Learning to Listen

So, this week, I wanted to touch on something that I think is important. I recently read an article on a concept called Therapeutic Individualism. It was a really long article, but I’ll give you a little snippet to orient you as to what this concept entails.

“Therapeutic individualism defines the individual self as the source and standard of authentic moral knowledge and authority, and individual self-fulfillment as the preoccupying purpose of life. Subjective, personal experience is the touchstone of all that is authentic, right, and true. By contrast, this ethos views the “external” traditions, obligations, and institutions of society as inauthentic and often illegitimate constraints on morality and behavior from which individuals must be emancipated.”

It’s basically the idea that an actions/activities/beliefs no longer adhere to a “moral compass” such as what the teachings of Pirke Avot (Jewish Ethics) view as basic truths and guidelines. “What is good for me, might not be good for you and that’s okay.” And while that statement might hold true when you are talking about Sushi or styles of music, it is a little less flexible (or at least should be) when we’re talking about racism or self-harm. It creates societies where true kehillah becomes more and more difficult to find.

The article I was reading placed all of this in the context of teenagers and growing up in today’s world versus 80-100 years ago and the impact of the current world on how teens view religion. In today’s world, teens are hit with a constant barrage of opinions, facts (real and alternate), pictures, and stimuli that make them question what is real, whether they are good enough, pretty enough, popular, smart, worth it. One hundred years ago, teenagers still spent a lot of time with adults who helped to shape their understanding of the world around them. Most teens were already in the workforce, working alongside adults and learning from their experiences. (I fully acknowledge that the teens of yesteryear faced all kinds of other challenges that our teens don’t have to face today.) Today, teens “learn” from social media and their friends. They spend enormous amounts of time away from the watchful eye of adults. Even when they go to school, the ratio of student to adult is many times, 30:1. And so we have kids who themselves are not yet fully developed, navigating a world full of adult concepts, images and ideas without the guidance needed. The world tells them that “it’s good if it makes you feel good (in general, or about yourself).”

How does this fit into religion? Well, with this culture of therapeutic individualism, “right and wrong are determined not by external moralities derived from religious teachings, natural law, cultural traditions, or collective social functioning.” Right and wrong are individually established by feelings. Instead of going through the work of exploring, questioning, accepting, rejecting, and searching in order to better understand the traditions and tenets of Judaism for example, individuals are more likely to simply reject those things that might be confusing or uncomfortable and look for something that feels more comfortable.

I think this is a dangerous trend. Not because I think that teens should not think for themselves and do what is good for them. I’m worried because I strongly believe that many teens are not ready to think for themselves in many instances. They still need a huge amount of supervision and guidance. Some would argue that kids need the most supervision between the ages of birth – 5 and then again from 13-18. My worry is that our teens don’t always know where to go when they need advice. Many are afraid of judgement or anger from adults they know. Turning to Judaism is not usually their gut reaction. They don’t know healthy places to find comfort.

I believe we can start to change that. We can help our young people find comfort in our faith and in our community and the first step is Learning to Listen. Learning to listen is a powerful tool when dealing with any human being. Everyone craves to be HEARD. Actually heard. Many times, people don’t even want advice, they just want to know that someone heard them. The video below, taken from a Ted Talk by Brene Brown, is a great little short about Empathy and the power of listening. Enjoy!

Let’s all work a little bit harder on listening. Really listening. Not just waiting until the other person stops talking so we can interject our opinion, but actually hearing what people are saying to us. And seeking to understand. It will help our children and it will help all of us to come back to a space of trust. It can be lonely in the world of therapeutic individualism. Let’s be a community of faith that props each other up when needed and embraces our growing kids in the times when they need it the most.


++++++++++ Announcements ++++++++++

IMPORTANT NOTE TO PARENTS – We have noticed a great increase in the presence and use of cell phones by students during school hours. If your child brings a cell phone to school, please make sure they know that it is not to be visible (out of their pocket) during school time. Also, the filming of other students and/or teachers without their knowledge or permission is not allowed. For those whose student brings a cell phone, we appreciate you discussing this with them. 

Wednesday, April 26th @ 6:30pm – Hebrew School and Teen OR

Wednesday, April 26th @ 6:45pm – Education Task Force Meeting – please join us as we talk about our program and begin the process to re-imagine what is possible here at TOR. We will meet in the library.

Friday, April 28th @ 10am – Gan K’tan – Lots of fun for our preschool aged kids and their special adult!

Sunday, April 30th @ 9am – Religious School

Wednesday, May 3rd @ 6:30pm – Confirmation Class, Hebrew School & Israeli Independence Day Celebration. All are welcome to attend! Let me know if you think you might be coming and are not usually here for Hebrew School on Wednesdays. I just want to  make sure we have enough food. 🙂

Friday, May 5th @ 6:45pm – Family Shabbat featuring our Teens! Join us to hear about all of the great ways our teens are involved here at TOR and in the greater Jewish community.

Saturday, May 6th @ 7pm – Cross TYG  Blue and White Party – TEENS ONLY. Please Click Here to access the flier. Cost is $25/advance purchase or $30 at the door.

Sunday, May 7th  

  • @ 9am – Religious School
  • @ 1pm – Jewish Heritage Festival at Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Sacramento

++++++++++ School Update ++++++++++

All classes had music this week.


Miss Laurie’s class talked a lot about peace (Shalom) this week. They read a lovely new PJ Library story about a Jewish woman and a Muslim woman who lived next door to each other and were wonderful friends. They then painted a dove with an olive branch, the symbol of peace. The students also talked about all of the beautiful things about being Jewish and decorated a Star of David with flowers and stickers.

1st and 2nd Grade

In Efrat’s class, they continued their journey through the Hebrew alef bet with the letters Shin and Tav. They decorated a Star of David with all of the letters of the alef bet. Next week they will be placing their letters into a Torah scroll that they will make themselves!

3rd Grade

Erica’s class experienced a lesson on Hakarat Hatov (finding the good). As they looked at the value of Hakarat Hatov, they explored to find specific quirks or character traits that wouldn’t necessarily be noticed as “good” unless we call them out. We also talked about gossip. The kids had a difficult time differentiating between gossip and information that you share to a teacher because you need to.
At home this week, consider discussing the following: How does recognizing the good in others help us to learn more about ourselves? How can meditation help us to recognize the good around us? Also, see if you can help them to understand what gossip is and why it can be harmful.

4th Grade

This week, Morah Sara taught about Lag B’omer, it’s vocabulary and history. Then they began to learn about Yom HaAtzmaut with a vocabulary activity. When Carol came in for music, they learned the song Hatikvah.

In their ShalomLearning lessons, they looked at Shalom and Shelem, and how Jerusalem (ir Shalom…ir Shelem) is a city of peaceful togetherness…and how that represents THE HOPE (ha tikvah) of the Jewish people…to live whole and together and in peace.

5th grade

This week our 5th grade began the unit on Shalom with the idea that one cannot be an active pursuer of peace or an advocate of wholeness while in turmoil or while living a
fractured existence.

  • Students translated shalom as hello, goodbye, peace, and wholeness
  • Students understand how acting as a helpmate can increase wholeness in the
    individual and the community.
  • Students connected the story of Adam and Eve with our task of acting as an
    appropriate helpmate for others.
  • Students learned the importance of performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim
    when a classmate becomes ill.

Table Talk: How can we make sure to appreciate the strengths of everyone in our family so that we can have sh’lom bayit? (peace in the home)

For Hebrew, the students practiced their letters and then were assess on their progress.

6th Grade

Our 6th grade class learned about the writing of the song Hatikvah (and they learned to sing it). They also discussed the meaning of the Kaddish prayer and why we count the Omer between Passover and Shavuot.

Follow Up questions for this week:

  • Why do we count the Omer between Passover and Shavuot?  (It builds up to the excitement of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai)
  • How many people were killed in the Holocaust? (11 million of which 6 million were Jews)
  • In the story of Peter: The Wristwatch in the book Ten Thousand Children, how did Peter hide his wristwatch so the Nazis would not take it from him? (Peter slipped it all the way up his arm under the sleeve of his sweater.)

7th Grade

Our 7th grade class spent time refining their Hebrew with Avi, then in discussion time with Art. Thank you to those who went with Oliver to work on his Mitzvah Project after school.