David Goldstein coordinates the YESOD Youth Educator Initiative and has worked with the Moving Traditions Jewish Boys project and countless Jewish boys on their journeys.
Q: When you were a teenager, what were your biggest issues with Jewish education?
A: I was a “typical” Jewish kid who dropped out of organized Jewish life immediately after my bar mitzvah. The years until my mid-twenties (when I re-affiliated with Judaism), were a wasted opportunity. Sadly, this is still the case with many other Jewish boys.
Q: How are teenage boys different now? How does that present new challenges to educators?
A: I’m not sure that boys, in their basic developmental stages, are really that different from when I was growing up. What has dramatically changed is technology as a major impact on a boy’s life. It’s been well documented that technology can rob boys of valuable ways of communicating. So smart educators deliberately present other ways for boys to “show up.”
Q: What are some of the approaches that seem to work best with this group?
A: We need to think creatively about how to link our people’s basic values and ideas to the most important things boys think about.
Q: What doesn’t work so well?
A: Thinking that we always know what is best for them. Instead of thinking about boys’ energy as a raging tidal wave that we need to push against, how about thinking about it as a burst of energy that needs to be channeled and expressed in its unique ways?
I challenge anyone to observe (or better yet, play with) boys in a basketball game or other intensely physical activity. Sit with them afterward and you may find the most beautiful and profound ideas coming out of them, if given the opportunity.