15 August 2009 - 25 Av 5769 - כ"ה אב ה' אלפים תשס"ט
Thinking ahead for survival in the Jewish teens Print E-mail

In just about three months, we will be celebrating Israel’s 60th Anniversary. Historical times and miracles are celebrated.

What opportunities for a celebration would there be if the hundreds of Jewish students throughout China, the Philippines, Singapore, Bangkok, Vietnam, and other Asian countries where Jewish teens have become prevalent could be offered some sense of Jewish observance and Jewish celebration combined with continued Jewish education?


The great sacrifice made by parents in bringing children from an established Jewish community to outposts in Asia challenge the regional Jewish community to teach during unique moments and provide formal education and celebration throughout Southeast Asia.  

We often make the mistake of celebrating tiny tots events and activities without paying attention to identifying teen needs.  Trends of assimilation in the world Jewish community where intermarriage runs rampant confront students through university, at which point they often terminate their connection with the Jewish community.

There are those of us in Jewish education who feel that the most important stage for our children, frankly, is adolescence.  We are just now coming to terms with the life of a Jewish teenager, his/her needs far outweighing the apples and honey of early childhood.  This is not to diminish the importance of setting strong roots and building foundations so that Jewish children develop enthusiasm and a Jewish identity at a very early age.  

No one can underestimate the power and spirituality of young Jewish children, but the curse of Bar and Bat Mitzvah is that we are certain that we have finished our job.  Do we become so to speak the “terminators” by not having the vision to understand that the history of the Jewish people is not child’s play?  

We must train the adults of the future, and living in places like China and other countries where the Jewish community does not provide for Jewish High School level studies means we are playing with a vulnerable if not an explosive situation.

Students need to grasp the events of the day and apply their learned morality and value system to the challenges of the daily news.  It is important, therefore, to seize the moment and make adolescent education our  utmost priority so that students can tap into Jewish history and become alive, understanding the events that lead us to celebrate, soon, 60 years of anniversary, a dream come true.

It is time to consider regional boarding schools and regional cooperative efforts so that we can support the many teens throughout their pre-college years.  Students throughout Southeast Asia may then continue as we make education an authentic springboard for the creation of responsible Jewish adults who feel rooted in tradition and steadfast in their heritage and are able to compete on the university campus as they become part of the global Jewish community.  

The Jewish High School growth throughout the world comes with increased awareness of the importance of Jewish memory and maintaining relationships in the Jewish community with its differences and variety of Jewish institutions, partnering with synagogues, cultural organisations and youth movements, and providing activities to help stem the disappearance of thousands of day school age students from the Jewish community.  

Although the peer group is the strongest influcence on students of today, nevertheless, parents are looked to for guidance and may not be aware of the fact that inaction is an action in itself.  Tacit agreement to students’ opting out of continued Jewish education sends the message to the teen that parents agree, Judaism is over … its time to go greet the “real world”.

Let us make sure the next generation can go out to greet this “real world” now global and “transformed” well equipped with their Jewish values and Jewish knowledge.

Supplied by Edwin Epstein, Headmaster of Carmel School. Hong Kong

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