Tag Archives: supplementary Jewish high school

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.

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Guiding teens without a moral compass. Hint: they cheat!

English: A HTC Desire S showing a compass app

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Picture this: a class of freshly minted teenagers, not even a year after becoming b’nei mitzvah, who attend an optional Jewish education program.

Ostensibly they come from homes where the parent/s place an importance on Jewish values. Yet, despite that, they seem to have internalized society’s penchant for abdicating personal responsiblity.

Over 90% of high school students cheat. Entire schools have been accused of tampering with test results.

These incidents reverberate beyond charts and stats–and I felt the tremors last week.

I presented this scenario to students taking a class in Jewish values and ethics:

Your teacher asks you to take home and complete a unit summary without looking at notes, any textbooks, or the internet. What would you do?

I value their openness with me. Only one student in the class said that he would not cheat. One out of 15 students. Eighth graders.

What did the other students say? Most nodded enthusiastically to this response:

It was the teacher’s fault….she shouldn’t have expected us not to look at anything. Did she think we wouldn’t cheat?”

So, what they were saying is that the teacher should have known better. She should have known not to trust them.  For them, there is no such thing as an honor system.

When I was in middle school, cheating also occurred. It’s just that we knew who would cheat and who wouldn’t. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

In fact, what was the kicker to my question? Three students said that their teacher just gave them a similar assignment–to complete a worksheet at home–and when they came back to school she revealed that she expected them to look things up even though she asked them not to.  So this lack of trust goes both ways.

This is the world we are all living in and this is what we’re up against. 

There were other comments by students toward the beginning of the lesson that didn’t surprise me; comments about whether ‘to tell’ on a friend who cheated or stole. That was pretty predictable. The peer pressure is so intense they admitted, that no one wants to be labeled as ‘the kid who tells’.

When I discussed their reasoning for what they shared with me, they said that it’s okay because in “middle school you don’t have to worry about anything yet” (i.e. high school then college). They  continued trying to convince me that their choice was okay: “what you do in school doesn’t really matter until you get to 9th grade, or even 10th.

I wanted to teach them a different course of action and there were many topics to explore, but the clock was ticking with little time left in the period.

I could have espoused other teachings from sages and scholars who have been grappling with these issue throughout our tradition. I didn’t think this would resonate.  Instead, I briefly mentioned the perspective of Jewish law regarding personal responsibility.

Then, I told them they are like onions. Their character has layers, and everything they do, every action they take, forms who they are.  Those layered experiences are part of them, much like the peels of an onion that won’t just disappear when they get to another grade.

And if they make choices that they will regret, those choices will be there, under the surface, but there none the less.  And it will affect them.  Guiding teens through these perplexing situations is what we can do as Jewish educators and parents. How do we begin the process with our teens?

A good place to start is by opening the door to these types of conversations. Allow your teens to share what their school environment is like, and what ethical challenges they face. Listen to what they say. They are our very sweetest onions.


The Twitter Connection

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The world-wide web (wow, I actually enjoy writing those words as it makes me focus on this mini miracle machine that allows me to enter that world through this blog) was once a static platform.  Interactivity was minimal.

Now, web 2.0  is for the prosumer, and is an active-oriented, creative and interactive platform where even the smallest voice gets heard.

So how did the concept of a Twitter “Follow” ever stick?

I’m surely not the first person to think or write about this. I haven’t googled this to find the endless number of blogs about this topic, but for me, this has become an issue when I try to acknowledge people who are (choke)  following me.

My aversion to this word is in direct disproportion to how I feel about the platform itself, which exists on people following other people.

I am a twitter follower. I’ve been on twitter since March and have learned so much from so many well-respected and talented educators who constitute my PLN.  I’ve learned about resources, websites, tools and received ideas and encouragement.

Hashtags, chats, bitly, tweetdeck, hootsuite, twuffer, are tools that I could not do without. RT’s, MT’s, HT’s are de-mystified as I go about my tweeting.

Why then, do I literally crunch up my shoulders and cringe when I check my account to see who my “Followers” are?

Here’s my dilemma: I certainly ‘Follow’ people on Twitter.  Yet when I find out that someone has  ‘followed’ me I just can’t do what others have done.

I can’t thank them for “following” me–it feels absurd and I just can’t get the word out.  So, instead I thank them for connecting.

So much more comfortable. So much more web 2.0.


Jewish Teens:The Young and (thankfully) Restless

English: The Young and the Restless, logo of t...

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With a nod to the TV show, I recently encountered a unique version of the restless young; amazing and energetic young adults staffing or attending an International Youth Convention. They are eager to change things up in the world of Judaism.

I needed this dose of inspiration because sometimes being a Jewish educator can slowly gnaw away at one’s naturally optimistic nature.

The people I met are committed to doing some great work.

Harvard graduate, now in Israel attending rabbinical school, is the Rabbinic Intern at a synagogue south of the Lebanon border.  He’s chosen this career over countless other opportunities.  He leads parent and teen educational sessions, capitalizing on upcoming b’nei mitzvot as a natural interest builder. The parents are highly curious and very engaged in learning.

Jewish future? Score one win!

A graduate of our Jewish community high school who is now a college senior happily told me that beginning in August, he plans to make Aliyah to Israel. He will be joining Garin Tzabar, the organization that facilitates this process. He sees this as his next step after college. I also met up with the daughter of a colleague, finishing day school this year, who also plans on making aliyah through this organization.

Jewish future? Score another win!

Then I briefly met a young Rabbi of a synagogue in central New Jersey who I remembered from my days at Camp Ramah, interested in dynamic ways of reaching out to congregants and whose wife is working professionally in informal Jewish education.  What a young  power team.

Jewish future? Score!

I suddenly felt as if I was attending a Jewish education movie preview where I was on the red carpet, interacting with our team’s all-stars.

I then met that Rabbi’s brother, also in Rabbinical school, serving as kitchen kashrut (kosher) supervisor (mashgiach). He made sure that he connected and made friends with the kitchen and hotel staff because they need to know that in Jewish practice, everyone is important.

Jewish future? I’m still counting wins!

I forgot to mention that the college senior’s sister, also a graduate of our program, is now spending the year in Israel. On my way out, just when I felt that it couldn’t get better, I met another graduate of our program, who is teaching in a day school.

Wins? For sure. It seems from my small vantage point that the collective we are doing something right when just these few young adults have been inspired to change things up.

They are young. They are restless to get started. Let the Jewish future begin!

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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.


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.


What today’s Jewish teens are ‘okay’ with

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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.

 
 

A young and energetic Hebrew School teacher writes….

This is the e-mail I received today:

 Hi Ruth!  How are you? I hope all is well! As my mom told you, I am now teaching at a local synagogue near my college. I am enjoying it a lot so far, but I’m having trouble coming up with new and creative lesson plans apart from the teacher’s guide. Can you recommend any good books on Jewish lesson plans that I could use for my class? I would really appreciate it!  

Isn’t this a really great e-mail? I love to hear from our graduates. Here’s why I think this e-mail is so wonderful:

1. the writer graduated our program with honors, received a teaching certificate and is doing precisely what we hoped she’d do–teach in a synagogue school while in college.    

2. She obviously enjoys what she’s doing and has a commitment to her students.

3. She is aware of what specific tools and resources would help her be a more successful teacher.

4. She is asking for assistance. 

So, now the bad news:

1. She may not be receiving any supervision at the synagogue school.

2. Whether or not she is, she doesn’t feel a comfort level in asking for help.

3. It doesn’t seem like there are peers who could help each other work this through, or even mentors assigned to her in her first, very important year.

4. Many of our best and brightest work in synagogue Hebrew Schools. They get little help.

5. We may lose her and her energy in a year or two, and this experience may even impact her years later. 

This e-mail is not unique, and I’ve heard similar anecdotes before.

I know there are some programs and initiatives now to tackle some of these issues, however most focus on day schools.

I just don’t know if they will reach THIS young woman.

Several months ago, I  crafted a proposal for a web-based support system for college-age teachers in supplementary schools that was submitted to a foundation.

It didn’t get funded.


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.


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

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

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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.


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?

 

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?