Parenting Podcast: Today I am a Man
“The Jewish community is losing boys who drop out of Jewish life after bar mitzvah in unacceptably large numbers. Jewish institutions are struggling to keep teenage boys engaged. Left unaddressed, the trend threatens to undermine the Jewish future and leave a generation of boys ignorant of the wisdom, core values, community, and spiritual nourishment Judaism provides.”
—Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys: A Call to Action, Moving Traditions, 2010
If we believe that Judaism is a meaningful component of a full adult life, then how are we equipping our children to grow into knowledgeable and engaged Jewish adults? The bulk of our efforts are spent on children. Most people expect that sending their children to religious school two hours/week starting in kindergarten and then four hours/week from fourth through seventh grade is a solid commitment to Jewish education. If you do the math, assuming the child goes to school every year for 30 weeks (a generous estimate) and never misses a day, that is the equivalent of just under 25 weeks of public school (assuming 5 hours a day of study). That’s six months of school, spread out over 8 years. Even if you wanted to compare it to a subject that was taught for an hour/day in public school, you’d have less than three and a half years of study, and I’d argue that everything we want to teach in religious school is more than one subject. What do we expect? After essentially three years (on the generous end), or just six months of elementary school, a basic understanding of holidays and Bible stories and a moderate degree of fluency reading a foreign language is not bad. But it’s not enough time to learn what our rich tradition has to offer, nor to really demonstrate why an adult would want to spend time at synagogue or marking his or her life through Jewish ritual.
Judaism is countercultural. It has a powerful message to offer us,particularly when the message of the dominant culture is corrupt. But it also takes courage and knowledge to understand that power and to live by it. This is why it is so important that we reach our teens as they are figuring out what kind of men and women they will be. The Reform Movement will be addressing this challenge head-on at the Education Summit on Youth Engagement as part of the 2011 Biennial Convention. Join us. And listen to this week’s parenting podcasts from Deborah Meyer and Rabbi Daniel Brenner of Moving Traditions to learn from this exciting organization about powerful ways to reach our young men and women.
Wendy Grinberg, RJE is a URJ Parenting Specialist.