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entries tagged with: Rabbi Yaakov Glasser


Diaspora Jews rally to Israel’s defense

Out of the mouths of babes…

The college campus has been a battleground for public opinion on Israel for several years now, and the flotilla fiasco is sure to create passionate debate there. Jewish educators are moving quickly to get the facts out to high school and college students so they can be better prepared for what’s ahead.

“It’s important they know how to respond substantively. It’s important they know how to respond for their own Jewish pride so they do not feel like a victim,” said Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, director of the New Jersey region of National Council of Synagogue Youth, whose office is in Teaneck.

NCSY’s national office, under the auspices of the Orthodox Union in New York, recently sent out a list of talking points to its regions to teach teenagers the facts of the flotilla incident so they can respond constructively when Israel is criticized.

Hillel of Northern New Jersey, run by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, Bergen Community College in Paramus, William Paterson University in Wayne, and Ramapo College in Mahwah, is on a summer hiatus but is planning for the fall, said director Rabbi Ely Allen.

Hillel is considering a number of Israel advocacy programs such as The David Project and Stand With Us to partner with in the fall, Allen said.

Stuart Levy, UJA-NNJ’s community shaliach and director of its Israel Programs Center, is beginning work on a program to teach high school upperclassmen and college students the history of the region in order to make them more effective spokespeople for Israel.

“That’s where you really need to give the tools and the information to make it work,” Levy said.

Unlike the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when Israel responded to Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers and launching of thousands of rockets at the Jewish state, Israel is much more isolated in this public relations battle, and kids feel that, Glasser said. That, he said, combined with the fact that so much of this campaign is being waged on the Internet — specifically on social networking sites such as Facebook — can affect teenagers’ confidence in defending the Jewish state.

“There’s more sense of being cornered,” he said. “The teenagers in this particular instance really are feeling the overwhelming display of criticism from around the world. The sense of [Israel’s] isolation is one the kids are plugged into.”

United Synagogue Youth, part of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has been forwarding e-mail and other resources to its regions, but its members have really taken on the battle on social networking sites, said USY director Jules Gutin, a Teaneck resident.

“There’s a lot that has appeared on various social networking sites that the leadership of USY has forwarded to each other,” he said. Members “have such an active network among themselves, and the leadership has such an active network.”

Gutin highlighted what teens can do because of their vast connections through the Internet.

“They can play a very important role, both among their peers and communities, in trying to do their best to make sure the facts come through and trying to counter much of the distortion that we see in newspapers and the press and various speeches,” he said.

Glasser would like to see more parents draw their children into current-events discussions and encourage them to voice their opinions.

“If you want them to connect to Israel, you have to connect them to the discussion,” Glasser said.


The struggle for teen spirituality

Is the Shabbos glass only half full?

In recent years, word has spread that some teen yeshiva students — exactly how many is a matter of dispute — send text messages on their cell phones on the Sabbath. In modern parlance, these teens are said to be keeping “half Shabbos.”

“They are in an age where this type of electronic communication is ubiquitous,” says Rabbi Yaakov Glasser. “Asking a teenager not to text on Shabbos is like asking an adult never to talk in shul. It’s an expectation, and something they know we’re not supposed to do, but it’s part of our nature.

“Teenagers have always needed peers, have always needed affirmation, have always needed acceptance. That used to manifest itself through communication over the phone and in person. Now it’s happening 50 times an hour through text messaging and Twitter and all these different platforms,” he said.

One study, conducted by the Institute for University-School Partnership of Yeshiva University’s Azrieli School of Jewish Education, found that 18 percent of students at modern Orthodox yeshiva high schools definitely texted on Shabbat, with a further 5 percent reporting themselves “ambivalent” about the practice.

The figures come from a survey of 1,250 students from six modern orthodox yeshiva high schools across the country, as part of a program called Religious Understanding in Adolescent Children, which aims to help yeshiva high schools promote the spiritual growth of their students.

“Religion is not necessarily as important to adolescents as we want it to be,” says Scott Goldberg, director of the institute. “There’s a normal developmental decline in terms of spirituality and religiosity.”

Prof. Alan Brill, who first publicly reported the hitherto clandestine half Shabbos phenomenon on his blog last year, believes the half Shabbos phenomenon clearly reflects a generation gap and technological shift, but doubts whether it is the watershed in Orthodoxy that some fearful observers suggest.

“The responsa literature show many communities that had to deal with adolescent transgressions, including with mixed dancing, bundling, swimming on Shabbos, brothel use, not wearing tefillin, and petty theft. In all of these cases, they remain in the community, and it is acknowledged that they are deviants within the social norm.

“Don’t assume it is permanent. A kid may start texting in 10th grade and then give it up by the end of 11th.”

— L.Y.


The struggle for teen spirituality

Orthodox community to hold seminar on “New approaches for a new generation”

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 28 October 2011

Rabbi Yaakov Glasser wants to bring the issues of teenagers and spirituality to the forefront of the modern Orthodox community.

Glasser — the New Jersey regional director for NCSY, the Orthodox Union's youth organization and its national director of education — is keynoting an evening of talks and workshops for parents. Titled “Teens & Spirituality: New Approaches for a New Generation,” the event will take place Sunday night at Teaneck’s Congregation Bnai Yeshurun.

The evening is sponsored by the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, and the area’s three yeshiva high schools: the Frisch School, Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls, and Torah Academy of Bergen County.

“We have a real issue of kids struggling with their religious commitment,” said Glasser.

The struggle, he added, reflects both normal issues of adolescence and factors unique to this generation — the intense and sometimes addictive use by teens of technology such as text messaging and Facebook.

Teens ask the hardest things
p>Here are five of the issues Orthodox teens want to discuss, according to Rabbi Yaakov Glasser of NCSY:

• Belief in God. “A lot of kids are not walking around with a coherent and confident sense of how they know that there is a God in the world,” he says.

• The truth of the Torah. “How do we know that everything we are observing is the way it was intended to be?”

• The importance of religious observance. “A lot of kids are questioning whether God cares about the details of how I wash my hands in the morning.”

• Sexuality.

• Suffering. “We don’t always address the theological issues of suffering in an age- appropriate method.”

“It’s time to move the discussion off of the crisis and into the realm of solutions,” said Glasser. “While I don’t think that it’s 100 percent solvable, there’ s a tremendous amount that can be done to address the issues.”

Noting that “the most dominant influence in the life of a teenager is [his or her] family,” Glasser said the goal of the seminar is to give parents “practical strategies that they can implement in raising their teenagers that will help nurture a stronger sense of commitment to spirituality and Torah observance.”

He will be leading a workshop entitled “The 10 Questions That Teens Ask, The 10 Answers You Need to Know,” drawing on his experience fielding questions from participants in NCSY events.

“My most important goal is to reveal to parents…the questions that are bothering kids about Judaism, what is it they’re struggling with about it. Which aspects of the belief system and expectations of observance are kids questioning and doubting?”

Glasser aims to provide parents “with a number of approaches and answers, so the home becomes a source of direction and education. More important than the actual answers is sensitizing parents to the importance of validating the questions, recognizing that some are deep and complex, to allow parents and teens to go through the journey of discovering the answers to these questions together by exploring them in Jewish sources or asking the rabbi or another role model.

“This process gives the child a model of religious growth that is very important, where Judaism doesn’t just become a collection of dogma they have to accept at face value.”

If teens are presented with a choice between a Judaism they see as “a bunch of rules” and listening to their iPod on Shabbat, “They’re going to choose the iPod. If we can discuss what parts of Shabbos kids find uninspiring and frankly painful, we can adapt and develop our approaches to Shabbos to make that experience more meaningful and enriching for them,” he said.

How to make Shabbat meaningful will be the topic of a workshop given by Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron. Other sessions will deal with the “Turning our Teens on to Tefillah,” or prayer, and with infusing spirituality in elementary-school children.

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