Melbourne Jews Gone Wild – Quietly: Rumspringa 2

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Rumspringa

Welcome, everybody, to the new Sensible Jew site*.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve met with many groups and individuals, spoken to even more over the phone or via email, and one thing is becoming increasingly obvious:
I’m not the only person concerned with our community’s current direction.

But it’s one thing to be perpetually peeved, and another to be actively doing something to fix the problems. What I believe we’re currently witnessing is our very own communal Rumspringa.

Rumspringa is the period in which Amish kids break from their communities, go into the wider world to drink, drug, and fornicate, until they’re ready to come home and take up the Amish life again.

The last Rumspringa post also noted that Melbourne Jews have a less well defined version of this that goes on for far longer, and with a less stellar rate of young people returning afterwards.

Our current Rumspringa happens at an individual and peer-group level: young people drink, drug, and fornicate but there’s no serious communal recognition of the phenomenon, or – more importantly – why it’s happening.

A very simple answer as to the appeal of drugs and alcohol, is that there really isn’t a whole lot else that’s particularly attractive for our youth to engage with in the community.

How many young people who’ve gone through the Jewish school system emerge talking affectionately of their educational experiences?

Some do, but they are the exceptions. Most I’ve spoken to, either recently or back when I was working with kids ten years ago, had to search lon and hard to find enough synonyms for, “utter shit,” to adequately express their feelings.

Their tenacious clinging to their Jewish identity was often in spite of what they’d been taught. Only the youth movements seemed to offer truly positive experiences of Zionism and Judaism. Indeed, the recent Monash study into our community backs this up with hard data.

In a couple of meetings with Hashy bogrim (senior leaders), I saw energy, intellectualism and lateral thinking – all of which has combined with humour and spirit to produce a formidable challenge to the content of that which Jewish schools in Melbourne currently provide.

Meanwhile, families struggle with the tens of thousands needed a year to pay for what seems like a pretty poor return on their investment.

To make matters worse, Jewish life beyond the home, youth movement, and school seems to be mostly a barren wasteland.

For the approximately 75% of non-orthodox Melbourne Jews, there seems to have been a wholesale emptying out of Jewish content from Jewish life, and there’s little left that actually appeals to people of any generation.

Then there’s the sometimes unbearable pressure of the Jewish VCE.

Having tutored countless kids over a decade,  parental grey-faced panic and the total shut-down of so many students are seared into my memory.

Every house I walked into seemed swathed in a quiet desperation and horror at what might happen if the kids didn’t get marks for law or medicine. It’s not that there were swathes of young people desperate to advocate or to heal.

It was much more about the terror of having to admit to friends, family and even acquaintances that the kids just aren’t good enough.

That’s what most kids remember from Jewish schooling.

There is no memory of joy in their heritage or their religion.

Stand-out memories are of teachers screaming in their own desperation, or – worse – teachers who indulge in a form of psychological warfare against their students in order to hold on to pristine records of academic excellence.

Do not for a second feel tempted to scoff at these kids for being precious: the stress of it all so often needs alcohol and drugs to dull the awfulness, and perhaps to fill the gaping emptiness that could be filled with community, culture and creativity.

And what about young people who did not attend Jewish schools?  UJEB’s catchment is small to begin with and in any case can only offer a narrowly defined educational – rather than cultural or creative – Jewish learning experience.

Moreover, as wonderful as the youth movements may be, most people have graduated from them by the tender age of 22. What is next?

I can tell you that not a single young person I spoke to saw Young UIA or JNF as the answer. They were, instead, all resigned to an inevitable move away from communal life. All that remains for them is their Jewish friends.

With the exception of youth movements, our current institutions are just not geared to creating the structures that young people want or need.

In fact, the attitudes of these institutions’ are a bizarre mix of panic and contempt:

Panic:
“How do we get kids in?”
This seems like an attempt to drag a recalcitrant cat into the house at sunset. The assumption is that kids don’t want to participate and they have to be bribed or harrangued into involvement. As most of us know, herding cats is an exercise in futility.

Contempt:
“These kids are just so apathetic!”
I have to stifle a groan every time I hear this from institutional types. Have they ever actually interacted with young people? Do they have any idea how little sleep they can survive on? Or the boundless creativity that – when there’s an outlet for it – produces astonishing things? Perhaps it’s just easier to blame young people rather than take responsibility for the completely irrelevant product on offer.

*As mentioned on the old blog, a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous donated both the time and expertise necessary to configuring the new look and location.

Anyone who knows me will be aware that I have none of the requisite skills, techincal or otherwise, to set up a site that looks the SJ does now.So a very big thank you to the Anonymous Benefactor. This person is currently developing one of the more exciting – not to mention far-reaching – projects and I wish him/her all the very best with it.

***

For all the above  doom-and-gloom, however, there is actually something going on in the community. At the moment, it’s nascent, but it comprises a lot of very serious young people who are not content with things as they are.

These people (and the groups they are establishing/have established) reject -

. the sclerotic institutional processes, in favour of innovative ways to put joy and creativity front and centre in the community

. the sub-community divisions, in favour of cooperation.

. the simply sub-standard Jewish education that currently exists, in favour of small, informal circles are led by people with actual knowledge and love of the religion and texts

. the mindless acceptance of the way Halacha is usually taught and understood (particularly regarding women, homosexuals, and other marginalised groups), in favour of deep learning that actually shows how Judaism can be compatible with the 21st century

. old style shuls in which no one – not even the rabbi – really wants to be there, in favour of smaller shuls that actually exist to serve  their communities. This service often extends beyond religion to many support, cultural and creative outlets.

. rabbis that are either corrupt or drunk on their own position, in favour of religious leaders who see their position as a privilege, not a right.

. the AUJS school of Jewish continuity (offering a sausage/felafel/alcoholic drink in the hope that this will build Jewish feeling), in favour of the contemporaneous youth movement people’s intellectually serious approach to the many challenges facing Jews and Israel.

. creative and cultural constraints of professional life, in fwavour of small groups setting up creative outlets that can co-exist with professional life.

. the adversarial, aggressive methods of older generations, in favour of a more inclusive, and  less cruel, more constructive mode of behaviour towards fellow Jews that might actually fix a number of the problems we currently face.

. seeing non-Jews as the dangerous ‘other’ to be shouted down when they say something negative about Israel, in favour of calm dialogue that ends up achieving so much more.

. the hidden shame of mental illness, drug abuse, or homosexuality, in favour of a broad acceptance that everyone has his burden and deserves support, and that homosexuality is not a pathology.

. Schools that focus only on final marks, in favour of schools that see education as the most valuable gift we can give our kids.

. teachers who are only in the profession because they had no other option, or because they enjoy the kudos of being marks-oriented performers, in favour of young, idealistic teachers, many of whom might well be some of the best and brightest in our community.

.  interfaith meetings that are about nice words, religious leaders, publicity but zero real effect, in favour of small scale, guerrilla interfaith projects in which we not only build relationships with the grass roots members of other communities, but in which we actually seek to learn from their successful initiatives,  while offering our help where it’s needed.

. sacrosanct topics that can never be debated or talked about humorously (Israel, the Holocaust) in faavour of open, intellectually rigorous explorations. Indeed, coming soon to SJ is a piece about a new style of Holocaust education from an eminent Holocaust educator.**

This is only a tiny sample of the shifts we’re starting to see. And so much of what’s being set up is still relatively underground.

Nascent groups are publicity-shy before they’ve accrued a track record.

Some individuals who have been extremely generous with their time in talking to me, and who feel passionately about the new atmosphere, are employed by various Jewish institutions and understandably would rather avoid publicity that might compromise their work or jeopardise their positions.

Meanwhile, all these small groups need to watch out for duplication of services and cannibalisation of each others’ members.

**Not really. But his ideas are genius.

***

Our very own communal Rumspringa is a rebellion that is not taking place at an individual, self destructive level.

This is a community-wide, shaking off of the old structures that no longer work. It’s a search for a continuity that involves joy, creativity, and genuine community spirit.

It is a way to ensure continuity, that goes beyond just fighting assimilation. There is a real sense that Judaism in Melbourne has to be about much more than just maintaining genetic purity.

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23 Responses to “Melbourne Jews Gone Wild – Quietly: Rumspringa 2”

  1. [...] Melbourne Jews Gone Wild – Quietly: Rumspringa 2 [...]

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  2. anon says:

    brave and brilliant!

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Thanks :)
      Honestly, though – it’s neither. I’m not employed by any institutions, so I’m a free agent and it’s easy to be, “brave.” And all this post was, was reporting what others have told me. But it’s really lovely of you to say so :)

  3. Edders says:

    Alex (or SJ),

    Sorry that I haven’t been on as much, exams and hectic scheduling are making me very busy. This is certainly an interesting post. I’d agree with most of what you write here. However, I do have an issue with this

    “These kids are just so apathetic!”
    I have to stifle a scream every time I hear this from institutional types. Have they ever met a young person? Do they have any idea how little sleep they can survive on? Or the boundless creativity that – when there’s an outlet for it – produces astonishing things? Perhaps it’s just easier to blame young people rather than take responsibility for the completely irrelevant product on offer.

    To be honest, the amount of friends that don’t care or just aren’t interested in getting involved in these sorts of activities. You have a point in saying that we don’t target them the right way, that most social events that are popular are the alcohol fuelled drink and sleaze fests, such as the various purim parties and other Jewish youth social events. This is not blaming the young for being apathetic and not interested, it’s acknowledging that my generation as a general overview is more apathetic then the generations of the past. Many in my generation are too preoccupied by the thrills of Facebook, Iphones and University, they could not care less about anything the Jewish community has to offer. I accept that as a natural thing, there are some that aren’t appealed to and things should be changed. However, the cry “these kids are so apathetic”, has a lot of truth behind it.

    However, on a completely seperate note, I was talking to a friend from school and you seem to have hit something on the head. He very much agreed with what you were saying and is interested in looking into it further. Hopefully this will get more people reading this article, especially in my generation.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Edders!

      Thanks for yet another insightful comment.

      It really is a chicken/egg question for the ages: are young people apathetic because what’s on offer is rubbish, or is what’s on offer rubbish because young people can’t get off their bums to make it better?

      My very strong belief is that if there are loose structure in place for young people (by me, that’s 35 and under… till next year, when I actually turn 35 and then the limits are up for renegotiation :) ), there is a natural drive to do stuff.

      Only drugs, alcohol and mental illness can ever destroy that drive. Even so, such destruction tends to be temporary.

      The drive that characterises young people is at the moment focused on a purely individualistic level simply because there aren’t any communal outlets that speak to them. I’m wondering what could happen if we actually had things going on in the community that made participation attractive enough that the source of the apathy would become moot.

  4. Morry says:

    If I get the gist of the post it’s “school sucks, the older generation doesn’t understand us, and there’s nothing organised for us”. This doesn’t sound particularly Jewish to me.

    Consider the one place, SJ, where you are impressed with how geared it is to youth and that’s in the youth moovements, whether Hashi Bogrim or other. But that is youth organising itself (with the help of adults) and isn’t that the way it should be? Who can know youth needs better than youth? More to the point, do we not want a generation of people who, when it hasn’t been done for them, gets up and organises what they need (whether we’re speaking of a glass of water or a social, intellectual life)?

    I speak as somebody who ran the entire gamut of this posting. My time at Scopus, no matter how much I thought it an absolute waste of my air at the time, proved an invaluable source of knowledge, later, certainly in countering unpredictable assaults from those seeking to convert me away from Judaism, and in formulating my own views on Jewish issues. My time as a madrich and education organiser in Habo helped my ideas on Judaism and Zionism gel, whilst being involved in self-oganisation contributed enormously to self-awareness, self-confidence, and leadership, not to mention lifelong friendships and networks that are the essence of this community.

    Which all leaves me wondering, why exactly are we justifying youth attitudes that boil down to “if it’s not done for me, I’m going to drink and drug myself silly, whine about how bored I am and the fact that nothing is provided for me … and paaarttaay”.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that the onus is on the youth to entirely organise itself. We are a community, but it is a two way street, and one in which, as always, youth responds best to youth. You don’t want to know, as a madrich, how often kids would say to me “I wish my parents understood me half as well as you do” … that’s not because I’m particularly gifted, it’s simply the nature of the beast, the way things are and have undoubtedly always been.

    The only difference is that previous generations didn’t turn to drugs and alcohol, which is why so many find it a worrying phenomenum. Perhaps, in that regard, it’s worth discussing what has changed, and exactly why a healthy community relatively immune to those escapes is now plagued by them. Perhaps the problem lies in a generation that has come to expect others to provide their fun, and the highest they can envision for themselves is getting high. The point is that in healthy communities work together, including across any generational gaps.

    Hopefully, your work here, SJ, can provide a greater awareness of exactly what is needed … a good meeting place between generations which will help consolidate this community into parts that work well together. These are not leadership issues in terms of who sits in the JCCV … that’s just politics. These are leadership issues at the grassroots level, where people roll up their sleeves and organise whatever needs to be organised.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Morry, as always, it is so good to read your thoughts! There is nothing worse than a discussion in which everyone agrees. :)

      Of course teenage rebellion is universal – not just a Jewish issue. That’s why I looked to the Rumspringa for direction. But just because it’s universal, that doesn’t mean we as a community don’t have problems specific to us. We definitely have more issues with drugs, and mental health.

      And I am absolutely advocating for self selecting, and self generating groups for young people. The thing is, “young” can mean anything from 10 years old to 40 years old, depending on whom you ask.

      Morry, where we diverge is the issue of self-destructive behaviours. Of the hundreds of young people I’ve worked with/led, not one has said, “if it’s not done for me, I’m going to drink and drug myself silly, whine about how bored I am and the fact that nothing is provided for me … and paaarttaay” or anything even vaguely similar.

      What they have told me – pretty much all of them at some point – is that the pressures on them are sometimes unbearable and there’s just no joy in life to counteract that.

      Morry, you’re from a different generation. You had the luxury of not having to endure the VCE mark hysteria. There are so many other problems that I’ve written about, but I’ve got to say the final year of VCE for young Jews is enough to drive them to some really scary stuff.

      These are KIDS. The 12 year olds who are not coping and smoking marijuana and drinking are KIDS. It is their parents’ and their community’s responsibility to protect and nurture them. If the community has no role to play in making the lives of these kids meaningful and – yes – better, then what exactly is its point?

      As for why the drugs explosion seems to have happened recently (it didn’t, by the way – that was actually a Boomer gescheft.), that really needs a post of its own.

      Your last paragraph, I agree with completely! :)

  5. asher says:

    your article is certainly an insightful view of the Melbourne J-com. i agree with much of what you have said and look forward to what this organization will produce in the future.

    a few questions:
    are you advocating the construction of a social contruct which teenagers through out time can access in order to circumvent their need for rebellion?

    Or, are you suggesting a singular overhaul of the social structure of the entire jewish community so that it may cater to the needs of the present generation of Jewish youth?

    the two are quite distinct issues, both of which have value but should not be disguised as the other. i think you should consider your underlying premise, that the teenage body of jews will inevitably yearn to fight against the establishment. perhaps this need will be replaced by a sense of acceptance and nurturing if we are able to sufficiently improve the system. Or then again, maybe the youth are the best catalyst for change, their minds freer and more actively creative than those consumed by professional and family obligations.

    Regardless, i wish the best of luck to you.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Asher.

      Thank you for an amazing comment!

      For what it’s worth, I’m not an “organiser”. I mostly just comment on what’s happening. I’m part of a few groups that others have set up, and an ad-hoc, guerilla interfaith thing that’s propelled by the (occasionally insane) ideas of the participants. But the group’s pretty much leaderless.

      Regarding your questions, I’m going to have a bet each way here :)

      I strongly believe in young people setting up their own groups in order to do good for themselves and others. When your life’s full and has direction, the darker elements have less of a chance to suck you in. There’ll always be a need for rebellion, but rather than having that need individualised so that destructive impulses turn inwards, I’d love to see options for creative, artistic, intellectual, or physical expressions of rage, joy, humour… whatever people are feeling.

      As for overhauling what already exists, I’m not advocating storming Beit Weizmann, or evem trying to dismantle the leadership bodies. There’s actually a lot they can do to work with young people. I am, however, advocating overhauling the philosophical orientation that places VCE at the pinnacle of a young person’s life, the anger and apathy that is the response to various pressures, and leads to a turning inwards, and the way people look at the younger generations – as problematic types that can’t be easily herdered into existing structures.

      Thank you for your wishes of good luck :)

  6. asher says:

    I agree that the vce hype is quite destructive to the mental and emotional health of many Jewish high school teens. However, we should seek to understand the source of this phenomenon before we downright oppose it.

    We must remember that the majority of the Jewish families in Melbourne are descendants of holocaust survivors, people who once had seemingly firm standings in integrated societies. Prior to the Holocaust, most German Jews identified strongly with their national community. The uprooting of a generation from the illusion of stability within western society has resulted in the fear and insecurity that drives the vce hysteria.

    The basic rationale goes as such:
    Private school education and high vce scores translate to access to prestigious universities and thus strong positions in society. The holocaust has proven that we cannot take our rights for granted and so we must ensure our survival by gaining the upper hand. we must become essential and well respected members of our society so that it cannot afford to expel us.

    Of course the community has not arrived at this conclusion through a logical, though out process. It is more of a social tide of insecurity and fear that permeates the generations, driving us to succeed academically and professionally.

    The peculiar hysteria surrounding enter scores is more or less unique to the Jewish community and other minority communities that have come from disadvantaged circumstances in other countries. It is an unconscious means of compensating for the fear that has been passed on to us through collective experience.

    Now, the real question is: does it work?
    Setting the emotional impact that it has on students aside for a second, does this convention translate to the solidification of our security in Australian society? I would say that it has certainly contributed to our success. Of the ten Jewish students who desire a law degree due to nothing but pressure from Bubba, one or two of them will eventually become high powered barristers and another may become a law-maker in the government. Of the ten Jewish students who fight for their 99.9s just to get into medicine, one of them will become the leader of his field, a top surgeon or the creater of some new technology.

    So now, this is no longer a matter of simply condemning the typical Jewish views of the importance of VCE. It is a weighted dillemna, because the fact is that many students derive meaning and sense of self from acedemic success in high school then carry that meaning well into uni. A few of them then graduate with honours and seek that validation in the professional world. They do well in their jobs and become the leaders of industry and sometimes even politics.

    In the Melbourne Jewish community, VCE is a headfuck. But, it is also part of the rocket fuel that sends us to the stars.

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  7. Ilana Payes says:

    JEWISH GUILT!?

    Asher,

    Whilst I simply love your inspiring thoughts, and completely agree that “The uprooting of a generation from the illusion of stability within western society has resulted in [ ] fear and insecurity” – I am not really convinced that it “drives the VCE hysteria”.

    I don’t see how the threat of anti-Semitism or of being uprooted or really any memories of the holocaust could really satisfy an explanation for the insanity of the VCE hysteria. I think we use the Holocaust far too frequently to explain any Jewish mishegas.

    Through my eyes, which have suffered through VCE and currently watch my cousins drive themselves mental by living and breathing exams, it looks as though the VCE mishegas disguises itself behind a Jewish Pride façade. I’m convinced that the VCE hysteria has moved way passed our collective insecurities. I think it is showing off for reasons that are more base.

    Are our children close to killing themselves in a pursuit to prove that Jews are superior intellectually? or to shield us from our memories of anti-Semitism? I doubt it. VCE is a competition, and no one likes loosing. And even if VCE hysteria was simply a case of Jewish pride, than we must not ignore how tightly pride interconnects with shame.

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    • asher says:

      Competition certainly does have a role to play. however, all vce students are competing in the marks race and yet only some communities can be characterised by this desperate need to score well beyond that which is required for their courses. This is setting aside the whole med/law degree desire as an ends and not a means for the moment.

      so what, if not a collective need to ensure security born out of past strife, sets these communities apart?

      I do not mean to imply that Jewish vce students consciously experience this need. They obviously don’t think to themselves, “I shall conquor the VCE dragon for the good of the Jewish people!” They do not experience a transgeneration memory of the holocaust. However, they do feel a pressure to succeed beyond that which is necessary from an obscure, usually unconsidered source. This pressure to succeed, although not associated with the past by students themselves, was born in a previous generation and passed down to us. We must ask ourselves when and why?

      Although it is sometimes hard to admit, We do like to think of ourselves as a scholarly people, taking pride in our history of literacy, philosophy etc. It is part of the self-image of many of us that we are well educated and cerebrally well-endowed. Naturally this translates to higher academic expectations and the high pressure scenarios faced by Melbourne Jewish high school students.

      I think the main point to consider is:
      If we were to somehow disengage the shame associated with VCE, would the gain justify the loss? Even if the intentions of individual students are ridiculous, some of the large scale results are actually quite positive and important.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Ilana, thank you so much for this comment. You articulate pretty much exactly what I believe.

  8. jewinthefat says:

    Perhaps rather than pretending to know what young people what, Jewish organisations can ask them. It may be seen as gutter-tramping, but at least they will understand WHY we laugh at Hitler getting his head blown off, or being kicked out of x-box live, or Roseanne Barr donning a mo and getting her bake on …

    It would seem to me that regardless of Jewish education or class, religious or not, public or private, youth group or AUJS, young people are bound to drink alcohol (just like their parents), take drugs (just like their parents) and fornicate (we prefer make love, but they’re doing it all the same – just like their parents). It’s called growing up, and the funny thing about it is that once you have, it seems impossible to comprehend why the younger generations are doing it too. Call it ageist, or elitist, or forgetfullness, but its reality. Every child needs to emerge from adolescence with their own mistakes as battle scars. To pretend that every generation before this wasn’t behaving in exactly the same way is deliberately and self-servingly ignorant.

    Case in point: My conservative, normal parents were shocked to learn that people were drinking at parties at the age of 16 or 17. But then again, I certainly didn’t ride around in the back of utes with boys until 3 in the morning, or bake hash brownies in my mother’s oven. So where has the sense of relativism gone?

    It is up to PARENTS, not the community set boundaries, make rules, and ensure that their children follow them. It is equally as important for parents to ensure that they don’t leave the education of their children to institutions, because it doesn’t come from school, or synaogogue, but from the people who teach you right from wrong. Children are children, and cannot be blamed for the way they were brought up. Simple as that.

    On a separate note, with regards to Holocaust, it may interest you to read this two part essay I wrote on Holocaust commemoration, and the way that it may inevitably, but not necessarily unfortunately, evolve over time.

    Part One
    http://jewinthefat.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/ennui-tainment/
    Part Two
    http://jewinthefat.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/ennui-tainment-deux/

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Jewinthefat.

      “It is up to PARENTS, not the community set boundaries, make rules, and ensure that their children follow them.”

      It is pretty much the consensus among child psychs and social workers that parental influence ceases to be the dominant influence after a certain age. There, the peer group takes over. The data has been in on this one for a while.

      If the peer group is exhibiting destructive behaviours, the individual youth is in a far more perrilous position than if the peer group were oriented towards constructive and creative activity.

      And the boundaries between the indiviual and the community/nation are never quite so starkly drawn. The individual impacts on the group and vice versa. The individual works on behalf of the group and in an ideal environment, this would be reciprocated.

      Right now, Melbourne Jewry is suffering a fracture in which individuals are disinclined to work for the community, and the community has not very much to offer even if people were willimg to volunteer.

      Only in an idealised Ayn Randian conception of the individual can one actually exist without external supports and structures. In the real world, hyper-individualism leads to pathology both on the individual, and group levels.

    • Morry says:

      Hi Jewinthefat, nothing shmaltzy about what you’ve written, and I take your point. I also take Alex’s about peer influence after a certain age. But then there’s the big picture.

      Let me start with your “sense of relativism”. Not everything is … relative that is. One absolute is that young minds are developing and that alcohol and drugs can arrest that development. It’s not a relative thing, it’s a bad thing. The shock of seeing an incredibly beautiful, intelligent, vibrant girl reduced to a barely articulate babbling shell by teenage indulgence in alochol-drugs, at the VCE level, has very much sobered my ideas on the subject, and I don’t rightly care what parents did or didn’t do before they knew better … they now have a duty of care to their children.

      Alex says that at a certain age peer influence dominates, and that’s true. That’s not the same as saying that parents should not remain adamant about the values they cherish and wish to convey. Like with Rumspringa, most of the values that a child uses to confront the excesses of peers (that are often no more “evil” than experimentation devoid of the sense of danger that is learnt through the making of many mistakes) are instilled in those important few years when parental influence does dominate.

      Then there are the “rebellious years” when peers are all important. But it has been very much my experience, both in my life and the lives of those around me, that, in adulthood, and certainly when it comes to raising children, parental values return big time, and tend to supercede the peer influence of the Rumspringa years. We remember the things that were important to our parents and want to pass them on to our children, because we recognise the intrinsic value of many of those values … which is why, even when it seems futile and unpopular, parents should stick to their moral compass as part of the duty of care of their children. I have seen it happen as starkly as people from a relatively kosher home indulging in pork and seafoods for years, then, when it came to establishing their own families, keeping a kosher home that far-and-away exceeded the efforts of their parents.

      Even if we were to accept the relativistic argument, if Boomers were drinking and fornicating in their 20s, how does that make it right for GenY as young teens? If these were choices being made as adults, we would probably not be having this discussion, at least not nearly as passionately. And if GenX was drinking heavily at 14, with kamikaze brain cells abandoning ship in droves, does that now make it mandatory for parents to accept GenY destroying itself? It certainly doesn’t add up to me.

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  9. asher says:

    With my study break before exams almost over, i suspect that i may absent myself from this discussion before long. I hope that we get down to the nuts and bolts another time.

    Despite our divergences of viewpoint, i certainly agree with you about the disintegration of the Jewish community. Bare in mind that a number of other religious, political and cultural communities are also falling apart due to the same destructive influences, born from the underlying philosophies of our time.

    In essence, it seems that the post-modern denial of objective truth has left the individuals of many western societies without common threads to bind their communities together. We search within ourselves, digging the trenches between us deeper and deeper, because we are denied the foundations of community. By foundations, i refer to the value systems through which we can collectively endow life with meaning.

    Consider that the term fundamentalist has negative connotations in contemporary discourse. It derives it’s meaning from the word fundamental; foundation, the grounds of beliefs. The opposition is couched in the understanding that an undisputed understanding of reality is immoral. We can conclude that the condemner inhabits a world without a concrete doctrine, in which values are transient and subjectively defined.

    We are experiencing a shift from collective, fundamental truths to the overpowering contention that one can only rightfully seek within ones self to discern the facts. And hence, we shy away from the Zionistic doctrines of our parents and the religious doctrines of our ancestors. This is the inevitable outcome of a world that has graduated (and in a sense regressed) from religion to science and beyond.

    Most western communities that are founded on formal doctrines of belief (political, religious etc) are suffering as a result. This is the source of apathy. This is the tide that those who value the Jewish community must swim against.

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  10. There is an inferiority complex here that is attributed to doing medicine, law et al and being part of the blue- bloods, and the almighty establishment really….along with a very selfish middle-class background that does not help either.

    The holocaust baggage has also attributed to the many points you raised above…….saw it at university.

    The issue is there are other problems with some of these individuals where their emotional intelligence,empathy is lacking along with no life experience at all in extreme cases…they are sad individuals sorry to say …

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  11. http://evanstonjew.blogspot.com/2006/10/jewish-narcissism.html

    The above blog might be of interest as well on the topic raised here,very good insights i think!!

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  12. Morry says:

    Alex, it’s so very nice to read your response. Responseless commenting is akin to the proverbial “one hand clapping” and just as rewarding, and I appreciate that for you it must be very time consuming. In your “There is nothing worse than a discussion in which everyone agrees” I’m more than happy to serve as a sounding board … it makes me feel useful *grin*.

    As to the self-destructive behaviour, I’m more than aware that this doesn’t apply to the bulk of teens, but also that it is a growing problem. Alex, the fact that it wasn’t always called “VCE” doesn’t take away that every generation went through the trauma of the final year of school and the need to do well in order to secure a university place in a highly competitive environment. For previous generations HEX wasn’t even a gleam in governmental eyes, so maybe it was tougher. I don’t want to compare … it’s a traumatic experience for all, but dealt with differently by different generations. The Boomer response was far more muted, probably as terrible as spending the summer hanging at the beach. That brings me to your:

    As for why the drugs explosion seems to have happened recently (it didn’t, by the way – that was actually a Boomer gescheft.), that really needs a post of its own.

    I’m not entirely sure what that means. If it means that Boomers started the drinking/drug thing (I’m relating to Jewish community only here) then you couldn’t be further off the mark. If you’re relating to their role as parents, I’d like to hear more.

    I have no statistics beyond my own experiences with a few generations in this community, and am happy to be corrected if my experiences don’t reflect the general reality. Whilst alcohol first crept into Boomer parties in their very late teens with almost no excesses (drunkenness) and even mild drugs like marijuana were virtually unknown, in the next generation it was mid-teens and drunkenness at parties quite common. It was on hearing of Scopus parties involving alcohol-consuming 9 year olds that I was truly shocked. Drugs at Scopus was also new for me. My sense, whether right or wrong, is of more and more alcohol and drug consumption and younger and younger consumers.

    Lastly, you are absolutely right … we are entirely responsible for the children, especially those as young as 12, or younger. In writing my comment, the picture in my mind was of the youth movement environment where I flourished, and where 9 year olds related well to 16 year old madrichim, in ways they never would to adults. The point I made, poorly, is that if we were to extend that structure, provide funding and resources for the older teens with social community awareness to help guide and educate the youngsters through interesting and innovative activities, we would have the makings of a very healthy community … IMHO.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Hi Morry!

      You know, “time-consuming” doesn’t begin to describe things, when there’s a hot topic. The way I used to answer every single comment literally took time away from things like sleeping and eating.

      In quieter periods, it’s much less of a problem, and I’m operating on an ad-hoc basis – when I can, I definitely want to be involved in the discussion.

      As for VCE – it’s not about which generation did it tougher. It’s much more to do with the attendant pressures that exist now compared with the past.

      There just wasn’t the same hysteria. I’m old enough to remember the massive cultural rupture in the community when HSC transformed into VCE.

      This is when a number of the Jewish schools took the opportunity to lose their collective marbles and hothouse the kids in ways that were not previously possible because the system was entirely different.

      I remember HSC kids being stressed around exam times, but otherwise being relatively unscathed by the experience.

      I also remember the white faces of the first year of VCE students as assessment became year long, continual, and teacher driven (rather than operating purely externally).

      I remember how the teachers changed.

      I remember the missionary zeal that grabbed some of them as their centrality to the assessment process became apparent.

      I remember how their careers suddenly hinged in an entirely uprecedented way on the individual performances of the kids.

      I remember how teachers in Jewish schools stopped being teachers and transformed into conspirators with the kids, creating an environment of ruthless marks-obsession that had nothing to do with education or genuine measures of students’ performance.

      And I remember the parents… My heart easily broke around my kids that I tutored. They were so miserable and vulnerable. But I was surprised because my heart broke just as much for a lot of the parents.

      They were so worried for their kids – for their futures (because every Jewish school made it seem that should law/medicine marks not be achieved, the kid didn’t have a lot of other options), for their mental health (how many kids were dperessed or drugging the pressure away? Too many), and for the possibility of intense shame that would come if the kid didn’t get marks for law/med.

      Morry, I will never forget when I was in Year 11 at a Jewish school… the VCE had just come in and the principal and teachers had just gone berserk.

      I remember seeing on a couple of occasions two of the most senior teachers descend on some unfortunate year 12 kid, who was inevitabley underslept and in a sort of mental shut-down mode from the stress, and just go him/her- screaminng at the poor thing like he’d/she’d committed a horrendous crime, waving their arms, getting in the kid’s face, threatening, being absolutely psychotic.

      And the kids onlly real “crimes” were that they weren’t getting high enough marks. Other kids wholooked like they couldn’t get the marks to maintain the school’s stellar averages were just booted from the school completely.

      I would watch these teachers do their screaming thing and feel so sick, that when it came time to be taught by them myself, I would rebel and be obnoxious, trying to undermine everything they did. Needless to say, my parents thought it wise to put me in a non-Jewish school for my final year.

      Of course, not all the teachers at the Jewish school were so awful. Most of them were quite lovely, and they too suffered under the culture of marks-grabbing. The pressure that came from the top – and from some of the parents – was intense.

      A cute coda to this story, Morry:

      A couple of years after we’d graduated, a friend was asked to write the speeches that some of these top teachers would give at Speech Night, in which they’d qvell about what wonderful marks they pulled that year.

      BUT my friend couldn’t wrangle the bullshit necessary to construct the sort of speeches these teachers wanted!

      So she called me in. Heh!

      Once again, I was the tutor that tried to patch up the massive disconnect between the Jewish schools’ imagining of a sure-fire marks factory that still manages to “nurture” its kids, and the much messier reality.

      I actually sat through the Speech Night, because, as repugnant as the triumphalism was, it was still profoundly satisfying to hear my words come out of the mouths of women who, at school, would have had me strung up and beaten, if it had been legally an option.

    • Morry says:

      Hi Alex,

      I did know that VCE was about year-through assessments that previous generations didn’t experience. It’s funny how you can “know” something, but because you haven’t experienced it, have never actually “felt” it, it slips to the back of your consciousness. So I have to thank you Alex, because your beautifully vivid description did allow me to “feel” it and understand it better, and I take your point. Strangely, the idea of VCE was to reduce pressure. To spread out that one roll of the dice, that one exam, to better reflect a student’s abilities. Clearly nobody thought through the ramifications.

      I have many friends who are teachers, very stressed teachers, because the nett result has been to also make teachers far more accountable, and their work load has grown as much as that of the students, if not more. Neither can be particularly good in encouraging a good education. Stressed teachers confronted by stressed students is, IMHO, a recipe for disaster.

      It angers me that they experiment with children’s lives. When I returned from Israel I found myself holding a drink (non-alcoholic *grin*) at an afternoon gathering, and talking with a new acquaintance who was teaching high school English. He was very proud of the fact that he wasn’t teaching the children spelling or grammar. “It’s the ideas that are important”, he said. “But Fred”, I said (I’ll call him “Fred” in case somebody knows him), “the History teacher can be concerned with ideas, the Physics teacher can be concerned with ideas … you’re an English teacher. You should only be concerned with a child’s ability to use the language, even if their ideas are as inane as extraterrestials building the Empire State Building”. But it seems that this was an education policy (read “experiment”) at the time, and, as a result, we have bred an entire generation whose English language skills are abyssmal … and I believe they make up much of our current crop of educators.

      You, and a number of other commentators, have used the word “hysteria”, in fact you used it very boldly (excuse pun) and, coincidentally, it is a word that has been occupying my thoughts a lot of late. It very aptly describes a troubling feature of the 21st century. So very many things that we (that’s we, not as individuals, communities, or even nations, but as in we, the world population) have become hysterical about, only to find that they were, quite literally nothing. There was the Y2K bug that was going to drop planes out of the sky and destroy the world as we know it … nothing. Bird flu, more recently Swine flu which has turned out to be one of the most benign flus we have experienced, then there’s AWG. The actual issues aren’t my point, but our propensity to panic and become irrationally hysterical is. I’m not making a statement here, but rather looking for input. Do you think that, at least some of, the VCE hysteria, the drugs and alcohol abuse by people who can’t even be contemplating VCE, might in some way be related to a world so seemingly filled with things to fear and panic about, that even young children are looking to hide and escape?

      Alex, I loved that final piece of irony. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Alex Fein says:

    Hi Asher.

    Honestly, I do not believe that their is any evidence for causation between our repurtation for scholarship and VCE madness.

    This “scholarly” tendency is a nice palimpsest to superimpose on what is nothing more than a hyper-competitive hot house that destroys far more than it creates. Some of our best/brightest that make it into law actually graduate and practice. But I don’t know very many of them – I know many, many more that either dropped out of law or graduated and did something else entirely.

    So how does wasting a couple of years on something one hates, mired in an abject misery that prevents constructive behaviour, actually contribute to the well-being of the individual or the community?

    Whatever positives we see from young people are often borne of unnecessary anguish.

    I couldn’t care less whether we are perceived by outsiders as scholarly at a group level. There is absolutely no metric for measuring this amorphous success you refer to.

    If, however, there were ever the funding and the inclination, there are plenty of metrics and concrete criteria that would confirm what I – and pretty much every other Gen X/Y I’ve spoken to, – believe is a disintegration of the Jewish youth environment.

    And should we have one or two shining examples of success that emerge from the current system, that cannot in any way ameliorate the concerns for the vast majority who do not have this experience.