Home November 2011 Kids Konnection

Kids Konnection

As most of you who read my column know, we lead an observant and Jewish life.  While we do not choose to practice our religion the way many of our Orthodox friends do, such as being Shomer Shabbos or eating Kosher, our “Jewishness” is a central part of our daily lives.  Our children are very involved in multiple Jewish youth groups, attend post-B’nai Mitzvah religious school classes and serve as teaching assistants for the younger grades. We belong to the J, attend Shabbat services on a pretty regular basis, and observing all of the main Jewish holidays is a “given” in our home.  So, this past Yom Kippur, when our 15-year-old began seriously questioning our faith and our traditions, it was somewhat shocking.
At first, when he announced that he thought that fasting was “ridiculous” and “illogical” and really has nothing to do with atoning for one’s sins (and that he thought he could atone much better if he weren’t so hungry), we chalked it up to his just being grouchy because of the fast.  However, as we delved deeper into this fairly intense conversation with him, we realized that he is really questioning not only why we need to fast – and, more specifically who, exactly, said we need to fast because he really does not think it was G-d – but also much of what we learn from the Torah and what we do as Jews.
My husband and I both had different initial reactions.  Marlon’s first instinct was to just tell Harrison that Jews have followed these traditions for many hundreds of years, and we don’t need to question them.  We just do what we’re expected to do.  My first gut feeling, on the other hand, was to immediately worry that he was heading towards a less involved Jewish existence, which, of course, led me to the concern that he was planning a more secular and less observant lifestyle, which could undoubtedly lead to … gasp… marrying a non-Jewish girl.
But, as we spent the afternoon really listening to him and what he had to say, we realized that such questioning is probably not only normal at his age, but also a good and healthy thing.  It led to a very productive and enlightening conversation with him about a whole host of issues and actually turned the Yom Kippur afternoon into a really meaningful one.  At the conclusion of our talk, we encouraged him to express some of these concerns and topics to our rabbis and educators and to engage in discussions about these issues with the other kids in his Confirmation class.  Rather than just accepting everything as “the way it is,” as long as he remains respectful and appropriate and listens to the viewpoints of others while expressing his own concerns and beliefs, such dialogue would actually be extremely healthy, mature and enlightening.
This whole discussion did prompt me to research books that may offer insight as our children progress past the pre-B’nai Mitzvah years of accepting everything they are told and into the years where they will question things, have their own viewpoints and beliefs and try to find their own place in the world.  To start, I dusted off The Jewish Book of Why that all three kids received from the temple for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (well, ok, Jacob and Michela’s didn’t need to be dusted off since they got them last month, but they did need to be unwrapped!).  When the kids have some time for leisure reading at Thanksgiving or during the winter holidays, I am going to suggest that we read the book together as a family, so that we can discuss everything.
Additionally, I did some searching for other books and found a few that look great, so I ordered them from Amazon.  One that looks amazing and has garnered excellent reviews is Parenting Jewish Teens, A Guide for the Perplexed by Joanne Doades.  Two others that I’m anxious to read are by Wendy Mogel, who was an excellent speaker at one of our recent Shabbat services at temple and whose humor and stories were enjoyable to listen to and thought provoking, are: Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers and Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self Reliant Children.  Finally, in my searching, I found a couple of books that look great for the kids to read to help them as they search for answers, question their Jewish identity and beliefs and explore various issues. These are: The Time of Our Lives: A Teen Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle by Scott Blumenthal and The Thinking Jewish Teenager’s Guide to Life by Akiva Tatz.
While researching books to read, I came across several websites that look worth having our teenagers explore (I still can’t believe we have THREE teenagers in our house!).  The first is theLockers.net,  which was created by rabbis who felt there should be a safe place for Jewish teens to have dialogue with other Jewish teens, ask questions and express their beliefs.  A second site I found looks like it hasn’t been updated recently, but still has some interesting aspects.  It is JVibe.com, which was created to bring teens together from across the globe to bridge the gap of language barriers, geographical boundaries and Jewish backgrounds, offering avenues for Jewish expression and a new perspective to explore Jewish culture and opportunities.
The various youth group organizations also all have websites that not only have information about their local, regional and national youth groups and events, but also offer many ways for teens to explore different topics of interest and to blog, share ideas and connect.  These are bbyo.org (B’nai Brith Youth Organization, which is the umbrella for the AZA and BBG high school fraternity/sororities), nfty.org (the North American Federation of Temple Youth, a Reform youth group), usy.org (United Synagogue Youth, a Conservative based movement), and ncsy.org (which is the youth group of the Orthodox movement.)
We can’t wait to explore these websites and read these books with our teenagers and talk together as a family about the various issues, so that we can help guide them as they navigate the confusing path of reconciling their own beliefs, interpretations and plans with our Jewish traditions and ideals.

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