A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. —Proverbs 22:1
In 1890, William James first wrote about the idea of “possible selves.” James’ idea can be summarized as follows—children imagine multiple possible futures for themselves (astronauts or Olympic gymnasts or jazz saxophonists) and over time, as they fail at various tasks that they think are necessary to be those things, they start to narrow their possible selves. Contemporary researchers, such as Daphna Oysherman at the University of Michigan, have looked at teens specifically, and how teens envision their future selves. Her argument is that teens need to start thinking about who they want to become and what concrete steps they need to take to get there. Giving teens the idea that they can grow, challenge themselves, and master skills that they currently do not have is an essential part of mentorship.
What kind of “man” do you want to be in relation to other men? this is the central question of this session. We will look closely at the Jewish idea of being a mensch and think about what it means to “have a good name.” Does it require having many friends or being loyal to a best friend? Does having a “good name” mean being humble all the time, or is there a place for pride? Does it require fulfilling obligations to parents or might it require breaking from the expectations of parents? What does it mean to have a “name”—Something that is unique to you, that sets you apart?
In this session the guys will think about what kind of name they are making for themselves in both their social circles and in their imagined futures.
- To envision adulthood and think about the intermediary steps between now and then.
- To encourage participants to reflect upon the nature of their own friendships.
- To foster behaviors that create and nurture close friendships, such as loyalty, honesty, and expression of affection.
- To promote appreciation for the insight that Jewish tradition offers regarding the notion of brotherhood.
In the spirit of friendship, we’re going to play a few team building challenge games where you will need to work together to accomplish various tasks.
#1 Support Group
Line the group up, and have them pass one member of the group from one end of the line to the other without moving their feet and without the one being passed having his feet touch the ground.
#2 Human Knot
Have participants stand in a clump, each one grabbing two different people’s arms, creating a giant human knot. Have them untangle without breaking their grip (For more detailed instructions click here).
- Explain the activity.
- Participants will pair off and face each other at arm’s length.
- First they will extend their arms toward each other, lock their elbows, and place their palms together (with each other).
- Then they will shift their weight forward to simultaneously lean on each other and support each other’s weight.
- At their own pace but synchronized with each other, partners will take incremental steps backward.
- The goal is to get as far apart as possible while still being sturdy. Some pairs may choose to lock fingers if it increases their stability.
- Instruct the guys to pair off, face each other, and begin the activity, trying to form a triangle rather than a house shape with their bodies. They should keep themselves sturdy rather than bend over to extend reach.
- Participants needs to trust their partners to support their weight. Some partners will not go very far; others will be able to hover a few feet from the ground.
- Allow the pairs to attenpt the bridge for a bit; not all need to succeed. After a few pairs get the hang of it, interrupt the action to draw out the learning. Congratulate their efforts regardless of the outcome.
Debrief for all three activities:
- How did you work together to overcome the challenges of these tasks?
- How was trust built while trying to meet the challenges?
- What was necessary to accomplish these tasks that are also part of having and being a good friend?
Here’s an agree/disagree exercise on friends:
- Every guy should have a best friend.
- Every guy should have a friend who would lie to cover up for him.
- Every guy should have one friend who is a little more willing to break the rules than he is.
- Every guy should have one friend who is a little bit more serious about life than he is.
- You can’t expect your friends to be friends with each other.
- People should have a close circle of good friends and treat them equally.
- A guy can have more than five really good friends.
- Friends from early childhood know you better than new friends.
- People that you only spent one week with aren’t really your good friends.
- Guys and girls can be best friends.
#2 Thinking Eighteen Years Ahead
Here is a clip in which a guy speaks to a younger version of himself (through clever editing):
Questions for this clip:
- What initiative do you want to take in your life?
- What expectations have been placed on you from your parents and what expectations do you have for yourself?
- What would it mean to realize your dreams?
Ask each guy to create a poster board in four quadrants:
- Fun With Friends: Draw a picture of you and your friends doing something that you enjoy to do on the weekends.
- Family: Write one or two phrases that your parents or mentors will use when talking about you.
- Partnership: Imagine that you have a “significant other.” Write one or two phrases that this person will use to describe your relationship.
- Work: Draw a picture of yourself at work. Stick figures are okay.
In this session, we’ll address each quadrant, starting with Fun With Friends.
Fun With Friends
What are the things that you want to do not to make money, but to enjoy life?
Read off all the things that people placed on the Fun With Friends section.
- What ties these things together?
- What might block you from doing these things?
- How do we make sure that we have time for all these things?
The Role of Fun
The idea that we want to get across with this exercise is that fun is not only something we enjoy, but it plays a serious role in a balanced life and is the key for guys to prevent isolation.
Here are two texts that explain the serious role that having fun can play. The first is about Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the second is a Talmudic tale:
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch was a serious and learned man, who spent his life with books and students. He lived in the 1800’s in Germany and one day, he announced to his students that he was going to go on vacation to Switzerland. His students were surprised that a serious rabbi like him would go to a vacation spot. They said: Why are you leaving the important work of the school to go see some mountains? He said: One day I will die and God will ask me how my time was on earth. What if he asks me “Samson, did you see My Alps?”
Rabbi Berukha and the ghost of Elijah the Prophet were walking through a small village. Rabbi Berukha was feeling confident. He said: “I?challenge you to point out anyone in this village who will achieve as high a ranking in the World to Come as I will.” Elijah looked around and pointed at two men in the distance. Rabbi Berukha panicked. He ran over to them to find out what holy actions they had done. The men were baffled. They replied: “We are just a couple of clowns. When someone is sad, we make them laugh.”
—Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 22a
Here is a film clip on the importance of male friendship. In this scene, two guys are are in sleeping bags expressing their guy-love for one another
Seth: I love you. I’m not even embarrassed to say it. I just, I lo—I love you.
Evan: I’m not embarrassed.
Seth: I love you.
Evan: I love you. It’s li—Why don’t we say that every day? Why can’t we say it more often?
Seth: I just love you. I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream:‘I love my best friend, Evan…’ [touching Evan’s nose with his finger]
Seth: Boop, boop, boop.
Questions for this clip:
- How did the scene reinforce or challenge ideas we already have about male friendships?
Guys are encouraged to express affection through physically horsing around, joking, etc, and many guys feel comfortable doing so. Our appreciation for one another is not always spoken directly to one another.
- What do your close guy friends mean to you? Have you ever expressed that? Why or why not?
- In the scene, Evan and Seth say they aren’t embarrassed before they say “I love you” to each other? Would you be embarrassed? Why or why not?
- What would it feel like to say or hear that kind of comment from a guy friend?
Jewish Text Study on Friendship
Think about your closest friends. Fill in these blanks:
- I know that this friend is close because ____________________________
- I know that this friend cares about me because ______________________
Now take a look at this text:
What is a “friend?”
A good friend serves three functions:
The first is to increase your wisdom and understanding of Torah.
The second is to offer honest criticism.
The third function is to provide good advice in all areas and to act as a confidant
who does not reveal secrets to others.
—Commentary from Aggadat Shmuel (9th Century C.E.)
- Does your friend serve all three functions? How so?
Fill in this blank:
- I’ve helped a close friend by ____________________________
Now take a look at this text:
To pull a friend out of the mud, don’t hesitate to get dirty.
—Baal Shem Tov
- Did your helping the person out of the mud “get you dirty” in some way? Explain.
Place a paper bag in the center of the room and give everyone blank 3 x 5 cards. Say: We are going to write down every expectation that our parents have of us.
- My parents expect me to brush my teeth.
- Call my grandmother.
- Get into a good college.
- Make a lot of money…
- Write down as many as you can think of.
Have guys pair up and grab a handful of cards. For each card, ask:
- Is this a realistic expectation?
- Why do you think parents are worried about this?
Our rabbis taught: What is the difference between reverence of a son to his father and honor of a son to his father? Reverence means that the son must neither stand nor sit in his father’s place, nor contradict his words, nor tip an argument against him. Honor means that he must give him food and drink, clothe and cover him, and lead him in and out of the home.
—Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 31b
Based this text, what are the things that you do out of “reverence,” and what do you do out of “honor?” In other words, in what ways are you able to “respect your parents choices and ideas about the world,” and in what ways are you willing to take care of your parents’ basic physical needs?
When you think about life eighteen years from now, do you imagine yourself in a committed relationship? What models of partnership have you seen that seem to work? What are the ingredients of good partnership?
Hand out the following attributes used to describe relationships. Ask them what two they would imagine would be really important to them in the future. Ask them to give “five stars” to the ones that are really important to them:
- I want to be with someone who makes me laugh.
- I want to be with someone who really listens to me.
- I want to be with someone who can support me financially.
- I want to be with someone who is famous.
- I want to be able to spend a lot of time with my children.
- I want to be with someone who is the same age as me.
- I want to share equally in all responsibilities.
- I want to spend a lot of time making a great home.
- I want to spend a lot of time traveling the world.
- I want to be with someone who helps support me in my career.
- If you make enough money, it is okay to be miserable in your job.
- You need to turn your favorite subject in school into a career.
- It is better to try to make a lot of money in one venture than to settle for a job which pays the same amount every year.
- Every guy should have a back-up plan if the career they want to pursue does not work out.
Once, a young man came to the Rabbi of Koznitz.
“Rabbi,” he said, “I am not able to concentrate. Every time I start to read something, I get dizzy. I have to close my eyes. I can’t learn, my friends are frustrated with me. I don’t know what to do.”
The Rabbi said, “When my father was a young man, he could not concentrate. He lost mnay hours of sleep worrying about what he should do. He heard that there was a great miracle worker, the Baal Shem Tov, visiting a place fifty miles from his house. He began to walk, but the road was muddy and wet. After the first mile, his boots were caked with mud and were too heavy to lift. So he took off his boots, and in his bare feet he walked forty-nine miles to the Baal Shem Tov’s door.”
“The Baal Shem Tov saw his bare feet and he knew how much my father wanted to change. The Baal Shem Tov gave him a blessing and he eventually became the best student in his school.”
The man said, “I, too, will walk barefoot to the Baal Shem Tov to be healed.”
“I wish it worked that way,” the Rabbi said. “But you have to find your own story.”
Since this is the last session in the curriculum, the emotive is summative — sharing what was learned. The traditional end of any period of study is a “siyum,” a celebration and a reflection on what has been studied.
You may ask a few of the guys in advance to write something about what they learned, or to be prepared to speak.
We suggest ending the year with a picnic or BBQ. If you are able to do so on a Saturday night and incorporate Havdalah into the event, you might do a “talking stick” style of closing the group, using the candle as the “stick” as well as using the candle for the ritual of Havdalah.