The struggle for teen spirituality
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The struggle for teen spirituality

Orthodox community to hold seminar on "New approaches for a new generation"

Rabbi Yaakov Glasser wants to bring the issues of teenagers and spirituality to the forefront of the modern Orthodox community.

Glasser – the New Jersey regional director for NCSY, the Orthodox Union’s youth organization and its national director of education – is keynoting an evening of talks and workshops for parents. Titled “Teens & Spirituality: New Approaches for a New Generation,” the event will take place Sunday night at Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun.

The evening is sponsored by the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, and the area’s three yeshiva high schools: the Frisch School, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, and Torah Academy of Bergen County.

“We have a real issue of kids struggling with their religious commitment,” said Glasser.

The struggle, he added, reflects both normal issues of adolescence and factors unique to this generation – the intense and sometimes addictive use by teens of technology such as text messaging and Facebook.

Teens ask the hardest things
p>Here are five of the issues Orthodox teens want to discuss, according to Rabbi Yaakov Glasser of NCSY:

“¢ Belief in God. “A lot of kids are not walking around with a coherent and confident sense of how they know that there is a God in the world,” he says.

“¢ The truth of the Torah. “How do we know that everything we are observing is the way it was intended to be?”

“¢ The importance of religious observance. “A lot of kids are questioning whether God cares about the details of how I wash my hands in the morning.”

“¢ Sexuality.

“¢ Suffering. “We don’t always address the theological issues of suffering in an age- appropriate method.”

“It’s time to move the discussion off of the crisis and into the realm of solutions,” said Glasser. “While I don’t think that it’s 100 percent solvable, there’ s a tremendous amount that can be done to address the issues.”

Noting that “the most dominant influence in the life of a teenager is [his or her] family,” Glasser said the goal of the seminar is to give parents “practical strategies that they can implement in raising their teenagers that will help nurture a stronger sense of commitment to spirituality and Torah observance.”

He will be leading a workshop entitled “The 10 Questions That Teens Ask, The 10 Answers You Need to Know,” drawing on his experience fielding questions from participants in NCSY events.

“My most important goal is to reveal to parents…the questions that are bothering kids about Judaism, what is it they’re struggling with about it. Which aspects of the belief system and expectations of observance are kids questioning and doubting?”

Glasser aims to provide parents “with a number of approaches and answers, so the home becomes a source of direction and education. More important than the actual answers is sensitizing parents to the importance of validating the questions, recognizing that some are deep and complex, to allow parents and teens to go through the journey of discovering the answers to these questions together by exploring them in Jewish sources or asking the rabbi or another role model.

“This process gives the child a model of religious growth that is very important, where Judaism doesn’t just become a collection of dogma they have to accept at face value.”

If teens are presented with a choice between a Judaism they see as “a bunch of rules” and listening to their iPod on Shabbat, “They’re going to choose the iPod. If we can discuss what parts of Shabbos kids find uninspiring and frankly painful, we can adapt and develop our approaches to Shabbos to make that experience more meaningful and enriching for them,” he said.

How to make Shabbat meaningful will be the topic of a workshop given by Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron. Other sessions will deal with the “Turning our Teens on to Tefillah,” or prayer, and with infusing spirituality in elementary-school children.

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