Tag Archives: Jews

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.


Patchwork Fixes Don’t Work for Roads or the Jewish Community

English: A large pot hole on Second Avenue in ...

The Pot-Hole Problem

We’re already past pot-hole fixing season, so I can reflect on it with some degree of dispassion.

Disclaimer: I know not a thing about road-fixing, pot-holes, construction workers, unions. What I do know is that the cycle of pot-hole making and fixing has no end in sight.

Years ago, after driving over one particularly large one, I must have ranted about it, not knowing that my very young son, in the back seat, was particularly paying attention. He pointed his finger in the air and loudly exclaimed in a royal voice (obviously pretending to be some sort of king): “I declare, there shall be no more potholes on the byways and the highways.”

This became a family joke, since, really, if he had all that power, would pot-hole fixing be such a priority?

Well, now that I think about it, maybe.

Gaps in services in the Jewish community are what we all can agree on, but the short-term fixes are just temporary. Unless I missed something somewhere, where are the long-term fixes?

We’re all too familiar with the band of orange-clad road workers, guiding you past their work area (most likely in rush hour), with the knowledge that they’ll most probably be there again, in seemingly just a few short months,doing the very same thing.

Why, when it is perfectly obvious that pot-holes occur in the same spot every year, are we trapped into that model of crack, repair, crack, repair.

I can think of several reasons, all of which can apply to the Jewish community, just substitute ‘pot-hole fixing’ for ‘(teen) leadership development’:

  1. No one wants to invest in pot-hole fixing, it’s just not a campaign grabber or an interesting-sounding project
  2. Even though everyone agrees that it is a recurring problem, the money to fix the small problem is much more manageable than to fix the problem for the long-term
  3. It’s easier to redirect traffic in the short-run, than to try to convince everyone to get behind another method
  4. In some areas, different methods have worked, but wouldn’t necessarily apply to another (weather, traffic, road conditions, etc.)
  5. There is no overarching state agency that has the funds, to invest in the long-term solutions
  6. There are not many local organizations that would have the infrastructure to manage the above, since they’ve been designed for the short-term fix

A Command Center Approach 

We need a command system approach

Someone is needed at the helm

More disclaimers: There are wonderful programs that build teen leadership. But, we lack connectors from these programs to other programs. Missing are the follow-up programs and the links to the larger Jewish community.

Where are the natural bridges linking the teen years, the college experience, and mentoring from Jewish communal professionals?

Movements have talked about teen engagement, but for sure, it doesn’t seem that they’re talking to each other.

Birthright, agreeably one of the most successful programs to launch a young adult on the Jewish identity path, has no pathways from the teen years—although everyone seems to agree that reaching teens is crucial regarding Israel education and identification. Instead, what has happened, is that many youth-sponsored Israel trips have suffered because potential participants end up ‘waiting for the free trip’ in college.

Crack, repair, crack.

Let’s begin to think big. Long-term Investment.  You might call it the “Warren Buffet* approach” to pot-hole repair.

We need large, systemic changes. We need a “Department of Transportation” that truly cares about the road ahead. These changes are possible. We’re living in a connected world. We can pave a smoother road ahead.

(Warren Buffet is known for his preference for investments that pay off in the long-term).

Photo credits: Wikipedia


Today I am a Brand

credit to uglydoggy.com

We live in a visual world. I get it. I’m the first to admit that I love looking at logos and the idea that the essence of a company, drink, food, car —almost anything— can be captured in a visual.  Come on, aren’t you tempted to name the brands pictured here?

Hashtags? Great. If only our program could attract thousands of Jewish teens by using  #Jteens. 

The idea of “branding” has been in my airspace for a few weeks.  It started when I read a blog about the viral video “Friday” and how it catapulted Rebecca Black and her now ex-friend into instant stardom (not familiar with the story? see wikipedia ).  

Then, I read a study about the rise of fame and its implications , some of which I’ll quote very briefly:

“Greenfield’s Theory of Social Change and Human Development posits that, as learning environments move towards high technology, as living environments become increasingly urbanized, as education levels increase, and as people become wealthier, psychological development moves in the direction of increasing individualism, while traditional, familistic, and communitarian values decline….” (italics mine). 

So, the desire to individuate comes with the territory. Is it any wonder that this study found that fame grows in prominence as a goal among tweens? If the teen years were tough before, it’s more complicated now. How do we as teachers and parents begin to work through this?

I attended a workshop a few days ago sponsored by Moving Traditions and we discussed the fact that teenage girls see themselves as ‘brands’ when posting on their Facebook pages.  They think about themselves in the third person and how their presenting image will be perceived by others.  They think about how to ‘enhance’ their brand by who they ‘friend’ and the clothes, music, and tech toys they buy, presenting an additional teaching and parenting opportunity. This issue goes across gender and is not limited to teenage girls.

Another tongue-in-cheek blog asked whether Rabbis would be more effective if they were ‘pitchmen’ and might be more successful if incorporating brand names into their sermons.  I have not worked this all out yet.  On one level, I definitely buy into the branding idea and think that we, who work in the world of Jewish teens, could certainly learn a thing or two about ‘branding’ with an image overhaul.   If we just had more marketing dollars, or could find a sponsor, or a brand to partner with….oops, there I go again.

In this world of visual overload, I am fine with working on communicating a clearer message as long as it’s an authentic one.  I guess that’s the advice I would give to a Jewish teen approaching bar/bat mitzvah age as well. Go ahead, think about who you really are. Make sure it reflects your true self, incorporates core Jewish values and ethics, then go ahead, brand yourself as the most special person you are.


Non-Day School Jewish Teens: Orphans in the Field?

photo courtesy of ePublicist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost every day I experience a huge disconnect between my reality and the world of foundations and philanthropy.  

I would like someone to take note that the Jewish community consists of more stakeholders than students at  Jewish day schools and summer camps. 

 I am not always in the mood to respond, but I have to, because I believe that I’m speaking for those who are not speaking for themselves: Jewish teens who are not attending day schools.   

Really, do any teens, let alone Jewish teens, need someone to speak out on their behalf? Since when are teens quiet? On the contrary,  teens are usually outspoken and full of comments about everything

But it’s not their job to keep up with the Jewish educational world, it’s mine.  So, I apologize if this post seems redundant and quite similar to things you’ve read before.  I am not dropping this issue, even if it means no one will read about it any more.

I do need to advocate for the thousands of Jewish teens out there that are not currently enrolled in day school.  I think day schools are a fine option for those families who have made that choice.  As Jewish educators we generally believe in the ‘more is better’ axiom. 

But for those teens who have opted for a different educational setting, there is little attention/money/support paid to them.

This is how my online experience usually goes: I might get a Google Alert. Or I read about a new program/initiative/study/ that is usually directed toward day school students/Jewish camps/Israel trips. 

For example, today I read about a great program, supported the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited, that along with Yeshiva University, places young and innovative teachers in day schools and mentors them for a few years with workshops, additional training opportunities, and other support systems. 

This is a great idea, no?  Who would say that such a thing is not necessary?  It is what the Jewish community should be doing to support young and motivated educators so that they stay connected to the Jewish community and act as role models for those yet in school.

Okay, so here is how I see it:  there are thousands of students in supplementary Jewish high schools, and many who graduate in twelfth grade are teaching in those same schools when they get to college.  The harsh reality, is that most receive very little support and/or mentoring.  Often, they leave after just a few years, burnt out and never to return. 

These are often the best, brightest, and most Jewishly committed students who may have held regional board positions in their youth groups, may have chosen to attend Jewish camps for the summer, and may have been on several Israel trips.  Their downfall is that they haven’t attended a Jewish day school. 

Sometimes I get tired of sounding  the same note in an unbroken melody post after post.  One thing hasn’t changed: the number of American Jewish students attending Jewish day schools outside the ultra-Orthodox community has barely budged, yet the Jewish community has not re-oriented itself. This has been reported in numerous places.  Even Michael Steinhardt was quoted as saying that the lack of growth in the day school population is “sad, sad, sad.”

So, what do I want? I want these Jewishly committed teens to get the attention they deserve. Do we really think we’re building community by not paying attention to these ‘orphans’ in the Jewish educational field?

 

How Jewish Youth Go About Repairing the World

A report came out recently detailing the volunteer activities of Jewish young adults.  Some interesting facts emerge:

The good news  is that a large percentage of these young adults are participating in community work at a rate of  up to 86% depending on denominational and identity factors.  Also, over three-quarters of them are involved in civic activity. 

The bad news? Most of the volunteering takes place infrequently and is episodic.

Though the population examined is “young adults” my own experience with teens mirror these two findings.  So many students have told me about their “mitzvah project” in the year leading up to and including the Bar/Bat mitzvah year. 

They see  the experience as an obligatory ‘check off’ on the list of tasks they need to accomplish and perhaps talk about from the podium.  A small minority might even get local press about their efforts.  Few, if any, continue the practice beyond the mandated time. 

I don’t disagree with the idea that service is a value to be pursued, but if we desire different results, we need to examine the process of how we engage these young teens.  It may be that the launch of these volunteer projects in tandem with this Jewish rite of passage feels a bit forced. 

It is interesting to note that according to the survey, young Jewish adults don’t even know about volunteer opportunities in the Jewish community, and feel that Jewish organizations do not address the causes that are most relevant for them.  Wow.  In addition, it seems that Jewish values are not the prime motivators for their decisions, but rather universal values are.  This is not a bad thing, but if Jewish identification is what we’re after when we pitch  doing ‘mitzvahs’, then we are missing a big opportunity.