If some Jewish youth say “awesome” this week, they may really mean it.
The sweet wishes of the Rosh Hashanah new year celebrated by Jewish families last week gave way to a self-reflective 10 Days of Awe, ending with Yom Kippur starting sundown this coming Friday, a holy judgment deadline that has area teens thinking.
And that’s key, said Aviva Hillenbrand, a Jewish educator and member of the , who insists that Jewish youth absorb most through applying Judaism to their real life experiences.
“Studies show the connection to Judaism that makes the greatest lasting impact on a young person’s life is not their formal education but what they experience through their own immersion and exploration” at camps and home and school, she said.
Hillenbrand would be proud of Jewish youth around the Metro area this week who are busily reflecting on Yom Kippur’s call to repair broken relationships where they study, text and sleep.
To aid in making a spiritual inventory of misdeeds from the previous year—in this season similar to Christian Lent—observant families use a reminder list that corresponds to letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
A-addiction to procrastination, B-broken promises, C-cussing
“Everyone can think of at least one thing they’re not so proud of,” said Ethan Meirovitz, 13, a student at Heilicher Jewish Day School in St. Louis Park.
“Society’s standards for kids have changed,” added Meirovitz. “Youth used to say Ma’am or Sir, follow what adults say, and go to their own church or house of worship every Sabbath. But today kids are not wearing appropriate clothing, they’re cussing at their parents, and they’re not being respectful.”
He doesn’t entirely exempt himself from that indictment.
“I’m trying to cut down on being disrespectful. My parents put a roof over our heads," he said. "They work hard all day while we’re at school to pay for my education, put food on the table and so I have a bed to sleep on."
A favorite way Meirovitz internalizes confession is by observing Tashlich, a Jewish ceremony of tossing bread or crackers representing sins into a nearby lake or stream.
“There’s definitely a huge weight taken off my shoulders after I do the Tashlich walk. The coolest thing was one year when we threw the crackers into the lake, a huge school of fish came and demolished the crackers. Better for them to have our sins than us,” he said, smiling.
D-disrespect for parents, E-endless drama, F-Facebook gossip
Rivkah Buchbinder, 13, of St. Louis Park cited ridiculing someone as a harmful habit she is pondering this week. “Jeering” or teasing is what the adult list calls it, an aspect of bullying difficult to control at American schools.
Orthodox Jewish children not only name each sin, but beat their chests with each confession, then expel it, symbolized by the cracker thrown into the lake, affirming the words of Micah 7:19: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
“The big idea is to get rid of all your sins,” she said. “Tashlich gives you time to reflect on the bad things you’ve done. Then you apologize to the person you made fun of.”
Though painful at times, being observant has given 18-year-old Ari Feldman new perspective through the often-wrenching holiday withdrawal from a “technologically-reliant” life. During his freshman year at St Paul's Highland Park High School, he said, when Yom Kippur fell on a weekday, he missed a total of eight days of school despite protests to his mother.
“It made for a very stressful first quarter and I was really angry about it because I felt it was going to set me back,” he said.
But as a senior, “I’m gaining appreciation for why it’s important. Teenagers are famous for imposing their will on everybody and everything around them,” he said. “But it’s good to have some commitments you can’t break. Now I’m not constantly putting myself first. It’s humbling.”