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Empowering our Teens: A Key to a Positive Future 

It’s no secret that some of our national news has been disheartening of late. Regardless of which side of the aisle you are on, we open our newsfeeds every day to stories of hate, anger, deception, and challenges. When we think of the ramifications in the future of some of the actions being taken today, it can be difficult to show excitement and anticipation for what is to come. 

The synagogue should be different – we want to encourage our young people that there is a bright future ahead and they can, and will, be a part of it! In this vein, our 7th graders will participate in a speaker series this spring in which they hear inspiring stories of how one person can make a positive change in our world. We will hear from friends in our community who have identified problems and challenges around them, and have taken the initiative to make our world a better place. 

In an article from 2015, Rabbi Samuel Joseph and Dr. Betsey Stone (of HUC Cincinnati and New York, respectively) take a look at “Kids Today.” As I’m sure is no surprise, they find that being a teen in the twenty-first century is much harder than it ever has been in the past – in addition to the workload of being a student (which seems to get tougher and tougher each year), our teens are expected to stay connected to their social world 24/7, achieve high levels of proficiency outside of the classroom in order to present a well-rounded picture to colleges and universities, as well as have time to “just be kids.” This constant connectivity has an impact on their sleep – as a result of sleep deprivation, teens “seem less friendly, less cooperative, and not helpful around the house.” 

Sound familiar? 

At the same time, however, Joseph and Stone are positive about the future that these teens are building: “Teens are generous and committed to changing and improving their world. They care a great deal about their peers. They have lots of character strengths and are truly capable of developing more.” 

This is where the synagogue can play a powerful role: providing a place for teens to begin to explore their own sense of philanthropic identity and how to make society a place in which they want to live. Our first step as a community is to show our teens that even though their everyday lives are often subject to the decisions of others (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) the synagogue is a place that encourages them to take control of their dreams and make them a reality. Their ideas, drive, and attitude are the first steps – we are their advocates as they endeavor to build a world of which they are proud. 

For more of the aforementioned study, check out the fall 2015 edition of the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly. I’m happy to make you a hard copy if you’re interested! 

Rabbi Monica Kleinman