Bringing spirituality home from summer camp
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Bringing spirituality home from summer camp

Your children are back from Jewish summer camp.

They’ve had a wonderful time.

They’re overflowing with enthusiasm.

And they can’t stop singing the Hebrew songs they learned.

How do you keep that enthusiasm burning as they return to the school year, with its routines and pressures and homework?

Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, New Jersey regional director of NCSY, the Orthodox youth organization, says parental response can make a big difference in encouraging that enthusiasm, “rather than have your kids slip right back into the normative daily grind.”

Glasser will be addressing the question of post-camp spirituality in an online webinar on September 13, one of a series of back-to-school internet broadcasts being offered that week by the Orthodox Union at oucommunity.org. Glasser also is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton.

Glasser’s advice: “Take a very direct interest in these positive spiritual experiences your kids had. Be inquisitive and validating and supportive. Ask questions over the Shabbat table.

“They’re coming home and they may be pumped, they may have new ideas and experiences,” he said.

Glasser recommends finding out which specific aspects of spirituality excited your children, and then using that information to shape their spiritual experiences at home.

“If group singing was powerful, you will want to go out of the way to connect them to a youth group. If they found t’filah, prayer, particularly meaningful, it’s time to think about where you daven and whether your kid is finding a connection there. There might be an option that would speak more to the spiritual proclivities of your child.”

Glasser says that for children who study in a yeshiva or Jewish day school, the transition from camp can be tricky.

“We have to realize that the transition back into schools is from kids going from an environment where they get to choose what they want to do to an environment where they’re mandated and required to engage in Torah learning and certain aspects of religious practice. That’s fine and healthy and what religion is about. There’s definitely a command element to religious life. We have to realize that kids struggle with that – especially teenagers struggle with authority. Especially in today’s world. That kind of framework for religious growth and meaning is becoming more challenging to kids.

“Parents should be conscious of that. Sometimes kids need support, emotional support, psychological support, educational support in finding meaning and spirituality in that environment,” he said.

The flip side of the importance of parental support is “how toxic cynicism is in deflating the impact of those experiences in terms of the transition home.”

Glasser said parents have to understand the importance of modeling positive and healthy spiritual engagement in the home.

“Sometimes at home we allow our own challenges and struggles to become a little bit too public to our children. They may not understand the complexity of the struggles. They just see how the struggles affect us.

“Parents should not allow children to think that they don’t struggle spiritually and that it’s easy to believe in God and feel connected to Judaism. You don’t want kids to have this utopian view of their parents where there are no problems and no struggles. That’s not real life.

“At the same time, if we’re frustrated with the rabbi or the cantor or the school or with God, the way that we express that is something that is picked up on by our kids.

“If we express it with a sense of struggle and frustration, that we’re reaching for meaning and purpose but there are barriers that we’re having trouble getting past, that’s normal. If we express it by being cynical and dismissive of these people and derogatory toward spirituality, we’re modeling that as a coping mechanism for dealing with struggles of faith. Their behavior will tend to mirror that..

“I’m not perfect at this either,” Glasser said. “This is something we all struggle with, something we all need to bring to our consciousness.”

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