Inspired by Reb Kalonymos Kalman's ideal of a group of people coming together with the common goal of enhancing their service of God, increasing their sensitivity to all things spiritual, strengthening their love of acheinu kol beis Yisrael, and unlocking the enormous potential that we all have to cleave to the Almighty.

Interaction and discussion of practical ideas and concepts toward this end, culled from any Torah true source is welcome and appreciated.

Observations and personal experiences are also welcome; the point is to grow!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Peek Into The Psyche Of A 21st Century Jewish Teenager

By Doni Joszef, LMSW

You’ve seen me around town. I’m your prototypical Jewish teenager, voyaging through the strange sea of adolescence. Don’t be fooled by my blank stare or my un-engaging affect; beneath the surface simmers a whole array of thoughts and emotions. Just take a closer look… If you want to know me, feel free to check out my Facebook profile. It’s quicker, simpler, less challenging, and, quite simply, much cooler than having a real heart to heart. Until proven innocent, I may consider you non-existent, at best, or guilty, at worst – depending mainly on my fluctuating moods, which depends mainly on the whims of my ever-digitalizing social life (read: did she accept my ‘friend request’ or not). Indeed, my self worth feels proportionate with the amount of cyber “friends,” “fans,” and “followers" I’ve managed to amass.

Once we’re on the topic of moods and emotions, I generally like to simplify the terminology as such: :-) = I am happy.:-( = I am sad.: - I = I am indifferent. (And this is usually the face I show most often).:-O = I am surprised (a.k.a. “OMG”) You get the idea. Earning my trust and attention is a strategic skill. I’m happy to hear words of wisdom from caring rabbis, so long as they can first win my confidence with a jump shot, guitar riff, or good sense of style. I’m proud of my Jewish-ness, so long as it can be identified with Matisyahu or Bob Dylan. The state of Israel may have been an inspiring novelty for my parents, but to me it’s all about Kosher KFC and the Inbal lobby. Unless you can show me a YouTube clip to demonstrate your point, I’ll probably have a hard time following. ADHD are the initials of my generation, and I’d like to thank my parents’ generation for inventing Ritalin and Adderall to slow down my otherwise speedy, cluttered, scattered brain. I guess it’s the least they can do to combat the insanely over-stimulated society they helped create (with good intentions, of course).

I can’t believe there was really a functional world without Internet access just a few years ago. How did anyone get by before cell phones, GPS, Google and iPads? It’s strange that while I have access to the most advanced contraptions and cutting edge devices, my generation is showing symptoms of declining mental stability. Seems counterintuitive – don’t you think?My parents may have studied and worked hard to achieve the lifestyle they currently enjoy, but I’ll figure out some way to keep the cozy lifestyle without putting in all of that extra dirty work. There’s gotta be some get-rich-quick strategy, and I’ll make sure to implement the required procedure (so long as I can do it from my iPhone). If my parents had to spend days in libraries to research what I can instantly access via Google, why can’t I, likewise, accelerate their notion of a long and laborious road to success?

I’m not as respectful or revering of my elders as they may have been as youngsters, but this doesn’t really bother me in the slightest bit. Chill out adults; when you take yourselves too seriously, it’s hard for us to play along. Granted, “respect” isn’t a prime part of my vocabulary, but I’m slick enough to pin my parents, teachers, and therapists against each other – and, so, my strategic “triangular operation” has earned me the right to deride any form of authority. You may call this manipulation, but I just think of it as maximizing on opportunities. When the authorities openly point fingers at one another, I naturally feel a sense of entitlement. Like I was wronged and you all better figure out who messed up. Works wonders when I’m in a jam. Sounds bratty? Well, then, it’s for the parents/teachers/counselors to figure out where the blame lies. And until they do, I’ll be my own Master of Ceremonies.

Although I like to “chill,” I’m driven to succeed down the road. Regardless of what my report cards may reflect, I’ll “make it” – in some shape or form. I’m not sure how much of this drive comes from parental expectations, social competition, genuine aspiration, or plain old go-getter Jewish-genetics – but it’s probably some combination of these and many other ingredients. I can’t stand being preached to or lectured at, but when sincerely and honestly engaged, I’m all yours. I know when I’m being talked down to, probably better than the one doing the talking.For better or worse, I’m skeptical, cynical, and suspicious. The Internet and media have exposed my childhood to grim realities from which my parents were probably sheltered. I’m not smarter than them, per se, but I’m certainly more technologically savvy, and experientially curious. I may not be as dumb as some of my teachers believe; but I’m probably not as smart as I think I am, either. Humility isn’t one of my favorite practices. I love the trait in others, but haven’t yet matured to see its appeal for myself.

I’m too cool to get inspired or emotionally animated, but catch me in a dark room full of Jewish peers, singing one of those slow Hebrew songs that I generally feel proud to mock– and you just may discover an unexpected soft spot. Don’t force me into that position, because my emotional network is too guarded to be manipulated. But with the right time, place, and company, it will almost naturally evolve.I look at pop-culture with a mixture of admiration and suspicion; the glitter certainly catches my attention, yet something inside refuses to see celebrity icons as true heroes to model. But that doesn’t stop me from becoming one of their millions of Facebook fans. Identifying with something – anything - gives me some glimmer of a defined sense of self – and that, my friend, is gold for any teenager. Superficiality irritates me more than anything – especially when I see it operating within myself.

I’m American, I’m Jewish, I’m a teenager – three very confusing roles that seem contradictory and complimentary, simultaneously. I think. I feel. I’m aware. During this strange and bizarre stage, I embark on my lifelong search for whatever it is we humans search for – and I’m not even aware of this immanent quest as it unfolds within me. This is my Google Status, my Facebook Status, My Twitter Status, and my Emotional Status. In other words, this is me. I’m a 21st Century American Jewish Teenager.

Nice to meet you.

Doni Joszef, LMSW, has published numerous articles on communal trends with a self-reflective twist, exploring spiritual realities, psychological dynamics, and the fascinating place where these two roads merge. He is currently pursuing various post-masters certifications at New York University, specializing in Child Therapy, Family Therapy, Addiction Treatment, and Advanced Clinical Practice.Doni welcomes feedback and input (working on welcoming criticism, too) at

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