Removing Teen Angst

Saturday night, I was enjoying seder with 26 people (many I had never met), and while going through the Hagaddah there was a quote that truly spoke to me (another person at the table also had the same “aha” moment). In the Rabbinical Assembly Hagaddah, Feast of Freedom, a side note about the four questions included the following:

Rabbi Wolfe of Zhitomir said, “For the believer, there is no question....for the non-believer, there is no answer.”

This comment really hit me. Think about how these words relate to so many things in our world: the current election cycle and the candidates we may support...your views on social issues…how you view the continuing Israel-Palestinian conflict...even religion in general.

Rabbi Wolfe’s comment epitomizes how we relate to others. As parents we place limits on our children with a clear understanding of why. My teens seemingly only want to question our authority and test the boundaries. No matter what response we give them, the answer is never correct. Perhaps parents are the believers – and our children the non-believers.

My children are no different than teens everywhere (at least I tell myself that). It is my responsibility as a parent to “love them and limit them.” I want them to grow, mature, ask tough questions, and be who they are. Yet, I understand, they will disagree, see things differently, and challenge me. I love it (most of the time). 

Teenagers are an important constituency in our community. You may recall the Jewish Federation earlier this year made the decision to focus on two priority demographics: school-aged children/teens and young adults (22-35).

Fortunately for us, last week the Jewish Education Project published a comprehensive study titled,Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today. The findings are a guide as we build on our current efforts (we have incredible professionals and teen initiatives) and enhance how we engage and educate Jewish teens in Portland for the long-term.

The study outlines four main categories (four is the perfect number during Passover) and sets fourteen “outcomes” (what we hope to achieve with our efforts -- in italics) to maximize the impact of Jewish teen education and engagement.

Who Am I?

  • Jewish teens have a strong sense of self.Parents of teens realize how busy they are, the pressures they face, and the stresses they endure (not only in their school work). As much as they want to engage in activities that make them happy, they also want experiences that will help them succeed in their own lives.
  • Jewish teens feel a sense of pride about being Jewish. We must understand that many teens identify with Jewish life outside of the parameters of traditional religious observance. Studies consistently show fewer Jewish teens today identify with Jewish religious practice, rituals, prayer and synagogues. Promoting an authentic Jewish life that also values culture and ethnicity may resonate with larger segments of the Jewish teen population.
  • Jewish teens have learning experiences that are both challenging and valuable for today and their future.
  • Jewish teens engage in learning that enables them to be more active participants in various Jewish communities. Teens want to do things with their peers. Data shows the more Jewish friends who do Jewish activities the more Jewish engagement.

With Whom and What am I connected?

  •  Jewish teens learn about and positively experience Jewish holidays and Shabbat.
  • Jewish teens establish strong friendships. Their peer group is one of the most influential factors for adolescents today – and even more critical in their later teen years.
  • Jewish teens develop strong and healthy relationships with their families. The role of the family cannot be diminished. Parents enable their children to make life choices, including those related to being Jewish. Even when teens have differences with their parents’ viewpoints and practices, these differences are commonly viewed as part of a healthy relationship.
  • Jewish teens develop significant relationships with mentors, role models, and educators.They want these supportive relationships.
  • Jewish teens are able to express their values and ethics in relation to Jewish principles and wisdom. A major challenge in the study was the frequency with which teenagers referred to the complete irrelevancy of much of their Jewish learning. Teens explained what they learned in Jewish frameworks often had no connection to their current stage of life. Moreover, many have a universalistic view of the world and see their “Jewish values” as no different than “human values.”

To whom and for what am I responsible in this world?

  • Jewish teens develop the capacity (skills and language) that allows them to grapple with and express their spiritual journeys. Can they express their Judaism in a way that is comfortable and comforting to them?
  • Jewish teens feel connected to various communities. Jewish and non-Jewish. Real and virtual.
  • Jewish teens develop the desire and commitment to be part of the Jewish people now and in the future -- the bifurcated challenge of “choice” and “obligation.” Jewish life today is voluntary and teens want experiences that are accessible, valued, and affordable.

How can I bring about change in this world?

  • Jewish teens are inspired and empowered to make a positive difference in the various communities and world in which they live.Teens want to make a difference – in the Jewish community and outside!

No one ever said the teenage years are easy – for the teens and their parents. They are impressionable years that will set the path for their Jewish connectedness in the decades ahead. What we do today matters! And how we work in partnership with our teen population will have a profound impact on the Jewish community of tomorrow. We can learn from these findings and create new avenues of engagement and education – and find the funding to make this a reality.

I hope that you and your family continue to enjoy the Passover holiday and an early Shabbat shalom (we will be closed Friday for the holiday).



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