Friday, February 3, 2017

Bo: When Teenagers Demand an Answer

This weekend, we are hosting our annual Teen Shabbat. Our USY (United Synagogue Youth) group, WOhev, is hijacking the service and imposing its own agenda on all of us.
If you can't find me or Rabbi Miller in services on Saturday, it's entirely possible that we've been locked in the bathroom or the basement. Hopefully, they'll let us out again before Shabbat ends... But in all seriousness, I LOVE Teen Shabbat. We have an impressive group of young people at Ohev Shalom, and the last two years saw incredibly creative, visual, and thought-provoking services, orchestrated almost entirely by the WOhev board members. But this year is going to be pretty different. It might not be flashy, but it will certainly be full of depth and meaning. So what is the WOhev theme for 2017???

Well, it really isn't my place to reveal that. You'll just have to come on Saturday to find out! :-) But I want to share with you some of my reactions to their theme - and to Teen Shabbat in general - and I hope it'll be meaningful for you, regardless of whether you are able to join us
on Shabbat. And since we also print this blog in our synagogue bulletin, some of you may be sitting in a pew, experiencing the theme, as we speak. But wherever and whenever you are reading this, I am going to assume that you are familiar with teenagers. You've met one before. Maybe you even were one yourself at some point, long ago. If, indeed, you've ever known a teenager, I am also going to assume that right now you're letting out a big sigh and rolling your eyes. It IS a very unique time in a person's life. When you combine that with the Torah, and especially a Torah reading that includes themes like injustice, the hardening of hearts, slavery, and good vs. evil (loosely defined); you know sparks are going to fly.

As if this weren't an emotionally charged scenario to begin with, we now also throw into the mix the political realities of 2017, and tensions get ratcheted up EVEN HIGHER! And if you ARE able to join us, I think you are going to hear our teens challenging some Biblical assertions and touting many of the social justice messages that reverberate around
us right now. These kids are edgy, they're provocative, they're gutsy, and they sometimes see the world in black and white. And you know what? We need that in our lives. Sometimes, their sense of urgency is vital. Furthermore, if their generation is going to reap what we sow, then we SHOULD see the world through their eyes from time to time, because we have an obligation TO them. What are we bequeathing to our children? How will be hand over our world, our country, and our society to them to steward, in another decade or two? They have every right to push and prod us, and insist that we do better, that we BE better.

In the middle of this week's parashah, God instructs Moses, who then passes it along to the Israelites, that redemption from slavery is coming, and everyone needs to prepare to celebrate (what later becomes) the festival of Passover. Ceremonies are created, blessings are
uttered, and the people prepare to immortalize this moment for all eternity. And then, the text says, "And when your children ask you, 'What do you mean by this rite?' you shall say, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to Adonai, for God passed over the houses of the Israelites when God smote the Egyptians.'" (Ex. 12:26-27) The Torah insists that we turn to our children - of any and every age - and answer their questions about what we do and why we do it. We need to look over and see them watching us; KNOW that they are learning from our actions and our behaviors. More than being obligated to ourselves, or to our neighbors inside this country and outside, or even to God, we have to answer to the scrutiny of the next generation. They are asking: "What do you mean by all this?" We better have an answer ready.

Photos in this blog post:
1. Image of our Confirmation class in 2014 courtesy of Rabbi Gerber
2. Image of an Interfaith youth dialogue in 2012 courtesy of Rabbi Gerber
3. Image of our Confirmation class in 2011 courtesy of Rabbi Gerber
4. Weirdly posed image of the 2014 Confirmation class...

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