Tag Archives: Jewish Teen Education

Jewish Teens Need More

Great Synagogue interior

  

We need to define Judaism more broadly.  

The Jewish teens I work with in a Jewish community high school are looking for more ways to connect with Judaism other than the synagogue/religious experience. 

The most lush and plush indoor spaces don’t help them feel more connected.  Many don’t get ‘prayer’ or the focus on a ‘higher being’.  It’s as if  belief in God is ‘so yesterday’ and they feel way past that intellectually.

 

At least these teens are in a Jewish academic and social environment on a weekly basis, where we touch on these issues. What about their Jewish friends (most) who don’t attend?

We know that Judaism is more than a religion, but on the American Jewish landscape, it sure seems that’s how we’re defining it for them.  And as long as they see Judaism strictly in those terms they can choose to opt out if they don’t ‘believe’. 

What’s the answer? For teens who don’t go to day school or Jewish camps, it could be sponsored trips to Israel that take place while in high school, instead of waiting for the Birthright bonus in college.  Perhaps incentives that would encourage them to participate in American Jewish World Service trips, Panim, teen fellowship programs and other successful ventures. How about communal scholarships to continue in a Jewish community high school? 

It could be many things that we haven’t even thought of yet. But we need to try.

I’m so glad that these teens are in a setting where we get to discuss these issues together.  When they’re here, they know they’re in a zone of non-judgement and impartiality that is palpable.

Just in the past two weeks, our school partnered with other youth movements and organizations (Habonim Dror, BBYO, Interfaithways) to bring our teens programs that challenged them to become aware of several real issues facing the Jewish community (hate speech, issues faced by interfaith families, personal comfort zones, and more). 

I’m not saying that this experience is the magic potion we need, but working with Jewish teens on these issues in an environment of a Jewish community high school sure makes me feel a lot better about options we’re giving them for future engagement.


Jewish Teens: Off the Charts, Literally

There’s a little game I play every so often with web tools. It’s called: ‘Search for “Jewish teens” to see how far they’re ‘off the radar’. 

I’ve gotten used to seeing the rueful results (trust me on this one, it’s pretty pitiful when my blog shows up in e-mails from ‘Google Alerts‘.

I’ve typed “Jewish Teens” (search 101: quotes around terms insures specific results) in a variety of search engines. I’d test them out based on the quality of information gleaned.

When I started poking around  Twitter  my search turned up zero results. I almost didn’t join.

Wasn’t anyone tweeting about Jewish teens?

I’ve even created a hashtag #Jteens, which has been a little like tossing a feather into the ocean: it’ll hover around a bit, but really, can anyone possibly see a feather with all that water around? 

I enter “Jewish teens” into various Jewish news weeklies, and barely get a drip from the faucet of free-flowing information. 

But I haven’t given up on my game, no matter how few results turn up. 

Today, I typed it into an advanced search tool on Google .  The results speak for themselves and actually caused me to laugh:

Web Search Interest: “Jewish teens”
United States, Last 12 months
 

Not enough search volume to show graphs.

Suggestions:

  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
  • Try different search terms.
  • Try more general search terms.
  • Try fewer search terms.
  • Try searching data for all years and all regions

So, Jewish teens seem to be off the charts, literally.

One last thing. Last semester I took a technology course and we had to create a video on Google that animated search terms. What fun. I even enhanced the video with really scary music. You can see that video here .  Hey, if you look at it often enough, the video just might show up in my Google Alerts.


Can our students just show us some love?

credit: Mike D'Angelo

 

How can we get our own students to love us the way their friends do?

This past Purim, students were asked to bring friends to school to share in the festivities.  Out of over 200 students, only one brought his friends because he wanted them to experience a fun holiday like Purim. As it happened, his friends weren’t Jewish. As it also happened, they had a great time.  They loved being in a ‘unique, challenging, fun and educational place’ !

In a recent small focus group at the school, we were trying to get to know students a bit better, and what makes them decide to attend.  We asked them why, if they enjoy attending so much (satisfaction rates are above 90%), they don’t bring their friends. They basically said that ‘unless cookies were falling from the sky’ they wouldn’t ask their friends to come.  Oh, and they also asked if we were kidding: didn’t we realize that since they were attending on a Sunday morning their friends already think they’re crazy and that they wouldn’t be caught dead asking their friends to wake up early to join them?

So, I’m trying to put this together with a recent news item by Rabbi Justus N. Baird in the Religion section of the Huffington Post . He reports on several studies (one of which was a decade’s worth by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life), which show these same results: that American attitudes toward Jews are as positive — or even a few degrees warmer — as attitudes toward Catholics, and significantly higher than toward any other religious group (the Pew data does not ask about attitudes toward Protestants).

Even the Anti-Defamation League had similar responses to the surveys they conducted. So, this should make us feel very good, very secure, and surely steady enough on our feet to hear the term Pro-Semitism without falling over.   

Love from our students? I think we get that, it’s just that they won’t tell anyone else about that….except maybe their non-Jewish friends.


Not Wanted: Parents?

That’s actually the opposite of the way I feel, but before I whine about how I’d like more parents involved in what their teens are doing at a Jewish supplementary school, I have to think about the messages they’re getting from the secular world about how much their presence is desired.

How often are parents part of the picture at middle school? High School?  When my children were in elementary school, there were numerous ways to be involved: classroom parent, library aide, PTO member, usher, office worker, committee member –and encouragement to volunteer my time any way I could. 

So, what happened as my children got older? All of a sudden, the welcome mat disappeared. Whether this was intentional, implicit, or perhaps inspired by teens who would much rather not associate publicly with their parents is a mystery.  This experience has been confirmed with other parents, especially when invited for programs and they tell me they’ve promised their teenaged children complete anonymity and decide to stand ‘way in the back’ unnoticed.  So, contrary to popular expectations, I want parents to show up.  A place in the back guaranteed but not condoned.


A Soup of Guilt

 

 

I am nagged by the question I posed in an earlier post when I wondered why many Jewish Teens keep their Jewish involvements a ‘secret’ from their friends and others.  I wondered if we, as Jewish educators were guilty in promoting the compartmentalization of their lives by not talking about how we integrate Jewish practice and beliefs into our own lives.  That may add to the problem, but I think it’s a much more complicated issue than that.

There may be a potful of ingredients that contribute to this feeling our teens have of keeping their Jewish lives separate from everything else that ‘s going on. I’ll just mention one here.

A large ingredient in this soup of guilt is a lack of presence in the digital world where our teens live. Due to a lack of resources (the usual: funding, technology, staffing) we don’t have the capacity to capitalize on social media to connect with our students. We should be connecting and collaborating with them in many more ways than we currently do.  Before I hear myself wonder why it’s “Hebrew School on Tuesday”, we should figure out ways to connect with them beyond the time they’re physically in a building.We should encourage our student community to interact online. We should have a facebook  page. We should be creating videos of our students saying amazing things about why they’ve continued their Jewish education.  We should be able to have WiFi in every single location.  We should be able to give them props in a big way about the commitment they’ve made. We should be connecting our students via web with Jewish educators who can mentor them.  We should be, we should be…..


Jewish Teens: Underserved

I happened on a Google site that allows you to create a video of a Google search complete with options for music.  The site gave search examples, like those on famous people, places, travel, etc.  There are also options for which music you’d like to play along with the search, like drama, comedy, family, etc. I thought it would be an interesting idea  to see if I would be able to use this medium to create a story about the lack of research on teens in a Jewish supplementary high school setting.  I had a hunch, but no idea whether this would be a ‘story’.  Well, it is. Turns out that the number of searches for Jewish teens in a supplementary high school is something about 355 (when this was posted), so naturally I selected ‘Horror’ for the music theme.  See if you can catch this search story (it moves quickly) on the dearth of information on this underserved population.


Jewish Teens’ Best Kept Secrets

I can’t help thinking about it.  Why do our most committed students keep their Jewish involvements a secret? Even from Jewish professionals?  Are we guilty of modelling  that behavior to them?

I co-facilitated a workshop a week and a half ago that featured a teen panel (volunteers) who were asked to discuss communication and other issues that are important to them.  There was no set criteria to be on the panel and they were not billed as “Super Jews”. These were teens who were willing to share their opinions with a group of Jewish educators and parents.

None of the adults knew the students personally. Ironically, the teens all opted to continue their education past the age of  the infamous Bar/t Mitzvah drop-off, and are enrolled in supplementary synagogue and community high schools.  A majority of them are well into their senior year of high school.  Some are taking college level courses and earning Teaching Certificates. Yet, when introducing themselves to this group of Jewish parents and educators they mentioned their secular high schools, towns of residence, some hobbies, but none said that they were currently enrolled in a Jewish supplementary high school program (ignoring the kvell factor entirely).  Why the secret?

Our students may be compartmentalizing their lives, and we may have trained them to do so: “I go to hebrew school on Sundays and Tuesdays, baseball practice on Wednesdays, debate class on”…..and so on.  I’ve even heard students say on occasion: “When I’m here, this is my time to do things Jewish (sic), I don’t have time to do (extra research, projects, language practice) anything in addition to that. I only have this amount of time for that.”

Even if I get the fact that their time is limited,  the question I still need to ask is “okay, so why are you keeping what you’re doing a secret? Why aren’t you proud of the fact that you’re doing this double academic load? Why is doing this not a cool thing to do? ”

The question I need to ask myself is whether, as a Jewish educator, I’m helping to ‘keep the secret’. Am I complicit in setting this standard by not talking about my Jewish life outside of class? Am I modelling what I want my students to do?