Reposted with thanks to ejewishphilanthropy.org.
Earlier this summer, the musical Dear Evan Hansen and its superstar (and Jewish summer camp alum) Ben Platt, swept the Tony Awards. Their wins come at the start of the Jewish camp and youth group trip season, which has caused me to reflect on my youth experiences. In my reflection I consider this musical’s message, and I’ve come to realize the true potential impact of Jewish life for our youth.
Certainly, both empirical and anecdotal evidence show that participation in and/or staffing quality Jewish experiences build a youth’s confidence, help them discover their authentic selves, and nurture critical skills for entering today’s workforce. Yet, after considering this musical about teens feeling alone, anxious, and afraid, we must note that youth today, especially adolescents, have an extraordinarily difficult task of finding a trusted group of peers where they feel like they belong, all-the-while striving to discover who they really are, and all during a stage of life exceptionally fraught with emotional and social pot-holes.
Reflecting on my own youth, I recall often being afraid or occasionally falling into the pot-holes of loneliness, isolation, and sadness. Overall I had a positive childhood with many happy experiences and a loving family that built my positive self-worth. But public school for me was often challenging. I’d feel left out of the in-crowd and jealous at times of those considered the “nerds” and “popular kids,” because they both got attention. Though I hated being teased either for my weight or higher flamboyantly pitched voice at the time, I liked being noticed, though, I always wished it would be for what I really wanted to be noticed for, which took time for me to figure out what that was. Put another way, I would at times feel, whether at school, or at home, or elsewhere, a bit, invisible. I’d bet many of us in our youth at times did as well, and I’d bet that a significant portion of our Jewish youth today at times feel this way too.
But never in the spaces of my Jewish life did I feel invisible. At my synagogue, Jewish camp, youth group, and Israel experience, I felt seen and heard. I felt as if I mattered.
Mark S. Young, Wexner Field Fellow (Class 1), is the managing director of the Leadership Commons at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS. Mark is also local-groups chair on the board of JPRO Network, and a not so long ago Jewish camp song leader. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.