Teenage Jewish Identity
Religious Ambivalence Through the Eyes of a Teenager: "Yetzer Hore and Yetzer Tov" - Which Will Win?
Ascher lives in a middle class neighborhood and attends a public school where almost all his cohorts belong to the Christian majority. He was raised by conservative Jewish parents and was a synagogue attending, kosher eating, kipa wearing youngster. He did not question his parents' beliefs and accepted them unconditionally.
In his mid teens he attended an orthodox camp for a month and when he returned he was orthodox. He had a wonderful experience and accepted the tenets of his counselors and peers. He had found a haven and a feeling of belonging swept through his very being. He insisted on "glatt kosher" and kept the Schabbat until the proverbial three stars were seen in the sky. This adherence to orthodoxy lasted a few months, especially since his family were steadfast in their practices, although they assisted him in his new lifestyle and found comfort that he would be true to his Jewish heritage.
As Ascher continued in high school he found that he was the only Jewish teen in his classes and needing friends - a very essential and important element in the maturing of a human being - he became involved in sports, and slowly he discarded his orthodoxy since many of the activities involved Schabbat. His synagogue attendance dwindled and, being a bright, attractive teen, he made many friends and was accepted by his non-Jewish peers, both male and female. He questioned the "prejudices" of his family and expressed the feeling that he enjoyed his "new and modern" attitude toward his world. Instead of participating in the synagogue and festivities of his younger years he played basketball, joined the track team and played hockey with his high school buddies. His family, being very concerned, sent him out of town to a USY group where other upper teens had study sessions and get togethers, enjoyable parties which appealed to Ascher, and where he again felt comfortable and able to identify in a freedomful fashion.
What will happen to Ascher and other young people like him is not absolutely certain. What we do know is that our Jewish population is steadily dwindling. A real effort must be made to give teens an opportunity to be with other Jewish teens in pleasant happy surroundings, where they can identify with a comfort and acceptance that will lead them to uphold that which which is essential to their healthy Jewish identity.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Grandparents: A New Look at the Supporting Generation (publ. 2002)