Tag Archives: Jewish parents

Jewish Parents: How to choose your teen’s summer activities

what is the ideal summer experience for your teenager?

what is the ideal summer experience for your teenager?

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.


Jewish Parents: Choose your teen’s activities wisely

English: A teen singing.

Make sure the activity gives back!

Soccer teams. Dance classes. School activities. SAT prep classes. After-school jobs. Volunteer work. AP classes.

The list can go on and on.

The school year starts with an overwhelming rush of activities.

How do you help your teen choose what to do? What takes priority? Should your teenager do volunteer work? Take a leadership role in a school club? Begin working so he/she learns responsibility and the value of a dollar? Continue with a sport that he/she excels in?

The challenge is great to 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?

The goal needs to be more than just ‘getting into’ a good college.

Unfortunately, college counselors and admissions officers will tell you that, after reading thousands and thousands of applications, they can see through the haze of shallow but well-intentioned lists of extracurricular activities.

So, you need to maximize your teen’s time, short as it is.

The ideal goal and purpose of these activities is to give your teen something that will add to his/her character, something that will have longterm meaning.

I’m not advocating that you abdicate activities.

I do believe that you have to think carefully about what that involvement gives back.

Yes, I’m biased, I’ve written many posts about how important I think Jewish education is to your teen’s development.

I believe that in the right setting, continued Jewish education past the typical drop-off age can build character, leadership skills, critical thinking, and provide teens with a way to determine their own belief systems.

Plus, college counselors and admissions officers see it as a continued area of interest that your teen has pursued for years.

Think about it.

Putting continued Jewish education on a college application?

Totally an asset.

Photo credit: wikipedia

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.


Teens Report What Really Happens In Classrooms

Teacher

Teachers and Classroom Behavior Photo credit: tim ellis

I read an eighth grader’s blog (!) today that resonated with me, and it triggered a memory of what Jewish teens shared with me in a discussion about bullying.

Back to the blog. This young teen wrote about derogatory and mean comments that kids said in hushed tones to others in her class. What they said was either whispered, written, or mouthed out—-all while the teacher’s back was turned.

Can you imagine the effect on the ‘victims’? Just thinking about it will probably tug at your heart.

Instantaneous changes of emotion. Heads bowed. Backs rounded. The day ruined.

And then—-thoughts of a system that offers no corrective action.

The talk I remembered having with my 10th graders was similar. They experienced or witnessed as a bystander, all kinds of inappropriate behavior by teens that was not done at recess, not on the school bus, not on the playing field, but in class!

In most cases, the teacher’s back was turned. 

Want to be shocked?  The students affirmed that sometimes, the teacher was not facing the board, or doing work at the desk.

“What happened during those other times?”, I asked.

“Ugh, the teacher just pretended not to hear or see.”

Can we think of a more challenging environment for our students?

Some feel that they are constantly the ones to point out flaws, misbehavior, or teacher concerns. They’ve told me that when they’ve actually brought these incidents to the teacher’s attention, the information is not even acted upon. And there certainly is a lot of negative feedback the teens get for doing that. (The cultural pull of not being a tattletale comes to mind).

A while ago, I wrote about our schools being Safe Havens, and reading the blog today made this fact even more potent.

No one should deduce that all teachers ignore bad behavior.

But neither should we assume that the teacher is always equipped to manage bad behavior. Or that the teacher gets support from the administration on these issues.

We can rise to the occasion, be better listeners, better mentors, and better teachers of Jewish values.

But that won’t change the system.

Creating students who want to become activists just might.

Supporting their efforts as parents and teachers is what we have to do. And oh yes, we can’t let them give up.


Let’s hope Jewish parents are smarter than this

Are we just being stupid or stubborn?

There are some obvious signs that parents might not be as smart as we’d like them to be.

Do you want to hear some of the comments I’ve heard from parents who choose not to continue their teens’ Jewish education past the age of bar/bat mitzvah?  Or  Confirmation? Keep reading.

First, you need to know that really, I understand that today’s teens are busy, committed to many activities, are often holding down a part-time job, and dealing with the pressures of scoping out a future in college. I think my posts will convince you of that.

But hey, we know in our working and personal lives that the timeless often gives way to the trivial unless we prioritize and begin thinking of outcomes.

Yet, innumerable times, I’ve heard parents opt for the immediate, for the path of least resistance, for the easiest option instead of the best option.

I’m not saying  that Jewish education is guaranteed insurance for success in college (maybe we could market that), but building a strong identity, critical thinking skills, a social network, and even earning college credits (or engaging in serious analysis) in a Jewish environment will help with college competencies.

I’m not just assuming all of these benefits, I actually hear it from our graduates.

Here is a sample of some parent comments that focus on the immediate instead of the timeless, on a path of ease instead of a path of priorities. They are not the smartest things I’ve ever heard. (My advice for parents about some of these issues are here).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“How will this be useful? I mean, we know the value of other activities (ouch, activities?), but I’m not sure about this…..”

“So and so will probably do a birthright trip in college….and that will solidify his/her Jewish identity, I’m sure.”

“In our family we’ve decided to emphasize ‘regular’ school….because, you know, it counts.”

“This falls very low on the priority scale, compared to other things that will look good for college.”

“So and so is planning on going to a college with a large/big/sizeable/impressive Jewish population, and socializing at Hillel will insure that he/she will stay connected.”

“The synagogue offered to pay so and so–and having a job instills a sense of responsibility, and besides–there just isn’t that much time to do so many Jewish things.”

Should we accept the obvious signs that parents have written off what we have to offer? Or should we continue to be stubborn optimists?

I hope that Jewish parents are smarter than this, but the burden is on us to change the game where we focus on  the benefits that our programs offer instead of features.


From Jewish Camp to Synagogue: Five No-brainers

Stanford Sailing Summer Camp in session in Red...

The more things change, the more …..well, you can fill in the blank here. This is on my mind as we approach the summer and thousands of Jewish teens anxiously await the beginning of Jewish camp.

I thought that by now there would be some changes in the synagogue world.  I’m not even talking about broad, sweeping, systemic change.  Or the changes suggested by some 15 teens a few months ago. Incredibly, I have been hoping for one small specific change ever since I was about 10 years old and attended a Jewish summer camp (which I did for 6 years after that and for 9 more in assorted roles from teacher to Assistant Director).

That change is maximizing campers’ experiences when they arrive home to their synagogue communities.  Specifically, at services (I so dislike that name for what we’re looking to experience during that time of prayer).  The disconnect I experienced then still holds true in most synagogues now. Jewish teens have described it to me.

Summer camp is exhilarating for our Jewish teens. For most, living Judaism 24/7 and not as an ‘add-on’ like Hebrew school, is a powerful new experience for them.  Their weeks have the rhythm of Shabbat in camp that usually doesn’t occur at home. They’re also socializing in a “Jewish bubble” surrounded by staff and friends who are all Jewish and who are making a commitment to be together for several weeks.

That’s why many Jewish Federations around the country and the Foundation for Jewish camping are trying to get our kids to go there through incentive scholarships.

Okay, let’s get back to focusing on the one thing: services.  At camp? Not boring at all. Sure, they’re tired in the morning, can barely keep their eyes open, but their peers are usually in front of the room leading the group, and this already makes things rather interesting. Plus, there’s a lot of interactivity and singing.  Do you have this mental picture?  Good.

Let’s switch now, to what they experience at their home synagogue. If it’s hard for you to keep a connection to services comprised of ‘readings’ interspersed with cantorial singing, how might they feel after just experiencing what they did for weeks in the summer?

It might not be too harsh to say that experiencing ‘services’ at their home synagogue amounts to listening to someone else chant—-like in a production where you buy tickets and wait for the entertainment.

If guests go up to the bimah (raised platform), it’s usually to offer a reading. Yawn.  But what about synagogues that hold a camp Shabbat honoring those teens who attend Jewish summer camps? Oh that? Yes, that’s when most often, campers are invited to lead prayers but not asked to bring their style of prayer to the “Jews in the Pews”. Usually the reason given is that people like to sing/read/chant what they already know….it’s comfortable. (I’m not making this up, I’ve been told this very thing).

It’s frightfully a sad state when there are no links, bridges, and supports from one experience to the other. There may be programs working on this, but I haven’t encountered any.

So, here we have Jewish teens who spend the summer being energized about a Judaism that is alive, pulsing, vibrant, and changeable, coming back home to experience a sterile, cold, inflexible environment. And again, I’m just talking about services. What should we do about it? Here are some suggestions for using the talents of our teens:

#1.  Mentor a group to begin a ‘camp style’ minyan (quorum) at your synagogue, even once a month for starters.  Or ask them to duplicate a service one Shabbat evening or morning.

#2.  Put one or more Jewish teens on your ritual committee to infuse it with some new ideas and approaches that they’ve learned at camp.

#3.  Give the teens a goal to incorporate one new and different thing from camp into synagogue programming for your youth.

#4.  Feature these Jewish summer camp experts as part of a panel that explores the ways in which the synagogue community can learn and be enriched by their experience.

#5.  Get these teens in front of your younger students to share their experiences and keep the legacy of Jewish camping a presence at your synagogue.

I bet you’ll notice a change. Even if it’s a really small specific one.

Related articles

Photo credit: Wikipedia


‘Wow, You’re Soooo Jewish!”

What image comes to mind when you read the headline?

Is it the consummate Jewish nebbish, portrayed here by Woody Allen?

The words “You’re soooo0 Jewish”, said in that tone of voice, from one Jewish teenager to another, is not meant as a compliment.

So, what does it mean?

Really, take a minute.

What would it mean to you?

 

To this teenager, it meant that his Jewish friend was taking Judaism seriously, too seriously.

Not only was he Jewish, he was acting Jewish.

Forget that being ‘so Jewish’ is a little like being a human. You either are or you’re not.

But that’s not the point.

The comment was meant as a put-down, a derogatory statement about identity.

Clearly, there is no ‘cool’ factor when it comes to Jewish education for these students.

Okay, you’re wondering, what is it that this student is doing that makes his peers say he’s so Jewish?

He attends a supplementary high school program two days a week.

He’s in 8th grade, and says that he wants to graduate the program in 12th.

He belongs to a youth group.

He sometimes attends synagogue on Shabbat. And he sometimes studies with a Rabbi.

Okay, by now you’re probably convinced that his Jewish involvement is unusual, and you might be shaking your head.

Years ago, this student would not have been labeled ‘SuperJew‘.

On the contrary, that’s what thousands of teens were doing. Then.

Before their lives got so busy, complicated, college-focused and pressured. Now, based on today’s new realities and priorities, our expectations have changed. So, is the student I described s00000 Jewish, or have we bought into diminished standards?

What Jewish involvements are too much? Too little?

How do you feel about the term s0000o Jewish?

What I will say, is that the one thing, the Jewish identification thing, that will help Jewish teens be more grounded before they run off to college is the thing that tends to get low priority.

Unless of course, you’re “SuperJew” and one of the kids who is “sooooo Jewish.”


Teens: Got a bad grade? Work it!

Life Stinks

Image via Wikipedia

Getting a bad grade, especially when you expected something else entirely, pretty much stinks.

It’s hard enough being in high school when so much of your life seems to be defined by grades. When the grades don’t match up with your expectations or your output, it must feel lousy.

Though I have issues with the idea of being defined by grades, we’re not going there now.

So, you can either sulk or use this life event to get some feedback.

Think of this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with your teacher about your work. I know, it’s tough, but give it a try. You can:

  • learn how to advocate for yourself
  • begin to see yourself the way he/she does, and take the opportunity to self-correct
  • figure out what the teacher really wants before it’s too late in the year
  • impress the teacher with your willingness to engage in this type of conversation
  • practice asking for clarification of a decision, which is a skill you’ll use later in life
  • demonstrate your interest in the subject matter
  • cut yourself a break.
  • learn that despite what you’re feeling now, this doesn’t define you
  • feel great about asserting yourself!

Jewish Teens Reinvent the Synagogue

I’m so lucky.  We Jewish educators trudge uphill a lot of the time, just to keep pace. Yet, every week I get inspired from the Jewish teens I work with. Last week I asked a group of 10th and 11th graders how they would reinvent the synagogue:

Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade ...

“Your goal is to insure that people will be active, engaged, and interested. There are no limits. What will you create? What type of organization will speak to you?”

They had a hard time with this initially, not being able to get past what they experience now.  That surprised me. They first offered: more music, shorter services, more comfortable seats.

When I prodded further, they pushed the boundaries a little more.

Welcome to the synagogue as seen through the eyes of a group of Jewish teens: branding abounds, with lots and lots of food available (did I mention that there are mostly boys in this class?).

Someone piped in: “We could have a Manishewitz wing!” Another student shot right back: “Yeah,why not? Companies could be sponsors of the synagogue or even sponsor events.”

“Even Bar/t Mitzvahs I asked?”

“Yea, why not,” they responded. That way, they wouldn’t cost so much.”
Hmmmm. Interesting.

Unanimously, they all agreed that there needs to be more food.  Then they began to dream big, envisioning a cafe-type set-up, with lots of  informal places to sit–like a lobby in a hotel.  Oh, they were also big on sports options.  Basketball and racketball courts and pools. Places to sleep when family comes into town for b’nei mitzvahs. Why not a spa?

What they talked about resembled a newly configured JCC/Synagogue/Restaurant/Hotel.

I told them that they will be the ones to do this, and that we’re depending on them.

Though I don’t see a Rokeach-sponsored Bat Mitzvah anytime soon, I can see the ‘Awesome Osem Auction!’ with these teens in charge of things.  Just maybe we need to take some cues from these young leaders and simply lighten things up a little. Oh yes, and have some food.

Image: Synagogue construction, Baron De Hirsch Trade School, South Jersey Colonies, Carmel, NJ (Photo credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC)


Judging Jewish Education by Fun

English: Kirnu, a steel roller coaster in Linn...
 

Jewish communal organizations have been in consumer mode for some time.  As individuals progressively decrease their involvement in traditional Jewish organizations (synagogues, Jewish Federation, volunteer groups) programmatic initiatives proportionately increase in an attempt to figure out just the right mix to draw people in. Sometimes those programs flaunt the ‘fun’.

Figuring out what consumers want and providing them with a great service at a great price is what business–both profit and non-profit–is about.

My problem with the fun model is when the goals of the enterprise become compromised in the process.

An op-ed article in the New York Times  referred to lower enrollment and the subsequent desire to attract students.  There is a lesson there for those of us in Jewish education:

“And since resources are typically distributed based on enrollments, rigorous classes are likely to be canceled and rigorous programs shrunk. Distributing resources and rewards based on student learning instead of student satisfaction would help stop this race to the bottom.” 

I don’t know what definition of student satisfaction was used but unlike the quote, I would disagree and say that students need to be satisfied with their learning experience.

My point is that we should not confuse satisfaction with fun. When we reinvent our programs based solely on that criteria, we sell our goals short and shortchange our mission.

An amusement park is fun. Learning can be life changing and occurs over time.  When a parent asks: “Will my child have fun, because otherwise it just isn’t worth it….” we need to take parent education more seriously.  If this is how parents frame Jewish education, it’s wrong.

In 2004 a national  survey of entering college freshmen found that most came to college with a goal to grow spiritually.  The study authors write: “It is our shared belief that the findings provide a powerful argument for the proposition that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development, because spirituality is essential to students’ lives.

As Jewish educators, we are in a unique position to change lives and attend to teens’ deeper needs for spiritual connection. That sounds important, relevant, and purposeful. Fun? Save it for the roller coaster ride.

Image by wikipedia

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“Jewish Education? I’m Done!”

You gotta read it to believe it. 

The following is an actual dialogue (with a name change) I had a few days ago with a student, now a junior, who left our Jewish educational program after 10th grade.

I was happy to run into him at a youth convention:

Hi, Adam, how are you, how have you been?

Hi. I’m good. You know I’m not there any more, I mean taking classes….

Yes, I know. I kinda noticed since I’m still teaching there.  We miss you. 

It’s because I’m done.

You’re done?

Yes, I’ve been Confirmed so I’m done with my Jewish education. My parents said that I didn’t have to go past Confirmation.

There it is. DONE. Like a finished bottle of water. “I reached the end (Confirmation) and now I’m DONE. Besides, my parents said I could be DONE.’

I continued the conversation a bit, and talked about what Jewish education means and perhaps that he might think about taking Jewish oriented classes in college.  Even Hebrew language.

He did not get this at all by the way, and couldn’t figure out why a college would offer courses in Jewish Studies, let alone teach the Hebrew language.

Did I mention that he’s a junior?

And that his parents are involved in synagogue life?

So,  in this post, I won’t even begin the conversation about Confirmation programs.

I just wanted you to know what’s really going on out there. Just in case we’re under any illusions about the enormity of the work we need to do.


What today’s Jewish teens are ‘okay’ with

KJeanPhotography. Use does not imply endorsement

My weekly experience working with a class of 8th graders serves as a counterpoint to the doom and gloom I’ve read about lately in studies that report on the current state of Religion in America (specifically those concerning Jewish youth).  

The students are upfront, forthright, and spiritually aware and are not afraid to talk about what they do and don’t believe.  They have already formed some really strong opinions about Jewish belief and practices, though it was evident from our talks that they are looking at Judaism through fogged glasses (no fault of theirs, their education has been limited).  

We need to pay attention to what they really need, and not what we think they need.  Even if we didn’t change anything about our current organizations and programs, and continued with things just the way they are, we’re already missing countless opportunities to help students create a meaningful Jewish experience.  

About 45% of these students attend this supplementary high school twice a week.  About 25% go to a Jewish summer camp (they see it as a social, not a religious experience, and go to be with their friends).  About 75% have older siblings that are or have been in the program.  Yet, most haven’t discussed their ideas, feelings, and opinions about God…either with their parents, siblings, or friends. 

Not because they wouldn’t want to, but because the subject never came up. I asked what they thought about that, and they said they were ‘okay with it’. 

When we talk about what their conception of God is, they are surprisingly articulate.  Some retain the ‘puppeteer’ idea (that God is pulling all the strings and is responsible for everything) while others see God as a ‘helping hand’.  Some don’t believe in God at all. These ideas will all be explored with them in future classes, but in the meantime, catch the following:

In the year immediately preceding their Bar/t Mitzvah they do not remember any serious prolonged conversation with a Jewish professional (educator/clergy). They were not asked about their beliefs, doubts, concerns, or what they thought about God.  They seemed not to expect more, and were ‘okay with that’ too.  

They remember that they were busy with the pre-ceremony stuff: speech writing, practicing chanting, public speaking skills.

When they were asked questions about their present and future connection to Judaism, predominantly it was through a youth group lens: would they join? Be involved? Take a position? 

I asked them about these things. It’s not that they wouldn’t have wanted to engage in deeper conversations, it’s just that they weren’t asked.  And yes, they seemed to be ‘okay’ with that.

I’m not. I’m not fine with ‘okay’. Not in the precious time we have with them. Are we settling for just ‘okay’ when it comes to how they will connect with Judaism? 

What if we began to have these types of conversations with our teens? On a regular basis?

Even if we create the smallest pinholes of opportunity, light can come flooding in.

It’s not that they’d mind, and actually, they’d probably be okay with that.

 
 

When Parents Say: “Jewish Education On The Side, Please”

Title page to Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning...

Image via Wikipedia

Some parents are guilty of treating Jewish education like a side dish, something that will never star as the main course and won’t be terribly missed if not around either.

So often choices surrounding Jewish education seem like an afterthought, a rush job, something that’s done while in the middle of doing something else that’s way more important.

Basically, it is chosen as an option only if things work out. Otherwise, well, it’s not really a priority. Pretty harsh, huh?

How can I say such a thing? Just listen to my experience these past few weeks and judge for yourself.  The type of phone calls I’ve received illustrate this, and there were actually more calls than I’m describing.  I am open to hearing from you what your experiences have been.

One parent wanted to discuss her daughter’s enrollment during a prolonged red light.

Another parent called to ask about our program for his daughter, but he was about to board an airplane: “Okay, will rows……..” blared in the background as we were trying to discuss the different course options she’d take.

Another parent happened to breeze by the office at 6:15pm with questions that had to be answered right then because she was already late to go somewhere.

Another parent dropped by with his son to sign him up but could only spend 5 minutes on figuring out what program would be the right fit because he had a pressing work matter to attend to.  Yet  another asked her child to fill out the online application, and was in shock when it required a parent’s sign off (before we went paperless, it amazed me how many students completed the applications themselves).

People are sure busy and I understand the pressure to get so many things done.  Plus, I am appreciative that we’re even part of the rush-job-life these people are juggling. I really am.  I just wonder about the none-too-subtle messages that are given to teens when in general, their Jewish education is treated this way.

So here’s the recommendation: despite every activity that competes with commitments to Jewish education, involvement in Jewish learning is an important goal that is part of life’s meal, not a side dish. (This of course excludes those who have opted for the day school entrée).

Let’s not settle for being that low on the priority list. We want your teen to be part of our program, because we know there is value in participating.

Whatever commitments your family makes, place the proper value on the Jewish education part. Kids quickly get the message that it’s just not all that important to you from your actions, which counts much more than you think.


Ethical Issue: When Teens Cheat

St Paul Talmud Torah Nursery School graduation

 What are the obligations of a Jewish supplementary high school in raising the ethical level of its students? How do we hold our students to a higher standard while trying to explain all the cheating going on by education professionals? How do we prepare the next generation to succeed in college and beyond? 

With these questions in mind, what happens when a teacher notices that a student may have plagiarized material, or copied from a friend?

The first time a teacher came to me with this I struggled with the questions above, adding a few more: can we confirm evidence of cheating? How can this transform into a learning experience? How can I make sure the parent(s) is(are) on board? In what ways can I work to ensure that this student really changes? How can I create an accepting environment for the student but not the behavior?

I am actually grateful that these issues arise in a Jewish context, because it gives me a unique opportunity.  Working with teens on ethical conduct is exactly what we should be doing.  For me, it is part of the ‘value added‘ of the supplementary school experience.  Our response to cheating is a test for us, and students will remember what we do. We can reference Jewish texts to support advice when we help students navigate through this.  Those texts should also inform our behavior. We can give them skills to self-adjust and offer moral support along the way.  Plagiarism is a serious offense, especially in college, and we can give them a foundation of Jewish ethics to lean on.

This is tough stuff, but doing any less in today’s times creates more moral murkiness.  I believe we are preparing the next generation to become leaders which requires us to respond quickly and appropriately especially when the road ahead will be even more challenging.


When Teens Say “I’m not that Jewish”

Jewish Star; Star of David

Image by Alex E. Proimos via Flickr

I met with several teens yesterday, and when I asked them to tell me about their Jewish identity, their answers surprised me.  At one point or another, more than half of them responded in the negative with: “I’m not that Jewish” or “I’m not really so Jewish” and sometimes they completed  those statements with: “because I don’t go to synagogue”, “because I don’t really practice”, “because I’m not that religious”, or because I don’t really believe in God….”

Does this strike anyone else as strange? Why the emphasis on ‘not being Jewish’ and why the focus on what they don’t do?

Somehow, they are defining themselves by what they’re not.  Yet, I don’t think that holds true for other aspects of their lives.  If I would ask them to describe themselves, I doubt they’d begin by telling me what they’re not: “I’m not athletic, I’m not friendly, I’m not really into music” –would sound ridiculous.

I wanted to explore these comments with them, and decided to challenge them instead of playing it safe. I responded with something like: “saying you’re really not that Jewish is like saying ‘I’m really not that human’, isn’t it?  “A human is what you are through and through….and so is being Jewish. It’s your identity, it’s who you are and what you are.”

They just looked at me, surprised by my strong opinion.

I proceeded: “Why the continuum? Why do you rate yourself on your Jewishness? Why do an evaluation? By the way, do any of your non-Jewish friends define themselves that way—-on a scale?” (This sounds much harsher in print than the actual tone of the conversation, but you get the point).

I also encourage them to stop defining “Jewish” .  Those other qualifiers of belief, practice, attendance….tend to create distance and separation–the opposite of what we should be after.

I think we need to be aware of the language our teens use and help them flip it towards the positive.  As a start, “I am Jewish” sounds great to me.


Jewish Parents: Four Things I Wish You Wouldn’t Say to Your Teenager

 

Making decisions about continuing Jewish Education  is often a challenge, though I’m not sure why. 

The comments below are ones I’ve heard directly, usually on the phone when asked whether their child will continue in our program, or sign up for the first time.  

Every year, unlike with other educational venues and opportunities, the conversation about Jewish education is reopened.  I’m not sure why Jewish education gets the blow-off.

Parents would never question other identity-building, intellectually engaging, social-emotional experiences and leadership opportunities, but in this case they do. (Le’ts see…do you want to continue editing the high school paper next year? Do you really want to put that effort into the advanced calc club?).

So, this posting is my way of  assembling the most common things I’ve heard, and  my responses.  I’d love to hear yours. Here is my brief list:

“It’s your decision”

Why? Why is furthering education a child’s decision? Parents make decisions about other forms of education, why abdicate here? Generally, teens are not wired for more school, they’re wired for less, so this becomes no decision at all.  Would parents ask if their child wants to ‘go on’ in Math or English? Of course not. Because in order to be an educated person you need a modicum of education. Putting Jewish education in an optional category makes more of a statement about its relevance for the parents, which speaks volumes.  Say no more, your child has already figured out your priorities.

“Your school work is more important”

Ditto, plus is school work always more important? More important than identity-building? Personal development? Creating a network of like-minded peers? Students will often need to juggle responsibilities between numerous commitments. You’ve  just told them there is no choice.  But is this really true? Won’t they have to make decisions about these commitments and sometimes choose the non-secular choice? Like whether to attend class on a Jewish holiday? Like whether to speak up and challenge a professor when tests are given on those holidays?

“Are you having fun?”

Ask any student involved in athletics if they’ve had fun at practice.  Yet, everyone knows that the end result: inner satisfaction with an accomplishment trumps ‘fun’.  Also, teens love learning and grappling with issues. Why do we underestimate them in this way?  You might ask what they’ve learned, what questions they’ve asked, what new issues they’ve explored.  This is our hope for the substance of their experience.

“You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

Really? If they’re part of the Jewish-people team, than isn’t showing up part of the obligation? Should they miss marching band? Practice? The reasoning used there is that they’ve made a commitment to be part of a group, and that holds responsibilities. Each person is depended upon to hold his/her own weight. Why should our language be any different here? They’re part of a team….why not transmit that message early on?

Please share your comments and thoughts, I’d like to hear from you.