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  • Sandy Green

I HEAR THEY TURN INTO TEENAGERS


This past Sunday, I worked 8 hours. You might think that 8 hours at the office on a Sunday would annoy me. And sometimes it does, but not this weekend. This weekend I had the opportunity to interview teenagers for a leadership development program that my organization runs. We run a number of programs for teens and I love interacting with them. It’s one of my favorite aspects of my job, but one I rarely get to do. I manage a fairly large department and budget and so hanging out with the teens usually falls towards the bottom of my priorities list. But once a year, I get to take part in the interviews and I always look forward to it.

The program, called Diller Teen Fellows, is an international program with teens from all over the world participating in local cohorts. The program’s curriculum focuses on six core values - leadership, Jewish identity, Israel, tikkun olam (repairing the world), Jewish peoplehood, and pluralism. These are heavy topics for an adult to grapple with, let alone a 16 year old. As part of the group interview process, we have the teens participate in activities around these topics so that we can watch the way they deal with difficult topics, differences in opinions, and working as a team. It’s an amazing experience to view the world through their earnest and idealistic eyes. They remind me of what it feels like to have the entire world in front of you. They see endless possibilities to change the world and make it a better place. They force me to take my well-earned cynicism and put it aside...if only for a moment.

I’ve done Diller interviews for a few years, but this year was of course different. This year, I am a mother and I am overwhelmed by these teens. I am completely distracted by the fact that these almost-adults used to be babies. They still are somebody’s baby. Everyone one of them has a mother who used to kiss their belly. Who once rocked them to sleep. A mother who was once at the very center of their world. I simply cannot wrap my brain around the idea of Avi as a teenager; an adult-in-training. I’m already mourning the day when I kiss that little belly for the last time. And yet, isn’t that what this is all about? We raise our children as best we can so that they can grow up and join society.

On Sunday, I listened to the teens talk about incredibly complex issues. Issues like gender equality, equal access to clean water, and their personal and spiritual identities. I listened closely and I had two thoughts:

  1. These kids are our future

  2. Their parents did something right

A conversation took place on Sunday during which one boy said that the type of home you grow up in helps to shape your values and opinions. Another boy disagreed and thought that we all make our own decisions and that our parents can’t force values on us. At the ripe old age of 34, I can confidently say that they are both correct. At the end of the day, we all make our own choices. We decide who will be. But our upbringing gives us the foundation. We must teach our children the values, traditions, and ethics that we hold dear with the hope that they will as well.

I am comforted by the idea that these bright and thoughtful teenagers are our future. I am overwhelmed by the idea that Avi is also the future. So I will continue to listen to these teens. I will continue to be inspired by them. And I will do my best to pass on my values and traditions to the next generation.