Sandy Taradash: Out of the Mouth of a Jewish Teen!

State of the Union of My Synagogue and Its Youth Activities….

The "Jew Crew" gets together for dinner
The "Jew Crew" gets together for dinner

I recently had a date-night with my 14 year-old grandson, Jacob, on the occasion of his birthday. I thought it would be fun for just the two of us to take the train into San Francisco and have a night-on-the-town! Ok, so my expectations were a bit high thinking how excited I was that he’d given up a week-end evening for me, but I’m cool, I’m his Butzee, his Baby Boomer grandmother! I went to college in the City-by-the-Bay in the 60s!

The plan was that he would sleep over my house that night so besides the Saturday evening outing, I had his favorite brunch planned and a Sunday afternoon movie. To my disappointment, he decided not to sleep over because he let some homework go and had to complete it before school on Monday. Ok, there went brunch and Sunday’s activities. So off to the City we went! There’s always something to see and do downtown San Francisco! And just think of all the cool characters you can people-watch while on BART!

My grandson is not much of a talker, nor does he ask many questions. I’ve worked all my life with kids and always want to communicate at their level, trying to know their lingo and work hard to focus in on their interests. Easier said than done, especially with a teen-age boy! My three granddaughters are a breeze—little shopping, pedicures, Katy Perry’s new song, latest frozen yogurt flavor and you are the coolest Butzee ever!

But wanting to divert Jacob’s attention from his phone, trying to navigate into his screen lingo, asking his latest level on his computer game, how many more Bar Mitzvahs are on his social calendar and who “is the cutest girl in his class?” didn’t get me too far! So I decided I would ask about his post Bar Mitzvah feelings of his six years in Hebrew and Sunday school and his experiences at Temple. I sensed this was pushing it but I had to try!

I knew much of the specific info but hearing it out of his mouth and expressed in his own words was the highlight of my evening! Jacob has a great social calendar with loads of names in his email address book and in the past two years about 20 kids, boys and girls, from his Hebrew School class (there were over 60 in his class) have formed a social group and call themselves The Jew Crew! One girl seems to be the organizer and plans activities, emails all the kids and parents, gathers the logistics, drivers, costs, etc. and, as my grandson puts it, “We have a blast!”

The Jew Crew has gone swimming, bowling, to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the beach, restaurants (note picture of them in a restaurant!) and to each other’s homes for pizza and movies! Takes me back to my days of BBGs and AZA! These kids go to four different schools so coming together at Temple is their connecting base and even at post Bar Mitzvah, they continue to be The Jew Crew!

I do believe this is all about our Temple and what it provides for our youth. Twenty-two years ago my youngest daughter met her husband at this Temple while they were in youth group. They experienced summer camp together, were Teacher Assistants in Hebrew school, dated no others and have been married 11 years! Today their young daughters, nephew and niece, belong to the same Temple and all for the same reasons:  the youth education and programming. My daughter lives over 20 minutes away from this synagogue and has a Temple literally five minutes from her house but has decided to make the schlep to where she grew up and is thrilled to have reconnected with many of her friends from Hebrew school and youth group! Now the next generation is coming of age at our Temple!

Jacob has also been participating this year as a TA at Hebrew school which has offered him leadership training classes. And every Wednesday night at Temple, about 80-120 14-18 year olds meet for a few hours of dinner, discussion and fun! Did you catch that number, 80-120 teens? With homework and other activities, that many kids make their way to Temple to be with their Jewish friends!

And when adjectives are not Jacob’s strong suit, this is how he described the youth leader: Awesome, fun, spunky, creative, empathetic, cool, knowing how to reach each kid and “makes coming to all these activities worth it!” When I asked him “What was the best/worst part of going to Hebrew school,” he honestly replied, “Meeting and bonding with my friends/not paying attention enough.”

And get this: Remember when your kids had all those Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties and you had to buy a gift for each kid? Well, in order to eliminate the expense of so many presents and to teach “the gift of giving” our Temple has created a “tzedakah” program. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah class raises money through fund raisers and along with a financial contribution from each family (that is actually less than the price of a gift per child)    donates the money to charity! The class researches different charitable organizations and has a representative come and present where and how the money would be used and then they pick which charity they want to donate their money! Jacob’s class had a goal to raise $20,000-$25,000 and they attained that goal and divided the money among five charities! That’s what I call teaching and experiencing tzedakah!

As our train entered the under bay tunnel where it was a bit dark, Jacob looked me closely and directly in the eyes and said, “Enough! No more questions!” It was dark enough that he didn’t see me smile for that conversation was ok for me because the answers were full of light, openness and honesty and I know he has been blessed with experiences, memories and friends that will last him a life-time. I am sure I got more quality time with my grandson on the train than if he had stayed overnight!

I once remember an AZA guy at a social in 1963 who answered the question as to why more of his buddies didn’t show up for the party, reply with, “It’s QUALITY, not quantity!”

That’s how I will remember my date-night with my grandson! Though I wanted to treat him to a San Francisco dining experience, he wanted less formal so we ended up at a   high-end, gourmet, “in” pizza eatery! Just enough, but not too much, flair to make me a cool, Baby Boomer Bubbe/Butzee!

And great kudos to all our Reform Temples who reach our kids, give them purpose and meaning, as ours does when they offer Got Shabbat (family Friday Night Services that serve dinner, a creative/interactive service, special desserts, Israeli dancing, games and arts/crafts, and with, on average, 250-300 people attending at 5:45 once a month), exciting youth events, camp experiences, leadership training, elective Hebrew school tracts (learning history, culture and tradition through art, music and drama), creative High Holiday Family Interactive Services, community out-reach with special days for Sunday school kids to connect with their secular community by collecting garbage, working at soup kitchens and visiting elder centers. How fortunate we are to have rabbis who are natural born leaders who teach and promote Judaism to kids in a way that “it’s cool to be a Jew!” as I overheard one teen say!

I am one for giving experiences rather than always giving a gift. So Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah present from me was a night at the Embassy Suites with two buddies and his favorite Uncle as chaperon! They swam (in the middle of winter) in the indoor poor, had pizza delivered at 10:00 pm, munched on lots of goodies and played all their screen games and watched movies! Great to be a Jewish teen and to have all these memories and experiences!

Oy vey! What’s a Baby Boomer Bubbe to do? Nu?

“Vhat else but kvell!!” As my Bubbe would have said!




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