February 2008

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Teen wearing tefillin during morning prayers.
Teen Voice 

Say It Loud
I am Jewish and I am proud.

-- Ethan Goldberg

Over the past several decades, there has been a concerted effort to increase religious observance among secular or minimally involved Jews. While focus on this topic usually goes towards the efforts of Chabad and similar organizations in working with adults, an often-ignored effort is that directed towards teenagers. Through youth groups like United Synagogue Youth and National Council of Synagogue Youth and camps like Camp Ramah, teens become involved with rituals and observance through conventions and get-aways. Invariably, a portion of these teens, for whatever reason, decides to incorporate more traditional Jewish rituals like Shabbat observance in their lives.

I myself have been a part of this, and I know many others who have been as well. However, the challenge for these teens is creating a balance between their old lives and their new lives. A teen wrapped up in school and other activities must reconcile his or her desires to observe Shabbat and to participate in activities like "normal" teens.

What results is often a mixture of self-righteousness and self-pity. Sometimes, these teens wish to inspire sympathy for themselves by painting a portrait of themselves as the "suffering servant" who observes mitzvoth against all odds. They also tend to showcase their sacrifice by drawing attention to the lost opportunities Shabbat and kashrut can cause with some peers.

This attitude is completely unjustified. In a democratic era, religious decisions are left to the individual; no one is compelled to be religious or secular since it is a matter of personal choice. Teens like me have seen the opportunity cost, and have made their choice. Yet these teens seldom speak of the order or meaning ritual gives to their lives. This focus on personal cost without consideration of personal gain makes a bad name for the newly religious.

Make your choice, and stand behind it.

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