HMS 5764-9; Jewish Education after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg

November 22, 2004 – Number 5765-9

Jewish Education after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah

There is an old myth that Jewish education can be stopped after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I guess it depends on how the parents see the goal of Jewish education. If Judaism is to be anything more than a quaint footnote in the family history, than the family must confront the continuing education of their children.
The most important part of a teenager’s Jewish education is the continuing education of his or her parents. Teens are very aware of cases of “do as I say, not as I do” and lose interest quickly when they do things that seem to play no role at all in the family life. Parents who attend synagogue regularly will find their children will want to attend with them, in the adult service. Parents who study will, with their lessons, inspire their children to study. While working for the Jewish community, on communal committees and organizations as a volunteer is crucial for the Jewish community, if the endless meetings will take a parent away from a student who needs parental imput, than it will work against strong Jewish connections in the children. This applies even to synagogue committees that are not connected to learning. Teens need to know that their life comes first, only later do we volunteer our time.
For teens, there are two kinds of Jewish Education. Formal and Informal. Formal Education refers to Judaica High School, Confirmation and College level Jewish studies classes. Jewish Day Schools, at the High School level often provide a quality secular education, with proper guidance programs for the college bound, with sophisticated Judaic studies in Talmud, Bible, Hebrew and Rabbinic Literature. Confirmation classes often have the additional benefit of studying with the Rabbi of their own congregation. Judaica High School offers a wide selection to “taste” the different aspects of Adult Jewish Studies as well as the possibility of adding education classes to earn a “Sunday School Teaching Certificate”, which can be translated into a steady job when the student reaches college.
Informal Jewish Education includes Youth Groups, Summer Camps and Israel Programs. Youth Groups offer a selection of activities and travel opportunities that broaden the teen’s horizons. Summer camp offers a full immersion in Jewish Life for 4-8 weeks. Israel programs offer each teen a connection with the world wide Jewish community and a personal connection to their own faith. Older teens can also benefit from Eastern European tours that visit sites important to Judaism before and during the Holocaust. March of the Living, Ramah and USY all offer Eastern European tours for 11 and 12 graders.
Much of the life of a Teen is social. They are interested in expanding their circle of friends and dating also becomes a concern. In both formal and informal Jewish educational settings, there are many opportunities to enlarge the student’s circle of Jewish friends. It is from these circles that the pattern of later Jewish affiliation will grow. As the students interests in Jewish activities grows, this helps lead to affiliation at college with Jewish groups and later connections as a young adult. Studies have shown that Youth Groups, Israel Tours, Summer camp and Jewish Education all increase the chances that the young adult will stay connected to Judaism, that he or she will marry a Jewish partner and raise Jewish children.
When the time comes to select a college. The rule of thumb is “Large Universities in Large Cities” followed by “Large Universities in Small cities”. Both of these will have significant numbers of Jewish students and will help a student stay involved in their faith while away at school. “Small Universities in Small Cities” is a recipe for disaster. Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Life on Campus, puts out an annual guide to Judaism on College campus, with information about Judaic classes, Jewish organizations and total numbers of Jewish Students who attend. This should be part of the college selection process.
Parents may find that they will have to “insist” that a student continue in formal and informal Jewish educational settings for a while. There are many organizations that are fighting for the teens attention. By showing our preference early for Jewish organizations and classes, and our own connection to them, we will set the pattern that will last a lifetime. My father always reminded me of one warning: “you only get to make the decisions for your child for the first 15 years. After that, they make most of their own decisions. They will ask for advice, but your control over their life begins to quickly wane”. If we set our standards early, our children will reap a lifetime of Jewish rewards.

Next week: Jewish Spirituality for Children and Teens

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