Tag: Talking to Kids About…

A Letter to My College Bound Son

To My Son,

So now you are going off to college, spreading your wings, moving forward into your future. I am excited and saddened for the experiences yet to come.

There is so much I want to tell you and to remind you about, including things I have said before. About what it means to be a man. Some of this is relevant today; some you should can file away for the future.

Watching You Grow Up
I have been watching you closely, realizing how quickly you are growing up. I cannot believe how fast the time has flown by since you last were my little boys, kids who I could toss around the pool or wrestle with without worrying that someone (me) might get hurt. Then you began to drive. Then you began to shave. Sooner than I will be ready, you will be on your own – living, learning, working, and loving.

I remember the day that Mom and I named each of you. You were so little, so cute, so vulnerable. We chose names which connected you to our family and our Jewish tradition. We picked names that reflected compassion, confidence, and strength. We aimed to teach each of you to be a mensch, a kindhearted, caring man. Yet ultimately we knew that you alone would determine the name by which you are known in the world.

Being a man is about character. Men, real men, know that manhood is not about size; it’s about quality. The quality of your character ultimately means more than the size of your portfolio. We Americans admire character – like the people who blow the whistle, and the FBI agent who pointed out deficiencies in the agency before 9/11. We admire people who risk life and liberty for a cause, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Oskar Schindler, and the 9/11 firefighters. But character is also born in a thousand bit parts that never get written up. What you choose to do when the clerk gives you the incorrect change. Whether you give up your seat on the bus for an older person. How calmly you react to someone who is being rude. The best index to a person’s character is (a) how you treat people who can’t do you any good, and (b) how you treat people who can’t fight back.

Be a Gentleman
Judaism teaches that we all were born with a yetzer hatov, an inclination to do good. Insulate your soul for good by following that conscience. Because being a male may be a matter of birth, and being a man is a matter of age, but being a gentleman – a mensch, a good person – is a matter of choice. Strive always to be a gentleman.

Anthropologists suggest that because men cannot birth children, men strive instead to create things and conquer things – in business, in court, or with smart bombs and battleships. That drive in both men and woman is called the yetzer hara, the inclination toward chaos and egotism. The yetzer hara can easily overwhelm our yetzer hatov, the inclination to do good. Especially when we add testosterone into the mix.

How many times do we read about sport players who have temper tantrums on the court or who use steroids? Who can count the number of celebrities who break marriage vows with a string of affairs? In a culture that counsels us to be the best, the most powerful, wealthy, and hyper-sexed, we must empower our yetzer hatov, the inclination toward good, to set us straight. My sons, be honest, be thoughtful, and be monogamous. Treat women and other men as equals and never discriminate against people of a different background, religion, race, or orientation than your own.

About Being a Father
My son, one day I hope you will bless Mom and me with many grandchildren. Kids are wonderful and frustrating, inspiring and exhausting. From the moment they are conceived, children become your blessing. Both parents, whether married or not, have the lifelong responsibility of helping to raise them. So be an involved dad or granddad. There will be no deadbeat dads in our family. And if you don’t have children, be involved in the mentoring of others. We all have responsibility for the next generation.

Your children will carry on your influence long after you are gone. Fathers can model for their kids how to be mensches. So be a positive Jewish role model for your children. Let them see you at your best – with your friends, with your family, in the Jewish community and within your career. Help them with homework, play with them in the park, and listen non-judgmentally to their problems. As a parent, you will – necessarily – develop new skills. I got to learn how to hit 250 baseballs in a row and how to throw a Frisbee forehand, because these activities make you happy, and give us time together. Do the same for your own kids.

Be Honest in Your Work
Being a man is also about working. Many men get a lot of their self-esteem from their work. So seek out a career that you find meaningful. Jewish tradition takes seriously our behavior in our work. According to one tradition, when we die and arrive at the gates of heaven, the very first question we will be asked is Nasata v’natata b’emunah? Did you deal honestly in your business? This question is not just about buying and selling. It’s about integrity. Did you act with honesty in your business relationships? Did you treat your co-workers and subordinates with respect? The question presupposes that we all harbor within the ability to cheat, lie and steal and that our business ethics will be tested every day. So resist the temptation to take advantage of people. Be someone in whom others can put their trust. Own up to your mistakes.

Remember that time when we drove around for an hour looking for a restaurant? While men tend not to want to ask for directions, nevertheless seek help when you are confused, lost or in pain. And delve deeply beneath your anger to find the sadness hidden beneath. That will help you heal more quickly.

Remember that money is just a tool, not an end in itself. Money opens up opportunities but working around the clock will not quell the longings of your heart. Don’t fall into a lifestyle that makes you a slave to your work. Do spend time with your loved ones – including your siblings and especially your parents. Devote ample time to raise up your community and set aside plenty of money to give as tzedakah (charitable donations).

Its Guy-Love: Friendships to Sustain You
You known that my friendships have nourished me throughout my life. A fifteenth century Talmudic scholar, Menorat ha-Maor, counseled: “…Invite [your friend] to your joyous occasions; … never give away his secrets; help him when he is in trouble; … overlook his shortcomings and forgive him promptly; criticize him when he has done wrong; do not deceive him; … and attend to his [family] if he dies.” On the TV show Scrubs, JD and Turk had a name for such cherished friendships. They call it guy love. What’s guy love?

Do you remember that time five years ago when the water pipe burst, flooding our entire house? My friend Ron took the initiative to drive over to help us deal with the flood. My college roommate Jerome sent a check to ease the repair expenses. I never cashed that check, but both of their acts of compassion remind me that “guy love” involves stepping up and helping out.

Being Involved in Your Jewish Community
Being a man involves a relationship with your Jewish community. Next time you are in services, notice all the men and women who sit down, close their lips, and patiently wait for the service to end. Perhaps they don’t know the prayers, or don’t see their value, or don’t understand how to reconcile religion with science. If this is you, don’t just sit back. Speak up. Ask your rabbi to help you discover its meaning. Spirituality and religiosity are a lifelong journey that can nourish your soul when your heart is burdened, broken, or uplifted. And being a Jew means taking the risk that significant meaning may be hidden within our ancient rituals and modern teaching.

Sex and Love
Now, about sex. Although television and movies suggest otherwise, in reality, sex is about so much more than the mechanics of where you put what. (We already had that talk.) Sex can be great, but it should be within a mature, loving relationship. Sex is also about intimacy and love, commitment and responsibility. Trust me, making love is so much better. (I hope I didn’t just scar you for life…) Regarding sex, try being counter-cultural and focus first on finding love.

I may not know everything about love, but I do know this: that the love I share with your mother is the most fulfilling, complex, nuanced and wonderful thing I have ever experienced in my life. Love is not always easy, but it has always been worth it. I hope you are so blessed. Because mature love will bring you strength, contentment, and wholeness. Yes, there will be heartbreak – we all experience it along the way. Know that time will help heal most wounds; and that therapy, exercise and prayer can assist the process.

What’s Mature Love? 
In our youth, we often fall for people who live up to a certain definition of outward beauty. But over time, as we try to get over the inevitable hurdles of life, we see that over the long term the partnerships that remain strong are characterized by trust, a mutuality of values, and the recognition that marriage takes much effort and time. So enter into love relationships with your eyes wide open. First get to know and love yourself. Then consider seriously the person’s character and values, concern for others, family, friends, education, and short and long-term goals. Don’t let your craving for acceptance lead you to simply choose the first option available.

Know that whomever you bring home – female or male, Jew or not – we will open our hearts to your choice of partner. In today’s world, the odds are just barely in your favor that any marriage you have will work out. (Of course, if it doesn’t, know that some of the most blessed relationships are second marriages.) I sincerely hope your marriage works out, and if so, that will be in part because you put as much effort into your marriage as you do to your work or your sports. How? Date your beloved well after you are married. Get dressed up; go out. Romance each other. That will be a lifetime gift you give to your partner and yourself, and, because it will help your relationship remain healthy, it will be a gift to your children also.

My son, I am your #1 fan. I am here to guide you, to support you, to nurture you, and to celebrate you. I am grateful for you each and everyday! I love and cherish you dearly.



“You All Are Going to Die,” Said the Rabbi to the 3rd-6th Graders. Appropriate or Not?

You all are going to die!” said the rabbi to his 3rd thru 6th grade students. It was all part of a day of death and dying at Congregation Or Ami’s Mishpacha Learning session.

While Rabbi Julia Weisz walked parents through the Jewish rituals and ideas about death and mourning and Cantor Doug Cotler taught Jewish songs to other students which explored Jewish ideas about life and loss, I – Rabbi Paul Kipnes – had the unenviable task to walking young students thru the realities of life, namely, that we are all going to die.

A Story…
There’s a rabbinic tale about a most powerful king who commanded the community’s rabbi to bless him with Judaism’s best blessing. Began the rabbi, “May you die. May your son die. And may your grandson die.” The king became apoplectic, barking, “How dare you…”, at which the rabbi continued, “…in that order.”

This story articulates three long held truths about death:

  • That everyone will die. 
  • That we hope that the older generation dies before its descendants. 
  • That, while each loss is painful, the death of a child or grandchild is even more painful. 

Accepting (at least for the remainder of the class) that death is inevitable, the students and I shared thoughts about what happens after we die, a theme introduced in Cantor Doug Cotler’s song, Nefesh. We talked about what the nefesh (soul) is or might be. We talked about Jewish ideas about how the soul returns to the Eternal Soul of the universe, what some call “God.” We considered diverse Jewish beliefs, from the belief that the soul dies with the body to the Kabbalist/mystic teaching that the soul is reincarnated (gilgul hanefesh) after death.

Lighting Candles to See into the Soul
We spent much time analyzing Jewish belief that we live on within future generations. I took out a pair of candles. I asked students to watch closely. Using one lit candle to light another candle, I then blew out the first candle and asked, “what happened to the flame?” Most said it disappeared. So I used the lit candle to again light another candle and then blew out the first. “What happened to the first flame,” I again asked?

One student intuited the lesson: “Two things happen at once. The flame disappears, and is gone. But also, the flame lives on in the second candle.” That’s my teaching.

From the flame that disappears, we learn that upon our deaths, part of our soul is gone, returning to the Eternal Soul of the universe. From the flame that continues to burn upon the candle it lit previously, we learn that our soul lives on in the lives of our biological children and our adopted children (Talmud explains that one who teaches a child is as important as his biological parent). Our soul also lives on – in a sense, we gain immortality – through the lives of those whose lives we enriched by our teaching, and those who we help with tzedakah and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness).

Our Soul Lives on After Us
So just as our biology overcomes death when we pass on our DNA to our children, so too our soul passes in part to those who borne to or touched by us.

Heady stuff for kids who can barely contemplate the truth of “you are all gonna die.” We hope these conversations helped the students begin to deal with death, as did the round robin stations created by HUC-JIR interns Lisa Berney and Sarah Lauing, which investigated Jewish mourning customs.

You see, at Congregation Or Ami we strive to teach about all issues, even the most difficult, even when the mere thought of them make us uncomfortable. Because that is what Judaism should be about – helping us face, with courage, strength and holiness, the challenging moments of life.

Henaynu Caring Community Youth Coordinator: Helping Teens Reach Out To Each Other

What might a young person appreciate when he or she is sick, loses a grandparent, or has some other problem? Besides the love and support of parents, he/she also might enjoy the support and text/email/Facebook outreach from his/her peers.  

That is why Congregation Or Ami is preparing to unveil a new way that we will be extending the love and support of the Henaynu Caring Community Committee to our youth.

Beginning very soon, a congregant will assume the role of Henaynu Youth Coordinator (HYC).  Her responsibilities will be:
  1. To compile a list of 6th-12th grade youth who are willing to reach out to other youth who are facing illness or other difficult times;
    1. HYC will create a short blurb to put in the Illuminating News, for a few weeks in a row, asking for teens and middle schoolers to volunteer to be in contact with other teens in need. The blurb will be sent to our Program and Marketing Director for inclusion in Illuminating News and run between 2-4 times.
    2. HYC will arrange with our Rabbi to come to a Temple Teen Night to speak with students to invite them to volunteer.
    3. HYC will connect with the LoMPTY youth group leader, who will serve as LoMPTY Henaynu Contact.  
  2. To collect the email addresses, cell phone numbers (for texting) and Facebook contact info for these volunteer youth;
  3. To create (with Henaynu Caring Community Chairs and with Rabbi Kipnes) guidelines for how teens can reach out to other youth: what to say, how often to contact, what to report back to HYC;
  4. Upon hearing about a young person who is sick either through the Henaynu Tracker (caring community email system) or from a contact with the Henaynu Chairs or Rabbis, to contact LoMPTY Henaynu Contact and other youth volunteers and invite/encourage them to call/email/text/Facebook, and report back that they did.
I wonder if other synagogues have created a youth outreach component to their Caring Community program.  I look forward to finding out.  

If your Or Ami 6th-12th grader is interested in
volunteering, please contact me and I will pass their information on to our
Henaynu Youth Coordinator. 

Suicide, Drinking and Dying: What to Say to Your Children (and yourself)

Suicide, Drinking, and Dying
What To Say to Your Children (and yourself)
Rabbi Paul Kipnes headshotThe news spread quickly, which is to be expected when it involves a pair of suicides of young people and the death of another, allegedly by alcohol poisoning. 
Those who knew the young men and even those who did not, are shocked, scared and anxious. Many are reviewing their interactions with these youth to see if they missed any signs about what the young people were thinking. Others are wondering how someone could be considering such drastic action and they did not know it. 
Some parents are wondering how to help their children deal with this tragedy. Others are wondering if they are missing signs from their own children. Still others are wondering where God is in all of this. 
Our hearts break for their families; we seek to console them, their loved ones, and our loved ones.  What can we say that will be meaningful to our children, to the families of the deceased… to ourselves?
In conjunction with the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting, we offer these resources written and/or compiled by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler and Rabbi Julia Weisz:
5 Initial Thoughts when Dealing with Teens after a Suicide 
  1. Be with them, let them talk, or cry, or just be. Suicide is confusing and it may take time for your child to open up and begin to talk about it.
  2. While most suicidal individuals give off warning signs, many of these signs are missed by even those closest to them. Scrutinizing past interactions for such signs is normal, brought about by feelings of guilt, sadness or remorse. Listen to your child, don’t dismiss his/her sadness, but remind him/her that even those closest to the person who killed himself did not recognize the signs.
  3. Most adolescents have thoughts at one time or another about suicide. It is NORMAL to have such thoughts. Let your child know that he or she can talk to you about anything. Be prepared not to “freak out” if your child shares such thoughts.
  4. If necessary, and if your child needs it, consult with a therapist who works with youth. I would be glad to refer you to such individuals.
  5. Please do not hesitate to contact Congregation Or Ami (818-880-4880) to talk to Rabbi Julia Weisz or with me. When you call, please let them know it is about the suicides and that this is very important.

Read Facing a Suicide: Talking to Your Kids…, for:

  • Some Statistics and Facts Concerning YOUTH Suicide
  • Six Warning Signs
  • Seven Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings: How You Can Help

Read A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People… Like Your Rabbi and Cantor 

An Excerpt: …Your rabbis and cantor reach out to our teens after the Tyler Clementi suicide: Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself… If you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us. And always remember that you have rabbis and a cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.

  • Resources for Helping Your Child Cope
  • Deciphering what is on a Child’s Mind
  • Guidance for Talking to Childen of Different Ages
  • How to Comfort the Mourner
  • What to Say and Not to Say When a Child Dies
Read Some Jewish Responses
Finally, pass this onto friends, teachers, and others for whom this information might be helpful.  
In the days and weeks ahead, may you find the courage and fortitude to face the realities of life: 

that some live and some die
that sometimes things just don’t make sense 
that we can chose: 

to hold those we love closer
and to count our blessings. 
Your rabbis and cantor are always here to talk to, to consult with, to listen. Because we care for you.  

Why Do the Good Die Young? Resources for Thinking about Death

Today our community gathers to bury Dean Hilborne, a young 53-year-old man, who leaves a wife and 2 teenage children. We will struggle to find meaning in his death; we will grapple with how to talk about this loss with our children and our loved ones. Here are a few resources to help:

Reflections on Tragic Deaths: Why Do the Good Die Young? A Conversation with God

What a pair of months February and March were last year; so much tragedy. A 13-year-old was killed crossing the street. A vibrant teenager – a student at our local New Community Jewish High School – was lost in a car accident. A 21-year-old rabbi’s son was struck down by a car while at college. A 42-year-old mother – our congregant – died in a snowboarding accident. A 49-year-old “pied piper” of a man – another congregant – dropped dead from a heart attack. Thousands of people came to the funerals.

I noticed that God attended each funeral, but amidst the many tear-filled eulogies, there wasn’t time for God to speak. So God sat quietly at the side – listening, crying. God left quietly after each funeral ended, and almost no one realized that God had been there. I did take notice. Wondering what God might have said had God been invited to deliver a eulogy, I dashed out after the Holy One. Still reeling from these funerals, I wondered if God could make sense of these senseless deaths. I asked if God had time to talk, and God was willing. We strolled through the cemetery, talking quietly.


Man: So God, what did you think of the funerals? (Read more)

A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People… Like Your Rabbi and Cantor

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We sent the following letter to our entire community…
Cheshvan 5771
October 2010
Dear Members of the Or Ami Family,
We hope that you will share the letter below with your teens and college students.  Some of you might feel comfortable sharing it with your preteens.  It is inspired by the writing of Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn and Rabbi Alan Cook of Seattle, but the sentiments expressed are very deeply felt by each of us.  We want each and every teen and college student at Or Ami to know that they are part of a community that will love and support them, no matter what.
There are many wonderful resources out there if you, your teens, or your college students are confronting any of the issues addressed in the letter.  We will be providing opportunities in our Temple Teen Night, our Confirmation, our LoMPTY youth group, and in other forums to discuss these matters, but you may also wish to check out some of the following online resources.
§   http://www.nfty.org/resources/guides/bullying/ (Reform youth movement’s resources on bullying and LGBT issues)
§   www.rosalindwiseman.com (creating cultures of dignity, from the author of the non-fiction book upon which the movie “Mean Girls” was based)
§   www.GLSEN.org  (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network)
§   www.Lambdalegal.org (working for the civil rights of the LGBT community)
§   www.thetrevorproject.org (focused on crisis and suicide prevention among LGBT youth)
Dear Or Ami Teen or College Student:
Hi!  As your rabbi and cantor, we have been asked to respond in a Jewish manner to an important issue. Sometimes those issues are so heavy, so serious, that words seem insufficient.  We are writing you about Rutger’s student, Tyler Clementi, his being bullied and his recent suicide.  Tyler’s tragic death has saddened us greatly.
If you are not familiar with what happened, you can read the full story.  Here’s the gist of it: Tyler was secretly filmed having a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room at Rutgers University.  This film was then broadcast over the Internet, causing him much embarrassment.  Authorities believe that this was a major factor in his decision to take his own life.  Appropriate personnel from his school and from local law enforcement are continuing to investigate.  Tyler is only the latest and most publicized in a string of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) young people who have taken their own lives because of pressures they felt to conform to the expectations of others.  Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all of these young men and women.
But we want to speak to you, whoever you may be.  Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself.
What does matter is that you feel comfortable being who you are – at Or Ami, at school, in your community, and in your home – and you learn how to deal with those who do not accept you.  And you need to know what Tyler, in his shame and pain and suffering, may have been unable to appreciate – that no matter how badly you feel about how things are going in your life, you will always have someone to talk to, and a community that will accept you, support you, and love you for who you are.  Let us also help you if you are in pain or thinking of hurting yourself.  (Suicide is a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem.) Our emails are at the bottom of this letter, and we encourage you to reach out to us if ever you need help.
Tyler Clementi’s life ended because we live in an imperfect world that hurts or even kills people because they are different.  People fear what they do not understand, and so we are left with a twisted world where people are harmed because of who they are, or whom they love.  Others may be hurting due to acts of anti-Semitism, cyber bullying, social exclusion, breaking up with a first love, using drugs/alcohol, or any of the countless other pressures that teens and college students face today.  The effects of such harm will not always be physical, but words and name-calling and lack of acceptance can leave scars just as deep as one who wields a knife.  The good news is that there are more people in the world who support your right to be who you are than not. Torah teaches Kedoshim Tehiyu, that you are holy and valued (Leviticus 19).   We accept you and want you to feel welcomed and valued and respected and loved.
Although the two of us are straight men, we have been blessed with friends and relatives, rabbinic colleagues and other coworkers, and beloved and involved congregants who are gay or lesbian or bi or transgendered.  If we examine our relationships, I believe all of us would find the same to be true.  Some come out easily; others struggle with their identity; still others remain “in the closet.”  One day, perhaps we will be able to say, “Who cares what an individual’s sexual orientation is?”  And until that day comes, so long as such prejudice and bigotry remain, we cannot remain silent.  The Jewish tradition teaches that we are all responsible for one another. 
As your rabbi and cantor, we care for you. So if you are reading this, and you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us (our emails are below).
And always remember that you have a rabbi and cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.
With love,
Rabbi Paul Kipnes                                                      Cantor Doug Cotler
[email protected]                                                 [email protected]
You may want to read Rabbi Kipnes’ blog on the issue (The Holy One Created Tyler Clementi; Why Couldn’t His Roommates See His Holiness?) here

Death and Dying: Talking to Kids (repost)

We recently heard about tragic deaths of young people and young parents in our Greater Los Angeles area.

One of the most challenging tasks confronting us all is how to explain death to a child. In the midst of one’s own grief or in the attempt to comfort another, a child’s need to know and understand is often overlooked. Or, adults decide that a child simply won’t comprehend what is happening. Or the tremendous upheaval in the normal routines of the household throws the child into a kind of chaos of unexpected events and uncertainty about his or her future. Yet psychologists tell us that children today, shaped by the constant barrage of death portrayed on television and in the movies, are far more aware of death and its consequences than many adults realize.

The decision about what to tell children will depend largely on the age of the child, her or his sensitivity to the subject, and the child’s relationship to the deceased. As with the “phases” of grief, much of the actual response of a child will depend a great deal on the relationship between the parent and child, and how the parent chooses to discuss the death itself.

In conjunction with the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting, we offer these resources to help guide those of you touched by these tragedies. Please forward these to your friends.

Resources for Helping Your Child Cope

Talking to Your Child about Death and Dying, including

* Informing the Child
* Should I Bring a Child to the Funeral?
* Deciphering what is on a Child’s Mind
* Guidance for Talking to Childen of Different Ages
* How to Comfort the Mourner
* What to Say and Not to SayWhen a Child Dies
* Prayers for When a Pet Dies

Caring for the Mourners, including

* Writing Condolence Cards
* Supporting the Mourners

A Prayer for a Cure for Cancer

Facing a Suicide: Talking to Kids about It, including

* Five Initial Thoughts when Dealing with a Child after a Suicide
* Six Warning Signs of Suicide
* Seven Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings

May you find the courage and fortitude to face the realities of life:
that some live and some die
that sometimes things just don’t make sense
that we can chose:
to hold those we love closer
and to count our blessings.

5 Questions to Ask Your Teens Before School Vacation

As his New Jewish Community High School students go off for winter and summer breaks, master educator Dr. Bruce Powell – founder and head of school for “New Jew” – asks his students to ask themselves these five questions:

-Is it safe?
-Is it legal?
-Does it make sense?
-Does it comport with our Jewish values?
-Can I proudly tell my parents, my grandparents, my Head of School what I did?

Writes Dr. Powell: “These are the questions I ask our students before we break for winter and summer vacation. I want them to think carefully before they do anything that can and most likely will affect their lives in a positive or negative way. Whether at a party, on a trip, visiting colleges, at camp, or just “hanging out,” if our children can answer “Yes” to all five questions before they act, and wherever they are in life, then we will certainly fulfill our school’s mission of “raising up Jewish leaders” for the future of our community and nation.”

Why do I send my kids to New Jew and strongly urge all parents of our synagogue teens to consider the school also? Yes, it is because it’s academics are very strong. Yes, it is because our students get into the top colleges and universities around the country (and New Jew has an excellent college admissions department). But mostly, because headed up by a talented educator who gets it, New Jew provides my kids – both my biological and synagogual kids – with the best advice on how to live healthy, valued Jewish lives.
Ask your teens to ask themselves these five questions when they go out for the evening or off for the weekend.
And check out www.ncjhs.org to discover one of Los Angeles’ best kept secrets.

Midor lador: The Next Generation Becomes Witnesses to the Holocaust

I’m sitting here in Or Ami’s sanctuary as about 100 teenagers – 7th to 11th grades – and a handful of parents sit in silence, listening to Rita Lurie tell the story of surviving the Holocaust. In commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass which began the Holocaust, we committed our young people to become witnesses.

Rita was five years old when she was forced to flee her home in Poland to hide from the Nazis. From the summer of 1942 to mid-1944, she and fourteen members of her family shared a nearly silent existence in a cramped, dark attic. Her brother, then her mother died before her eyes. Through the attic window, she saw an uncle shot before their eyes. Then, her surviving family spent five years wandering through Europe, waiting for a country to accept them.

We tried to help our teens understand the significance of this moment. I recalled the moment that half of them stood on this bimah with their parents and grandparents as Torah was passed down midor lador, from generation to generation. Each of them remembered the moment they held our heavy sefer Torah, Torah scroll, heavy both because it was physically heavy but moreso because it was a heavy burden they assumed. They were now responsible to carry Torah and its values into the world and to pass it onto the next generation.

Today, I told them, they assume another burden. They become witnesses to the tragedy, the fiery hell called the Holocaust. Reminding these young people that within ten years there will be very few survivors still living, I urged them to listen carefully. In ten years, when people lie and suggest that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that 6 million didn’t die, or that just a few were killed, there will not be survivors to tell the truth. These young people sitting in our synagogue need to remember this story and become the witnesses, the truth-tellers about the Holocaust.

With her daughter Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, Rita co-authored Bending Toward the Sun, a Mother and Daughter Memoir. A beautifully written family memoir, Bending Toward the Sun explores an emotional legacy—forged in the terror of the Holocaust—that has shaped three generations of lives. Leslie Gilbert-Lurie tells the story of her mother, Rita, who like Anne Frank spent years hiding from the Nazis, and whose long-hidden pain shaped both her daughter and granddaughter’s lives. Bringing together the stories of three generations of women, Bending Toward the Sun reveals how deeply the Holocaust lives in the hearts and minds of survivors and their descendants.

I am not sure which moved me more: the horrifying story of the reality Rita experienced hiding from the Nazis, or the rapt attention our young people gave to Rita as she told her story.

Will they remember the story? Do they understand what really happened in the Holocaust? Can they stand as witnesses?

Only time will tell. We do our part making sure the stories are told, that the witnesses are heard. Then we hope and pray.

May the memory of the six million Jews and the five million others be for a blessing.

How to Guide Your Teen (or pre-teen) Toward Good Decision Making

Somehow our three children have become three teenagers. They are amazing, loveable but totally exhausting. Having successfully navigated our children’s early years, we – like most parents of teenagers – find ourselves facing new challenges: their intense emotions, hormonal changes, extreme academic demands, and opposing instincts to separate from and connect with parents. To whom do we turn for advice and inspiration, to nurture these precious children toward living lives with good values?

Dr. Bruce Powell with teensAllow me to introduce national award-winning educator Dr. Bruce Powell, founder of New Community Jewish High School and two other Jewish High Schools. As a parent, a rabbi and a community leader, I have witnessed up close how this educators’ educator guides parents (and grandparents) through the stressful, yet immensely rewarding process of guiding our teens (and pre-teens) toward making good decisions.

While preparing to attend, read the article below, Parenting Jewish Teens, for Jewish values which inform the process of parenting teens.

Parenting Jewish Teens

By Joanne Doades

Author of Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed (Jewish Lights Publishing) and the Director of Curriculum Development for the Union for Reform Judaism Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning.

In the Book of Genesis, we encounter many stories of individuals who leave their parents’ homes under difficult circumstances. For today’s Jewish teens, the struggle for leave-taking begins long before the actual physical event. This is an emotional and often conflict-filled process of separation generally beginning around the time of bar/bat mitzvah, peaking between the ages of 15 to 19, and usually subsiding by the early to mid-twenties.

Peace in the Home
How well Jewish parents handle this natural but challenging process can have a significant impact on shalom bayit (peace in the home), and set the stage for relationships with the soon-to-be-adult children for many years to come. Since the teenage years are such a time of change, experimentation, and identity redefinition, it can be hard for parents to sort out which issues require their attention and which can be ignored. And given the fact that many teens enact the separation process around matters of Jewish observance, it is not surprising that parents of Jewish teens may find themselves asking the question: “What happened to the child I thought I had raised?!”

Fortunately, Jewish tradition offers parents helpful guidance during this important and challenging family transition:

Model Desired Behavior
Though it may not be apparent, teens are keen observers of their parents’ behavior, and are quick to notice contradictions and inconsistencies, so sending clear messages–in words and in deeds–is essential. A tale is told about the Zhitomer rabbi who was once walking with his son when they noticed a drunken father and his drunken son stumbling along. The rabbi said to his son, “I envy that father. He has accomplished his goal of having a son like himself…I can only hope that the drunkard is not more successful in training his son than I am with you.” (Voices of Wisdom: Jewish Ideals and Ethics for Everyday Living, Jonathan David Publishers)

Continue to Build Mutual Trust
The importance of parental honesty with children is clearly delineated in the Talmud (Sukkah 46b). Parents are instructed to refrain from promising their child something they might not be able to deliver, lest they cause feelings of disappointment in the child and teach dishonesty, however inadvertently. In relationships with teens, parents may feel the teen cannot be trusted because the teen secretly behaved in a way that violated family rules and norms. However, it can sometimes be the case that the parents have created a situation in which the teen might be strongly tempted to violate rules that are no longer realistic or appropriate. While a parent is responsible for preventing a (post bar/bat mitvah) teen from committing a wrong if it is within the parent’s ability to do so (Babylonia Talmud, Shabbat 54b, Sukkah 56b), unrealistic restrictions could sometimes cause a teen to commit a wrong. In this case, the parents are unwittingly putting a stumbling block before their child (Leviticus 19:14). Mutually respectful dialogue is essential to producing guidelines with which both parent and teen can live.

Chastise When Necessary, But Do So Carefully
The Torah clearly states the obligation to let another person know when he or she is doing something wrong (Leviticus 19:17). It is equally important, though, that this be done with great sensitivity. Notes commentator Avnei Azel: ” ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your neighbor’…What is the link between these two parts of the verse? The explanation is that one can only truly rebuke a person that one loves and whom one wishes to see mend his ways, such as the way a father rebukes his son. The closer a person is to another person, the greater the love and the more earnest the rebuke. A rebuke which is the product of love is more effective.” (Torah Gems Volume 2, Yavneh Publishing House)

Manage Your Anger
Teenager behavior can be quite vexing and even downright infuriating. An enraged response on the part of the parent, however, should be avoided. According to Maimonides: “Anger is…an exceptionally bad quality. It is fitting and proper that one move away from it and adopt the opposite extreme. [A parent] should school himself not to become angry even when it is fitting to be angry. If he [or she] should wish to arouse fear in his children and household…to motivate them to return to the proper path, he should present an angry front to them to punish them, but he should be inwardly calm. He should be like one who acts out the part of an angry man in his wrath, but is not himself angry.” (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Deot 2:3) Parents can apply this advice by taking a few minutes, if need be, to collect their thoughts, put the situation in perspective, and respond appropriately to the problem at hand. This approach stands a far better chance of getting the desired results.

Positive Interactions Should Outweigh Negative Ones
If parents are always chastising their teens about the more annoying aspects of teen behavior (messy room, inattention to schoolwork, issues about money, laziness, loud music, to name a few), there will be little opportunity to normalize the relationship. The Torah warns against being vengeful or bearing a grudge (Leviticus 19:18), because such behavior can cause us to continuously view another through an overly negative lens. The advice of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107b) is to discipline with the left (weaker) hand and to reach out with the right (stronger), so that reconciliation is possible. Relationships between today’s parents and teens can deteriorate quite quickly unless parents deal with difficult issues and move forward in a constructive way.

Respect Differences in the Area of Jewish Observance
It is often quite difficult to accept the fact that a teenager may not want to participate in the family’s Jewish observances in the way he or she did when younger, and this can feel like a rejection of a parent’s core values. However, the Talmud teaches us not to impose restrictions that cannot be adhered to (Bava Batra 60b), so it is wise to make accommodations during this time, where possible, in order to facilitate an eventual return to parental teachings. A wonderful model for this can be found in a tale that is told about the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name), the founder of Hasidism. When a distraught Hasid came to see him, the rebbe gently asked: “What is the problem?” “It is my son,” the Hasid bemoaned. “He no longer follows our religion,” “Do you love your son?” the Baal Shem Tov inquired. “Of course I do!” the man cried. “Then love him even more,” was the rebbe’s response.

Move from Control to Consultation
Our forefather Abraham is instructed by God to leave his native land and his father’s house and to go to a land that God will show him (Genesis 12:1). Why the redundancy [saying leave your “land”, your “father’s house”]? If you are leaving your native land, are you not by definition leaving your father’s house as well? Perhaps the message is that in order to grow to become the person you are meant to be, you must step out into the world in a decisive way, leaving behind the rules, regulations, and practices of the home in which you were raised.

At some point children need to separate from their parents, both emotionally as well as physically. Despite the legitimate and real feelings of loss that Jewish parents may experience during this transitional period, it is important to facilitate this process in a constructive way so that teens can grow into emotionally healthy adulthood. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the University of Judaism puts it this way: “While casting a giant shadow over our children’s perceptions and actions, their maturation entails a retreat of the parents’ ability to impose their own preferences. Ultimately, children learn to become responsible for themselves and their own behavior. Can we, as parents, learn to let our children take charge?” Knowing when to hold them close and when to nudge them toward independence is one of the most difficult–and important–trials of parenting Jewish teens.

Encourage Teens to Stay Involved in the Jewish Community
Pirkei Avot (2:4) urges us to not separate from the community, and this is great advice for Jewish teens and their parents. Recent studies indicate the strong influence of parents in teen decision-making about continued involvement in Jewish activities such as Hebrew high school, youth groups, summer camps, and Israel trips. These are positive experiences in which teens continue to learn, grow, and socialize in settings defined by Jewish values, a wonderful antidote to many of the objectionable images and messages so antithetical to Jewish beliefs and practices that can be found in the popular media. Jewish parents, too, can benefit from remaining affiliated with Jewish institutions such as the synagogue and community center during their children’s teenage years, and parents can help create Parenting Jewish Teens groups when pre-bar and bat mitzvah family education programs are no longer available.

In the Torah, when God calls out to individuals for whom God has a special job, the response that indicates commitment in every sense of the word is, “Hineini–here I am!” Perhaps the job of parenting Jewish teens today is to say to our teens, “Hineini,” and to live its message in our parenting each day.


Since it takes a village to raise a child, we at Or Ami your insights about how to raise good, valued Jewish teenagers. Please take a moment to share your nuggets of wisdom on Parenting Jewish Teens. Author of the best piece of advice will receive a Tefillat HaDerech (Traveler’s Prayer) keychain from Israel.

Sex Education: An Open Letter to Religious Leaders

Education of our young is a partnership between parents, community and teachers. We struggle to figure out how to teach our children values without inculcating them with dogma. Certain areas are off limits in our public schools – prayer, for example.

But certain subjects need to be taught: health and sexuality, for instance. We teach that the guiding principle of sexuality in the Jewish tradition is K’doshim tih’yu—“You shall be holy,” which means that sexuality is linked to blessing, commandment, and God. K’doshim tih’yu, you remember, comes from Leviticus; Or Ami’s Sheryl Braunstein wrote a beautiful song about it here.

Not long ago, our Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting brought Rabbi Laura Novak Winer, author of the Reform Jewish Movement’s Sacred Choices curriculum, to help us begin a conversation about talking to our children about sexuality. Since then, we have begun preparations to teach elements of the curriculum in our Temple Teen Night program. Why?

We live in a world where our children are exposed each year to thousands of messages – on tv shows, reality shows, movies, commercials, video games and more – about sexuality, most of them reducing it to something physical that people can do when they want with few consequences.

It is time that our children received a more complete understanding of the sexuality, that covers both the physical and dangers, as well as its ethical, social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. It is time that our public schools, who are already teaching about sexuality in their health courses, provide a fuller, more valued approach to sexuality. More open, more healthy, more honest.

That’s why a group of Religious Leaders, including myself, have signed onto an Open Letter to Religious Leaders about Sex Education. You can read a more beautifully formatted version here.


As religious leaders, we have a continuing commitment to the spiritual, emotional, and physical health of the nation’s young people. Now we are called to join in the public discussion about the nature of sexuality education for the country’s youth. Strong public health arguments support comprehensive sexuality education. Here we invite you to consider the religious foundations for supporting sexuality education—education that respects the whole person, honors the truth and diverse values, and promotes the highest ethical values in human relationships.


Religious traditions affirm that sexuality is a divinely bestowed blessing for expressing love and generating life, for mutual companionship and pleasure. It is also capable of misuse, leading to exploitation, abuse, and suffering. Sexuality, from a religious point of view, needs to be celebrated with joy, holiness, and integrity, but it also demands understanding, respect, and self-discipline. Our traditions affirm the goodness of creation, our bodies, and our sexuality; we are called to stewardship of these gifts.


Our religious ancestors created rites of passage to recognize the transition to sexual maturity and adulthood. God created us as sexual beings from birth to death; but it is in childhood and adolescence, that we begin to develop the sexual wisdom, values, and morality that will determine whether we will become sexually healthy adults. As religious leaders, we want young people to learn about their sexuality, not primarily from the entertainment media or their peers, but from their parents, faith communities, and school-based programs that address the biological, psychological, cultural, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of sexuality.


Religions have a venerable tradition supporting healing, health care, disease prevention, and health promotion. They also express commitment to the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, those most likely to be excluded. Sexuality education programs must benefit all young people regardless of income, class, ethnicity, and gender. Programs must also be inclusive of those who are heterosexual and those who are sexual minorities, those who are abstinent and those who have had sexual relationships, and those who have experienced brokenness and oppression about their sexuality.


Religions value education, including education about our sexuality. We have learned from our commitment to religious education that programs must be age-appropriate, accurate, and truthful, and have both immediate relevance and applicability for later life. Young people need help in order to develop their capacity for moral discernment and a freely informed conscience. Education that respects and empowers young people has more integrity than education based on incomplete information, fear, and shame. Programs that teach abstinence exclusively and withhold information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention fail our young people.


Scriptural and theological commitment to telling the truth calls for full and honest education about sexual and reproductive health. Young people need to know “there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” but they also require the skills to make moral and healthy decisions about relationships for themselves now and in their future adult lives. They need help to develop the capacity for personal relationships that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure. Our culture too often models sexuality without responsibility, and many adolescents are left on their own to struggle through conflicting sexual messages. It is with adult guidance and comprehensive information and education about sexuality—education that includes abstinence, contraception, and STD prevention—that young people will be able to make responsible decisions.


As religious leaders, we call on policy makers, school officials, and educators to provide comprehensive sexuality education that honors truth telling and the diversity of religious and moral values represented in the community. Such education:

* Emphasizes responsibility, rights, ethics, and justice.
* Affirms the dignity and worth of all persons.
* Teaches that sexuality includes physical, ethical, social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions.
* Complements the education provided by parents and faith communities.
* Publicly identifies the values that underline the program.
* Teaches that decisions about sexual behaviors should be based on moral and ethical values, as well as considerations of physical and emotional health.
* Affirms the goodness of sexuality while acknowledging its risks and dangers.
* Introduces with respect the differing sides of controversial sexual issues.


People of faith must speak out for comprehensive sexuality education. We know that there are people of good faith who differ with us on what young people need. We seek to reach out to those from whom we may be divided to seek what is best for our nation’s youth. We all must be truth seeking, courageous, and just in our efforts to provide all young people with the sexuality education they so urgently need.

* * *

The Open Letter was developed at a colloquium of theologians in 2002, sponsored by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and funded by Planned Parenthood of New York. Participants included Rev. Mark Bigelow, Congregational Church of Huntington, Long Island; Rev. Dr. John Buehrens, Unitarian Universalist Association; Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, Pacific Palisades United Methodist Church; Rev. Steve Clapp, Christian Community; Rev. Dr. Marvin Ellison, Bangor Theological Seminary; Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, Union of American Hebrew Congregations; Rev. Dr. Larry Greenfield, Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; Debra W. Haffner, M.Div., Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing; Ann Hanson, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Sheron Patterson, St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas; and Rev. Carlton Veazey, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The Greatest Gift: Sisters

What do we parents seek as we try to stimulate healthy relationships between our children? Sometimes détente. Sometimes tolerance. But hopefully, a depth of friendship that endures. It IS possible. As Christine Many writes:

I’m five years old, and my mother is on her hands and knees, washing the kitchen floor. I’m telling her about a new girl in school, and she suddenly looks up at me and says, “Who are your two best friends?”

I’m not sure what to say. I’ve been friends with Jill since I was three or so, and I really like Jaime, a friend in kindergarten.

“Jill and Jaime.”

My mother stops scrubbing the floor and starts to take off her yellow rubber gloves. “Well, what about Karen and Cindy?”

My sisters? “I don’t know who their best friends are,” I say.

“No,” she says. “I’m saying, why aren’t they your best friends?”

She seems upset, like I hurt her feelings. “But they’re my sisters.”

“Yes, but they can still be your best friends. Friends may come and go, but your sisters will always be there for you.”

At the time, the idea of my two sisters being my closest friends seemed strange to me. We fought all the time over toys, food, attention, what to watch on television – you name it, we bickered about it at some point. How could my sisters be my best friends? They weren’t the same age as I. We all had our own friends in school.

But my mother never let the three of us forget it: Sisters are lifelong friends. Her wish–like most parents’–was to give us something that she never had. Growing up an only child, she longed for siblings. When she gave birth to three daughters –separated by only four years–the fufillment of her dream had only just begun. She had given us each a gift–our sisters–and she wanted to make sure we did not take that gift for granted. She would frequently tell us how lucky we were. But there were other, more subtle ways that she encouraged us to grow closer. She never showed favoritism to one daughter over the other, as not to cause jealousy or bitterness between sisters. She constantly took us places together–skating, shopping, swimming–so we developed common interests. And when we were teenagers, Mom always punished us equally, giving us yet another bonding experience.

We didn’t always get along beautifully and fought just like any other siblings. But somewhere in between Mom’s lectures, the family vacations and the shared memories, we realized that our mother was right. Today I share things with my sisters that I do with no one else. My sister Cindy and I ran the New York City Marathon together, side-by-side, even holding hands when we crossed the finish line. When my sister Karen got married, I was her maid of honor. Cindy and I traveled through Europe together and even shared an apartment for two years. The three of us trust each other with our greatest secrets.

It was twenty-three years ago that my mother first asked me who my two best friends were. Today she doesn’t have to. She already knows.

Sibling Rivalry: Can’t Kill ’em so Try to Love ’em

I have three siblings: an older sister, and two younger brothers. Our relationships with each other have, like the sides of an accordion, sometimes drawn closer and sometimes moved farther apart. At times distance (east-west coast, California-Israel) has made my heart grow fonder; occasionally the distance provides an easy excuse to ignore them. While we may argue over who is our parents’ favorite (“my son, the rabbi”…, kind of hard to beat that), we so often turn to each other when the going gets really tough.

A seven-year-old girl, discussing her younger sister and herself, once said: “I think that God is having one big experiment. God put two people who are very different in one house to live and wants to see what happens.” Truth be told: my brothers and I had some knock-down, drag-outs in our day, and we all did a lot of kvetching – complaining – about each other too. But in various ways, my siblings are the people who consume much of the space in my heart. Our relationships are intense, complex and deeply cherished.

Torah Truth 1: Sibling Relationships are Challenging
In truth, many sibling relationships are challenging, for the children and for the parents too. These problems reach as far back as our Biblical past. Torah, in its brutally honest way, bares the truth about siblings for all to see. Rather than whitewashing our founding families, Genesis details the fratricide of Cain and Abel, the supplanting of Ishmael by Isaac, the outright disdain and deceit between Jacob and Esau, jealousies between Leah and Rachel, and the parental favoritism, egotism (and attempted fratricide) between Joseph and his brothers.

No doubt Biblical parents helped fuel these sibling rivalries: Abraham’s willingness to send Hagar and Ishmael into the desert, Laban’s deceiving of Jacob with Leah, and Jacob’s fawning over Joseph. How much do our actions (or inactions) as parents influence the relationships our children develop?

Torah Truth 2: Not All Sibling Relationships are Toxic

While the fratricidal Cain and Abel are perhaps the Torah’s best-known brothers, there is also the example of Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe, who learn to live in harmony to benefit the Jewish people and have become models to emulate through the generations. In fact, each Friday evening, Jewish parents worldwide bless their sons, “May you be like Ephraim and Menasha.” These two young men have become a model for boys on how they should get on with each other.

By the end of the Torah, we see a very different picture of sibling relationships. Sandy Littman, of the London School of Jewish Studies, argues that “you have situations where each sibling’s role is complementary and their characters mesh with each other to function in a harmonious way. The Torah gives us the negative picture first.” Jacob and Esau, for example, could have had a partnership. Two brothers who were so different had something to make the world complete, bring some good to the world. But instead of forming a partnership, they went off in different ways.

Yet brothers Moses and Aaron combine their talents to free the Israelites. Aaron, the high priest, and Moses, the leader, complement each other’s talents. They completed each other. One wonders, suggest scholar Littman, whether Aaron and Moses worked so well together “because they had a big sister to look after them.”

Tips for Family Flow Rather than Friction

  • Encourage your kids to work as a team. Suggest they make pizza together every Sunday night, or put them in charge of recycling bottles and deciding how the return money is spent.
  • Step back and allow your children to create their own relationships apart from you. Catch yourself if you tend to micromanage their interaction.
  • Come to the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting’s presentation by Bette Alkazian (Thursday, February 5, 7:00-8:30 pm) on Brothers And Sisters: The Joys And Challenges Of Sibling Relationships. More information here.
  • When kids begin to squabble, don’t become the referee. Come up with ways they can work out their own spats. One mother does more than just send fighting kids to their rooms. She asks them to stand in their bedroom doorways and talk out the problem. They aren’t to return downstairs until they have worked it out. Standing in the doorway staring at each other leads to lots of interesting solutions — all without parental input.
  • Disagreements and irritation are part of any relationship. Accept that negative feelings will surface and try to develop a built-in structure for dealing with them.
  • Don’t expect automatic “brotherly love.” It lessens the guilt associated with “Well, he’s your brother: You should love him.”
  • Spend one-on-one time with each child. This communicates, “Yes, we are a team, but you are special!” We all want to be loved for our unique selves.
  • Take the time to truly observe each of your children to discover their temperament and approach to the world. What makes their spirit sing?
  • Strive to meet a child’s individual need when it arises. When one child is sick, he may need chicken soup and a back massage. That doesn’t mean it’s unfair that his brother doesn’t get the special treatment. His turn will come.
  • It’s our job to care for our children, not an older sister’s or brother’s. (Cain resented having to be his brother’s keeper, and we know how that turned out.)

Remember that no family is perfect. Even the Bible illustrates some pretty messy family dramas! (Adapted from Beliefnet)


Are you (or did you) struggle to stimulate healthy relationships amongst your children or grandchildren? Become part of our Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting exploration of these central relationships.

Attend Lecture: Come to the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting’s presentation by Bette Alkazian (Thursday, February 5, 7:00-8:30 pm) on Brothers And Sisters: The Joys And Challenges Of Sibling Relationships. More information here. Please RSVP to Kathy Haggerty.

Share Your Parenting Tips: Let us know what has worked for you to mellow the monsters (er, to stimulate healthy relationships). Share your answers on the blog. Click below (remember to type your name at the bottom of your comment and then change the “Comment As” drop down box to “anonymous”).

Teen Promiscuity: It Might Not be As Rampant as We Thought!

We have heard a lot about rampant teen sexuality. But evidence suggests otherwise. The NYTimes brings this:

While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.

Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent. The rates also went down among younger teenagers. In 1995, about 20 percent said they had had sex before age 15, but by 2002 those numbers had dropped to 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys.“There’s no doubt that the public perception is that things are getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and are much wilder than they ever were,” said Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. “But when you look at the data, that’s not the case.”

Why do we perceive that teen promiscuity is rampant? The article continues:

One reason people misconstrue teenage sexual behavior is that the system of dating and relationships has changed significantly. In the first half of the 20th century, dating was planned and structured — and a date might or might not lead to a physical relationship. In recent decades, that pattern has largely been replaced by casual gatherings of teenagers. In that setting, teenagers often say they “fool around,” and in a reversal of the old pattern, such an encounter may or may not lead to regular dating.

Read the rest. Very interesting for us parents of teens!