Turning Jewish Boys Into Mensches

By Marjorie Ingall, Tablet, February 1, 2019

The news abounds with stories of young white men behaving abominably. Privileged private-school boys taunting a Native American activist, donning blackfaceAthletes repeatedly accused of sexual assault, without long-term consequences. Mothers fiercely defending college-age sons who’ve been suspended or expelled from college for sexual misbehavior. Men exploding in social media fury at a razor commercial (a razor commercial!) for its vile offense of depicting men standing up to bullying, stepping in to stop sexual harassment, and rejecting the notion that “boys will be boys.”

Young Jewish men aren’t exempt from such toxicity. I will never forget my teenage daughter telling me about boys in her progressive Jewish summer camp chanting “fag, fag, fag” to torment another boy. Or about the boy at camp who, when challenged about his belief that women didn’t become CEOs because they weren’t as smart as men, told a girl, “Just kill yourself.” (And no one—no tween or teen camper, no teen or 20-something counselor—did anything to help.) All too often, we hear of situations in which boys who aren’t bullies fail to be upstanders, the term now used to differentiate passive bystanders and active helpers.

So, in a climate of pussy-grabbing and fury, how do we raise Jewish boys who’ll grow into good guys? How do we encourage them to challenge poisonous old-school ideas of masculinity?

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