You Shall Pursue

March 12, 2014

Dear B’nei Mitzvah

Filed under: Uncategorized — marleyweiner @ 1:30 pm

When I first started this work, I was tremendously excited to work with people of all ages, except one. The thought of working with young teens, children between the age of 11 and 14, filled me with a sort of all-encompassing dread. And so, of course, I have spent a lot of my career so far hanging out with 7th and 8th graders. And, after two years of teaching Hebrew High School and interacting with this age group, I’m starting to realize that they are, far and away, my favorites.

Let me explain with a story. There was a particular young man (whose name will go unmentioned) who was a particularly difficult kid last year. He liked to talk, and specifically to try to take the class off on irrelevant tangents. He tried my patience. But underneath all of the frustration, he was fundamentally a good kid, just one who was going through that stage that teenagers go through. This year, I went back to visit that group of students, and he and I got to talking, specifically about his behavior the year before. I remarked, laughing, that I’d told him to be quiet so many times that last year. And he laughed back, and said “Yeah, I probably deserved it.” It was beautiful, this moment of growth, of clarity, of teshuvah, such that we could connect as two human beings rather than as teacher and student. Suddenly, I had the good person standing before me that I had seen all along.

And that is what I love about this age. Teenagers, both for good and for incredibly frustrating, are growing at the speed of light. They have so many feelings, that it kind of overwhelms them (and those who know them) all at once. Within each individual kid, there are moments of profound wisdom, worldliness, and naiveté. Dealing with teenagers is like dealing with the human condition condensed into its purest form.

I have the privilege to hang out with a lot of B’nei Mitzvah students this year, and to talk Torah with them. And their insights never cease to amaze me. They ask questions I’d never think to ask, offer interpretations that I’d never considered. They move quickly between child and adult selves, and I want to tell them that this time is so important for their growth into a moral actor, into the kind of good human being that I know they have the potential to become. So we talk about Jewish values, and I try to get them to think, and ask questions, and develop some comfort in their own intellectual instincts. And they keep teaching me about humility, and relationship building.

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