Felicia Sparozic gets presents for both Chanukah and Christmas. While she says “I make out pretty well,” at times she wishes she could talk with other teenagers about being between worlds.
“My mom’s Jewish and my dad isn’t,” said the 16-year-old junior at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes. “At times I’ve thought, ‘It would be good to hear from kids who are in the same boat.'”
Felicia will get her wish on Wednesday, March 16, when she and other local teens will gather to share stories and discuss issues related to growing up in interfaith families.
Hosted by Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, the “Teen to Teen Listening Tour” is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Goldberg.
Goldberg, a dentist who practices in Midland Park, would like to provide young people ages 16 to 18 with a chance to investigate their Jewish identity.
“We hope they will learn more about Judaism in this forum, and it might give them a seed to look further into their Jewish identity,” Goldberg told The Jewish Standard. “But we can’t do that by lecturing to them; they have to come to that conclusion themselves.”
Goldberg, the immediate past president of Temple Beth Rishon, initiated the project after taking part in a Torah study program that encouraged him to give back to the community. He says the idea was inspired by his own experience as a teen, when at times he feared that embracing Judaism might mean rejecting the Christian side of his family.
“I had grandparents in another culture and 65 cousins in another culture,” he said. “You want to respect the Christian side of your family but you also want to feel comfortable in your own skin [as a Jew]. It [will be] a forum for kids to come and discuss how they balance the two cultures.”
Goldberg approached Karen Brand, outreach coordinator of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, after seeing an article in this newspaper about her work with youngsters. JFSNJ will co-organize the project along with Beth Rishon and Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, a synagogue in Mahwah.
The evening will be social; kids will be served pizza and have a chance to share their stories.
Rabbis Joel Mosbacher of Beth Haverim Shir Shalom and Kenneth Emert of Beth Rishon have lent their support to the program; both rabbis have sent an invitation to families in their congregations who have teenagers. They have also asked those teens to invite other teens from interfaith families. All area teens are welcome.
Leah Kaufman, executive director of JFSNJ, says that above all, the evening should be fun.
“It is a difficult age; lots of kids struggle then,” said Kaufman. “This is a support network for them to talk with peers and try to find their own answers. Each person is different.”
The religious portion will come from Rabbi Leana Moritt, who along with Brand will lead the discussion.
The evening will not be a lecture about the dangers of assimilation, but a chance to listen to teens and provide them with a forum to share feelings, as well as to give them guidance in how they can address their questions about being Jewish, according to Moritt, whose organization, Thresholds (www.Jewishthresholds.org), which is co-sponsoring the event, specializes in counseling interfaith couples and families.
“Look, it would be disingenuous to say this is not a Jewish program,” Moritt said. “[But] we’re not looking to give them a litmus test. They have questions [and] stories. What does it mean if their family goes to church and synagogue? If they are feeling Jewish does that mean they can’t go to their Christian family for Christmas? Do they have to minimize their experiences with the side of their loving family that is not Jewish? This is about being able to address their questions and challenges.”
The pilot session will take place at 7 p.m. at Beth Rishon. Another session is planned there for March 23. For more information, call Goldberg at (201) 970-1351 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.