Monthly Archives: July 2012

Jewish Education: How to add value for Jewish Teens

Are we selling the right “product”?

It used to be that you couldn’t use words like “sell”, “product” or “market” easily when talking about Jewish education.

That was when the product actually sold itself.

Jewish education was valued for its own sake; no one needed to be sold on its importance.

In today’s consumer environment, the game has changed.

The terms value-added, cost-benefit analysis, customer base, target markets and more are now part of the consumer’s consciousness.

And we need to respond appropriately.

What are we selling that Jewish teens should buy?

We’re not selling widgets or milkshakes, but we really need to determine the value added of programs past the drop-off age of bar/bat mitzvah.

What are you selling? Fun? Free? Friends? Food?

Or are we selling things that might resonate with today’s teens on so many levels:

For the college conscious population: promoting intellectual curiosity, college readiness, opportunity for debate, free exchange of marketplace ideas, ways to connect with timeless tradition….

For teens who have the gut-wrenching angst of fearing they don’t fit in: discussing issues that happen in public school in a supportive, ethic-laden environment, communicating with a group of Jewish peers about the anti-semitic/Israel/Zionism remark overheard in social studies classes, or talking about the ethical conundrum of knowing  your friends cheat/do drugs/cut themselves/abuse others/are abused….

the lists can go on. These are parts of the program that will make a difference—a lasting impact.

And oh yes, the program also offers fun, food, and friends.

So, what are we selling? And what will Jewish teens and their parents be buying?

Photocredit: Google images free use

Why do buildings substitute for substance for Jewish teens?

List of Jews in literature and journalism

It used to be Culture vs Content. Now is it Building vs Substance?







I call this the IMBY* Phenomenon: In My Back Yard.

It’s the reason that often holds synagogue communities back from collaborating. It’s the pull of the building.

And often, programs that would offer more substance are foregone in favor of holding programs right where everyone wants them to be, in their own backyard.

I remember years ago, a beloved teacher (who has since moved to Israel) used to mourn the sad state of Jewish education when she grimly noted that parents were interested in “Polaroid Judaism”, meaning that as long as their kids were ‘exposed’ to Jewish culture they’d stay connected.

So, if they attended a Jewish film, ate some Jewish food, and speckled their language with a few Jewish words, that would suffice to strengthen their tenuous ties to Judaism.

Well, this is one step further than that.

This is a quote I heard recently when a parent was discussing her son’s involvement in synagogue:

” Well, at least he walks into the building (one night a month). I’m happy he does that.” 

It seems like it’s enough for some parents that their kids connect with Judaism just by walking in the synagogue.

As if one can believe in a building.  Or that kids can ‘get’ Judaism by osmosis.

Sometimes, against all financial odds and educational common sense, the powers that be want the programs at their particular location precisely because they want kids to be in the building.

Do we have so much invested in the membership/mortgage structure that we’re happy just when the building is used?

There’s a well-told story about a Rabbi who asks a camper (who participated in a camp’s weekly havdallah ceremony by the lake) if she was continuing the practice at home.

“I can’t”, she replied.

“Why not, don’t you remember the service?”

“Yes, of course. But I can’t.”

“Why then?”

“Because there’s no lake.”

Let’s make sure our programs are created and continue for all the right reasons not  just because they’re in the building.

We all know that buildings don’t substitute for substance.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced this phenomenon in your area?


*The original term NIMBY is an acronym for Not In My Back Yard, which became shorthand for the attitude that people did not want anything that might be construed as unsavory located in their neighborhoods.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Read what one teen says about teachers

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September...

From the 1950’s, but great teachers create impact no matter the year

This summer I’m working with an intern through a program that combines work experience with college preparation. Great idea, no? I’m fortunate that this person has also been a part of our school for years, and is somewhat familiar with the world of blogging (and has his own gaming site blog!).

I asked him about his experience in our Jewish community high school, and to be a guest blogger.

“Something I really find a need for in Jewish education is good teachers. I hear my friends complaining a lot that their teachers are uninteresting, and they may find hebrew school, or any religious school for that matter, a waste of time or boring.

I don’t entirely disagree with that. If a teacher cannot find an interesting way to teach a subject or at least a way to keep the students interested, then they won’t want to learn, and they won’t care about Jewish education.

As a highschool student myself I find that the only reason I really keep coming to hebrew school now, is the great teachers and the friends I have made. The teachers that I have found to be the best are the ones that don’t just teach the subject. They know how to really engage us into the topic.

These special teachers have been able to not only get my attention, but to really make me think.

They have been able to start great class discussions that weren’t even meant to happen.  I also think it is better when the teacher treats us like an adult, like we can handle more mature topic matters.

I have had teachers in the past that would break every subject down—spoon-feeding us the material, and would tone down the maturity level simply because we are teenagers.  There was not thinking involved. The best teachers I have had may have provided us with more detailed information, but they do it for a reason, and they would end up explaining why that method was used.

Overall the best teachers make the best Jewish education experiences. If the teacher is really good, they could get any student interested and understand anything.”

Teens Report What Really Happens In Classrooms


Teachers and Classroom Behavior Photo credit: tim ellis

I read an eighth grader’s blog (!) today that resonated with me, and it triggered a memory of what Jewish teens shared with me in a discussion about bullying.

Back to the blog. This young teen wrote about derogatory and mean comments that kids said in hushed tones to others in her class. What they said was either whispered, written, or mouthed out—-all while the teacher’s back was turned.

Can you imagine the effect on the ‘victims’? Just thinking about it will probably tug at your heart.

Instantaneous changes of emotion. Heads bowed. Backs rounded. The day ruined.

And then—-thoughts of a system that offers no corrective action.

The talk I remembered having with my 10th graders was similar. They experienced or witnessed as a bystander, all kinds of inappropriate behavior by teens that was not done at recess, not on the school bus, not on the playing field, but in class!

In most cases, the teacher’s back was turned. 

Want to be shocked?  The students affirmed that sometimes, the teacher was not facing the board, or doing work at the desk.

“What happened during those other times?”, I asked.

“Ugh, the teacher just pretended not to hear or see.”

Can we think of a more challenging environment for our students?

Some feel that they are constantly the ones to point out flaws, misbehavior, or teacher concerns. They’ve told me that when they’ve actually brought these incidents to the teacher’s attention, the information is not even acted upon. And there certainly is a lot of negative feedback the teens get for doing that. (The cultural pull of not being a tattletale comes to mind).

A while ago, I wrote about our schools being Safe Havens, and reading the blog today made this fact even more potent.

No one should deduce that all teachers ignore bad behavior.

But neither should we assume that the teacher is always equipped to manage bad behavior. Or that the teacher gets support from the administration on these issues.

We can rise to the occasion, be better listeners, better mentors, and better teachers of Jewish values.

But that won’t change the system.

Creating students who want to become activists just might.

Supporting their efforts as parents and teachers is what we have to do. And oh yes, we can’t let them give up.

Parents, Social Media & Boundaries: Read These Hard,Cold Facebook Facts

Lack of Parental Controls on FB? Implications for Teens?

For parents, it’s becoming harder and harder to create boundaries of safety for teens, particularly if those parameters were not in place when they had their first forays in the internet world.

Imagine the challenge for those parents who have trouble with knowing what those boundaries should be.

Recent studies have shown that Facebook is filled with ‘friends’ younger than the minimum age of 13. Thirteen.

Unbelievably, many of these young teens join with the help of their parents, and yes, even encouragement to do so.

Noted in the New York Times, there is now software to help parents monitor their children on-line, but the question is, if some parents are not choosing to monitor their children’s activities without the software application, how will installing a new program stem the tide of children’s premature internet involvement?

Why is this an issue? Well, as noted in the article: “the average American family uses five Internet-enabled devices at home…..yet barely one in five parents uses parental controls on those devices.”

So, those of us in schools need to take note of the environment our students are in at home, and even recognize that the boundaries we provide for our students when using internet media may be more important than we think.

Are you concerned about boundaries on social media?

Changing some paradigms for Jewish teens

let’s change some paradigms for the sake of JTeens

What would it take for the Jewish community to join in efforts to motivate Jewish teens to (word alert: overused expression coming up…) engage?

Is there a program that could reach teens in all movements, across denominations, and increase their involvement in their community of choice (synagogue, youth group, camp, Israel trip) at the same time?

I think there is.

A recent article in Education week may shed some light on my thinking regarding this.

Plus, you know that precedents have already been set by seeing a great concept in the secular world and tweaking it a bit to meet the needs of a Jewish population.

The author explored the concept of digital badges  that students could earn, indicating success and accomplishment in certain skill areas:

…”electronic images could be earned for a wide variety of reasons in multiple learning spaces, including after-school programs, summer workshops, K-12 classrooms, and universities. And once earned, the badges could follow students throughout their lifetimes, being displayed on websites or blogs and included in college applications and résumés.”

You can see the potential for the Jewish community, all youth delivery organizations offering the programs they offer, though in concert with the other.  Professionals would need to work together to offer their teens a way to build a Jewish skill resume, sourcing other partners.

Far fetched? Not really.

We’ve started working in this way with our partner organizations, encouraging them to think about communal instead of specific goals.  If we want our teens to develop into leaders for the communal good, if we talk the language of Klal Yisrael, then we might want to make sure our programmatic pieces produce those goals.