On our May 22, 2023 webinar, Rabbi Daniel Brenner and Dr. Lisa Miller discussed the neuroscience research that illustrates how experiences of spirituality strengthen important areas of the brain protective for mental health. We also heard from high schooler and activist Brooke Wilensky about her experiences with mental health as a Jewish teen and what has been supportive for her—and her peers.
They each spoke about the importance of spirituality as a sense of connection, purpose, and meaning. We also referenced the “protective factors” highlighted in the Harvard University Study on children and developing resiliency, specifically “mobilizing sources of faith, hope, and cultural traditions.”
With all of these in mind we offer the following ways to support the teens in your life by nurturing their spiritual well-being using Jewish wisdom, ritual, values, meaning, and connected sense of kehilla (community) as they navigate adolescence.
Did you miss the webinar? Request a link to the webinar recording:
1. Help them feel centered and connected in times of stress through a Jewish meditative practice.
A medieval Jewish meditation technique, developed by the Jewish Spanish mystic Abulafia involves visualizing the Hebrew letters of the tetragrammaton – the name of God that is traditionally not pronounced and that can be translated as “I am, I was and I will be.” Meditating on these letters can be a useful and calming practice that creates perspective. Slowly recite each of the four letters: Yud, Hay, Vav, Hay coordinating your breath as you pronounce the letters. Abulafia’s practice was to breath out and chant the sounds that happen when you add a vowel to the letter. So, you can try: Ya, Ha, Va, Ha. And then Yeh, Heh, Veh, Heh. And then Yi, hi, Vi, Hi.
2. Use Ritual to Make Meaning:
The simple and powerful ritual of Havdalah is a great one for teens and families to use to mark moments of transition. Havdalah literally means “separation.” It marks the moment of separation between Shabbat—a period each week that is distinct and separated from the rest of the week— and the mundane, day to day of our normal week. When we mark that separation, we have the opportunity to name some of what made Shabbat so special and different and to verbalize our hopes for a new week. Drawing on Moving Traditions’ curriculum, you can use this ritual to mark other transitions.
Take out a piece of paper (scrap paper is fine) and something to write with. You can do this alone or if in a group, have paper and pen for each person. Divide the paper into two separate pieces by folding down the center and ripping it in two. Then:
- On one piece: write one thing that you are looking forward to having end, to separate very distinctly from, when this period ends. (give everyone a moment to write)
- On the other, write one thing you hope to hold onto as you move into your new “normal.”
Then light a havdalah candle or any candle and invite teens or everyone to read both papers to themselves or others, as they want. Recite Havdalah if it is your custom to do so. Invite those present to offer blessings for the transition. Suggest that the papers be saved – in a desk, nightstand, or somewhere that is easily accessible so these can serve as reminders both of what one is trying to leave behind and what one is hoping to bring into the new place, time, experience.
3. Nurture Teens’ Connections to Jewish Kehilla
Connect your teens with meaningful Jewish experiences, community, and relationships. Look for one of our programs in your area, encourage them to go to summer camp, participate in youth group or other social experiences with a supportive community.
4. Talk With Your Teens About Their Mental Health and Emotional Experiences, Using Jewish Wisdom
See Moving Traditions’ Mental Health Awareness Month Resources for a few activities and discussion starters that come from our programs about teen’s mental health and emotional experiences.
Read Rabbi Brenner’s reflection on The life-changing magic of washing your hands (on Passover) – Jewish Telegraphic Agency (jta.org) for inspiration on the power of the hand washing ritual—and think about what rituals are meaningful for your own family. Consider whether there are new ones you’d like to adopt.
These resources are offered as part of Raising Up Teens with Moving Traditions, a series of free webinars geared toward parents, educators, and all those who guide Jewish preteens and teens.
Support our work
Your gift to Moving Traditions emboldens Jewish youth to thrive through the pursuit of personal wellbeing (shleimut), caring relationships (hesed), and a Jewish and feminist vision of equity and justice (tzedek).