Israel, ‘chill pills’ and masculinity: the new Jewish education

The Jewish News of Northern California, January 22, 2020

In a session led by Deborah Meyer of Moving Traditions, a Pennsylvania-based organization that creates b’nai mitzvah programs, participants walked to corners of the room to stand under signs that best described their own middle-school selves.

“We want to get ourselves in the place of, who was I, what was it like when I was 12 and 13?” Meyer told the group.

Serving a slightly older demographic, David Lieberman is a facilitator for Shevet, a program for high school-age boys at New York City’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. He said the arrangement helps them to explore masculinity in a safe space.

“What do boys need — in our context, it’s Jewish boys — in order to become themselves?” he asked.

Lieberman said social isolation is a huge problem, with boys feeling increasingly disconnected from their feelings and embarrassed to confide in friends. At the same time, social pressures about acting “like a man” are ever-present.

“They’re being inundated with messages they are not unpacking or thinking critically about,” he said.

Shevet gives them a place to talk about what they see in the world, and what Jewish texts tell them about responsibility and adulthood. The program also teaches media literacy skills, which allow the teenagers to look more deeply at what society is communicating to and about them.

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