why or why not? What other sayings can you think of that you might write to inspire others? 

You get the idea….forget the predictability and go for the unknown.

Isn’t that what the Seder is truly about? Our ability to tell stories and pass them on through the generations is what brought us as a people to this point in time.

For sure, those themes are what teens can relate to: safe versus risk, small minority versus the ruling power, predictability versus self-determination, freedom versus responsibility….just think about the rich conversations that could be going around your table!

I wish you and your loved ones a Chag Kasher v’Sameach!

 


What many Jewish adults regret—do you?

Do you want a 'do-over'?

Do you want a ‘do-over’?

On a weekly basis, I interact with members of a cohort that have been recently featured in a rash of reports: Jewish teens.

This sudden interest in teens is a good thing, because as little as two years ago (when I started this blog), a Google search of Jewish teens turned up barely any recent research at all 

Try searching now, and this is what you’d get. Progress? Definitely.

Although as Jewish educators we are pleased that these new studies have contributed to the conversation about how to engage Jewish teens, no research center or foundation will know what I know, from the stories I hear.

The stories are not from the teens I work with now, but the ones I’ve worked with and known for the past decade. Now, they are young adults…out of college and into their busy lives.

What they share with me is not the stuff of research: not from surveys, phone polling, focus groups, or market research.

My undocumented data is gleaned from speaking with thousands of young adults about their Jewish education over many, many years.

I listen very closely to what they say, and have had conversations with young adults in multiple settings: camps, youth groups, schools, and even around a kitchen table.

The one comment I’ve never heard is that anyone ever, I mean ever, regretted obtaining more Jewish education.

In fact, when their friends (who usually have had significantly less Jewish education than they did) have been part of these conversations, they regret not continuing, and say things like:

“I wish my parents forced me to go to Confirmation/Hebrew High after my Bar/Bat Mitzvah”

“I found out that I know so little about Judaism….I wish I paid more attention and continued my education when I could” (“there’s no deadline for that”, I usually chime in….).

Sometimes the teens themselves are able to recognize the value of continuing beyond the dreaded drop-off of a young 13.  I just read online about a Jewish teen who extolled the virtues of his continued education .

The sad fact is that many parents have said the same thing. They regret not having more education. This is such a pervasive feeling that we can not deny it, even when tempted to defer to data, statistics, surveys and charts.

Photo: courtesy of http://www.flickr.com Alyssa L. Miller


Five Reasons Not to Substitute Convenience for Expertise with #Jteens

It pays not to compromise with sushi

Ever have bad sushi? Don’t compromise with sushi or Jewish education

A Hat Tip to Seth Godin, marketing guru, for this post’s idea–my take on his  “Never eat sushi at the airport”.

Seth tends to cut through the chaff to get to the kernel, which is why he writes: “Don’t ask a cab driver for theater tips, Never buy bread from the supermarket bakery…Proximity is not a stand in for expertise.”

So, with a nod to Seth, here are things never to do:

1. Never accept an inferior product when it comes to something like education.

2. Don’t rely solely on what other parents are doing when it comes to seeking out the best experience for your child. 

3. If it takes a little longer to get somewhere where there’s a better program for teens, go for it.  That message, that you’re literally ‘going the distance’ speaks louder than most.

4. Belonging to a youth group is a very good thing for Jteens to do, but it doesn’t substitute for a Jewish education. The goals just aren’t the same.

5. Don’t use the same criteria for choosing a Jewish education experience that you use for an “after-school activity”.


Dealing with Anti-Semitism on the College Campus: What Jewish Teens Think

An event taking place on many college campuses

An event taking place on many college campuses

The post title refers to Anti-Semitism, while the poster above references anti-Israel propaganda.

There are plenty of debates back and forth about which is which, including examples of Anti-Zionism in the mix.

This purpose of this post is to enlighten us about how Jewish teens react to a scenario they might encounter on the college campus. We know that the college campus, usually a place that is open to the marketplace of ideas, does not always live up to that reputation. An annual review of Anti-Israel activity on college campuses around the United States, produced by the ADL will educate you.

The situation below was given to Jewish high school students by the Anti-Defamation League recently, and they discussed options in small groups and recorded their responses on large poster paper pasted around the room.   

“Josh is a friend of yours from high school and a Jewish student activist on his college campus. He encounters a professor in one of his Middle East courses, who has a very strong opinion regarding what he describes as the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. Josh has his own opinion of the situation and finds that he is the only person outwardly disagreeing with the professor. Josh’s term paper, worth 30% of his grade, is due next week.  Josh is afraid to represent his opposing ideologies in his paper and possibly risk his grade. He asks for your opinion and advice. What do you tell him? 

How do you think the teens you know will answer?

Assertively? Passively? Defiantly?

Here’s one response that I’d definitely place on the unassertive continuum, as it really skirts the issue entirely:

“If the professor grades Josh harshly because of his opinions, then the professor is being unprofessional.”

How would you evaluate the comment above?      What would your recommendation be to this student?

If you’re curious as to how others responded, read on: 

“Agree with the professor, but keep your own beliefs to yourself because you need to pass the class.”

“Do not be afraid of your own beliefs. Speak to your department head if it’s that big of an issue.”

“Notify the dean of students. See what they (would) grade you and what the professor (would) grades (sic) you. If it is worse due to the opposing side/idea, tell the head of the department.”

“Write your own beliefs and see what the professor does and take it up with someone higher.”

“Don’t do the paper if you don’t believe in it.”

The good news, is that some students were very comfortable asserting their rights–outside of class.

Inside class, is another story entirely…and according to what I’ve read about college campus behavior, these student responses mimics what actually does happen when students encounter professors with differences of opinion. The stakes are high for these students beginning in high school and continuing on to college. Openly disagreeing with a professor’s opinions is really tough to do.

I clearly remember one student who felt such a sense of accomplishment after being able to argue successfully with his history teacher, that he called it a ‘life-changing’ experience. Yet another student told us how she wished she paid better attention in her Israel class so that she could debate more effectively with students at her campus who were members of Students for Justice in Palestine.

We can use our time with our students to prepare them a bit more to talk through these situations and help them decide the right course for them, depending upon their priorities. 

Denying that they will encounter either Anti-Semitism or Anti-Zionism does not serve them well.


Judaism as a Perennial Polysystem

Planting seeds for the future of Judaism

Planting seeds for the future of Judaism

A recent New York Times op-ed article by Mark Bittman, the well-known chef and author, mentioned a new effort in agriculture. The proponent of this new system is a man by the name of Wes Jackson. He advocates for a shared system in farming. Rather than maxing out the soil with one crop only, how much more efficient it would be to plant crops that can co-exist, and even mutually benefit each other by being planted in near proximity. Not only that, the crops would come up year after year!

The author calls that a “perennial polysystem”. These quotes struck me:  “If you look around you’ll see that essentially all of nature’s ecosystems are perennial polycultures; that’s nature’s instruction book.”

“……In perennial polycultures, the plants may fertilize one another, physically support one another, ward off pests and diseases together, resist drought and flood, and survive even when one member suffers.”

What an incredible way to define centuries of Jewish  history! Judaism evolved through processes of change, warding off challenges throughout the centuries, but we survive, as a polysystem.

The one-crop model is not nearly as efficient as the one that is sustained through diversity. There is much to learn from this.

We’re seeing struggles now that challenge many deep held beliefs about Judaism.  We are going through an intense period of change. Yet, in some of our lifetimes drastic changes already took place, and we survived. Millions perished. Millions began anew. A new home became a  haven. Now our new home faces yet more challenges, internally and externally.  Judaism is being redefined as I write this, with many developing incredibly creative responses to continue the expansiveness that is Judaism.

Discussions about the recent Pew Study abound. What will we do with this information? How will we respond? What new developments will occur to meet these challenges? Every prophet made us stop and take notice, and we desperately needed their warnings. Let the Pew report on American Judaism be our substitute prophet, warning us so we can respond. The Perennial Polysystem of Judaism will survive this too.

 


One comment I never hear as a Jewish educator

There's data, and then there's what I know

There’s data, and then there’s what I know

I’m lucky.

I regularly interact with a cohort of individuals that others write reports about these days.

I learn so much from the young adults I speak with about their Jewish education.

No research center or foundation will be interested in this data, because it’s anecdotal.

The information I’ve gotten is not from the stuff of research: not from surveys, phone polling, focus groups, or market research.

It’s gleaned from speaking with thousands of young adults about their Jewish education over many, many years.

I listen very closely to what they say, and have had conversations with young adults in multiple settings: camps, youth groups, schools, and even around a kitchen table.

The one comment I’ve never heard is that anyone ever, I mean ever, regretted obtaining more Jewish education.

So, what will we do with that information?