Why are we here?

As this is my first blog post I thought I would start with the easy question in the title. Before I do not answer that question as some might prefer, I would like to answer another question – why am I ‘blogging’? The truth is that I write for myself – I love writing, though not in the traditional manner. I prefer to write using dashes and not periods – I like thoughts that connect and that jump around. Every year I have written a blog or diary for our Grade 8 Trips to Israel. Many parents and grandparents have told me how much they enjoyed the way these vignettes were crafted. Well those were all written late at night when I was exhausted – so these may not be quite as fun as I plan to write while awake – wish me luck.

The ‘we’ in the question refers to King David, meaning a Jewish High School. When I arrived here 7 years ago after 18 years in the public school system I could not answer that question, which did not stop me from waving my hands and speaking in an effort to do so, I am Jewish after all. I recently had a parent say to me again – the number of times I have heard this is almost equal to the number of stars in the sky – that “their child” would be successful at any school and that they did not need King David in order to ensure their child’s success. I have much experience in the public education system (it is good), and in the last number of years I have become much more acquainted with other local independent school (they too, are very good). Children who go to these schools will be well-served if the definition of success is that the students do well in school and get accepted into university. Suppose though you want more for your children – suppose that being Jewish, as opposed to Jew-ish, is important to you. Suppose that as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the five thousand seven hundred and seventy fifth year of the Jewish people (5775), we ask ourselves how do we ensure Jewish peoplehood continues?

The Lower Mainland is blessed with 3 wonderful elementary schools, VTT and VHA in Vancouver and RJDS in Richmond. I was recently interviewed by a Globe and Mail reporter (Read the article here) for a story on Jewish Education in Canada entitled Jewish schools give kids identity, academics and connectedness. I heard back from a few people who liked my comments at the end of the article and from others who were offended. So what did I say? Well actually I said lots of things but reporters use ‘sound bytes’ which never quite give full context.

“People underestimate that high school is when teenagers determine who they’re going to be,” he explains. “In Vancouver, there’s been a real emphasis on elementary school. Get them bar mitzvahed and get them out into the real world.”

“It’s now starting to change as people realize that actually, if you want to keep them Jewish, you better educate them when they’re thinking about their identity.”

The truth – and adults know this because we have all been teenagers and most of us can remember the emotions of that age well enough that, if given the opportunity few would choose to repeat adolescence – these are the years that, and every parent knows this, are the “all about me (the teenager) years”. They are trying to find themselves. To fit in, yet be an individual. This is as it should be. This search for self for us parents can come across as selfish and we think they are acting inappropriately. They are not – they are behaving developmentally like teenagers. The ‘me’ years are about determining who you are inside. What your values are, how you wish to present yourself to the world, how you wish to perceive yourself.

If our own experience is not enough for us we can look at Adolescent Development Theory and renowned developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson who coined the term ‘identity crisis’. This crisis, which usually occurs in middle adolescence, is one of identity vs identity confusion. It is the struggle to find a balance between developing a unique, individual identity while still being accepted and “fitting in”. Youth must, according to Erikson, determine who they want to be, and how they want to be perceived by others. Erikson believed that if youth successfully navigate this crisis they emerge with a clear understanding of their individual identity and can easily share this “self” with others; therefore, they are healthy and well adjusted. As a result they are confident individuals who can freely associate with other people without losing their own identity.

So if your goal as a parent is for your child to get accepted into university and your student is very capable then it is true that virtually any school in our local area will suffice. If though, during this time when our children are developing their sense of who they are we do not offer their Jewishness to them as a gift for them to experience and live, then it should be no surprise to us that they get into university but their connection to Israel and the traditions of being Jewish are may not be as personally meaningful for them. They will not have identified with these values, they will not feel their importance. They will know only that these values were important to their parents because they told them that they were as opposed to knowing because they experienced that they were. My goal is for King David to provide the backbone, both flexible and strong, to support our youth in becoming comfortable in all of their many skins including their Jewishness.

I leave this first blog post with one last thought. I sometimes hear people counter with the need for their children, at this critical time, to experience and live in the diversity of our broader community (I do wonder how it can be avoided in Vancouver?). I prefer to focus on another quote that I once read from a student.

Some people say that coming to a Jewish day school means that I do not experience diversity. But I say that when I get to college, I will be able to contribute to its diversity because I have learned who I am as a Jew.

I think Jews have much to offer the world and we should step out proudly as Jews. Adolescence is when our children develop their sense of self; we owe it to them, and our ancestors and survivors, to make sure they feel comfortable with who they really are.

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King David gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.