by Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath –
While I spend a great deal of time talking about my love of Jewish teens, which inspires the work that I do every day, like anyone who spends a lot of time with adolescents, I also have a list of challenges that come with working with this population. My hope is that in sharing them, others will be able to share as well, not just challenges, but also ideas for solutions and best practices for turning said challenges into opportunities for growth + success.
Jewish teens, like their peers from all faith traditions, are across the board over-programmed. With Jewish education + engagement being just one on what’s usually a long list of extra-curricular activities, finding time with teens and getting them to prioritize Jewish moments is often the biggest challenge.
In my work with Jewish teens, I often hear contradictions when I ask them what they’re looking for and what appeals to them. In the same sentence, a teen can tell me that they want more content/want it to be ‘worthwhile’ for them to come to activities or programs, while simultaneously asking for things to be fun and not too time-consuming. Finding the balance between the two is the perennial challenge of supplementary education.
Adolescence is a time of tremendous upheaval, both internally and externally. Among Jewish teens that I’ve worked with, this can often result in a hesitancy to fully give over to the learning experience, lest one not appear cool and detached. Creating an environment where teens can put their insecurities aside and allow themselves to have fun in an uninhibited way is often a tall order.
Jewish teens today are coming of age in a different world than previous generations. As a Millennial myself, I often think that my experiences are mirrored in that of my Gen Z students. But they constantly challenge my assumptions. Teens today have a different set of preconceived notions about the world, issues they care about, and ways they express their identity, and relating to them on their level is important in building meaningful connections.
Many of the teens I work with don’t view Judaism as a web of interconnected aspects, but rather as a direct spectrum, and they correlate activities and beliefs with a degree of Judaism. When I hear someone say “I’m not as Jewish” as so and so, the new iteration of “I’m a bad Jew,” it immediately diverts the conversation, as I’m low-key on a crusade to empower teens in the validity of their own Judaism and Jewish choices, even if they don’t manifest in a traditional way.
At the same time, I often find myself wanting to push my teens to identify what makes an action or an activity Jewish, beyond that a Jew is doing it. I don’t think it’s enough to have a laser tag party with fellow Jews and call that a Jewish activity. It’s Jews doing an activity together for sure, but exploring Judaism beyond the fun of being together is what I see as the role of education.
What are your biggest challenges in working with Jewish teens? Share in the comments!.
Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath is a Jewish educator passionate about connecting with Jewish teens and emerging adults, talking about Israel, history, philanthropy, and food, and sharing meaningful icebreakers as often as she can. By day, she works in the Cleveland Jewish community and is in the process of pursuing an EdD in Jewish Educational Leadership. You can read more of her work at www.SamanthaVinokorMeinrath.com
Leave A Comment