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Teens Need a New Space To Meet This Moment, and We Can Help

Photo of Diller teens in Israel.

My phone buzzes. Email. A teenager: “It’s just weird to think that these people hate me and want me dead, but don’t even know me.”

Work is now full of questions. It is full of phone calls and Zoom seminars with colleagues from around the Jewish professional realm, all asking, “How do we best support our teens?”

The images and stories of war circulating throughout social media are tattooed on my brain and have stained my heart — and each one aggravates me more. With each photo of bodies, Israeli and Palestinian flags or remains of homes and communities, my fists clench and my eyes swell with tears.

Every day our teens are viewing more and posting more. Social media activism sends their message out to the world. It affirms which side of history they stand on, and it serves as a response to the countless videos and comments flooding their timeline. They will not keep quiet, but be heard throughout their community and around the world.

My phone buzzes. WhatsApp. A friend in Israel: “Things are crazy here. We were woken up at 6:30 a.m. In the morning we stayed in the shelter for two hours, but things are quiet now. In the south the war is crazy. I don’t know if you saw any leaked images or videos, but it looks like hundreds of Israelis were killed by terrorists. I saw everything on the television without censorship and I can’t take out the images from my head. I saw the picture of the Israelis in a big garage and Hamas lit fire to the bodies.”

This is a demographic coming off of years of lockdowns and living online. When the world shut down in March 2020, our teens were incredibly impacted by the lack of physical and social interactions. Of course the effects of the pandemic are still apparent, and we live in an environment where we need to continue to stay safe and healthy. Still, as adults we need to present paradigms on how to heal and provide for others.

In this time of war, we need to develop a third space, an environment outside of their go-to places to socialize online and IRL, established to allow teens to debrief with peers, have lengthy conversations, ask questions and find a place to feel surrounded by their community.

My phone buzzes. WhatsApp. A voice note from a friend in Israel: “Sorry, I fell asleep and forgot to text back. I was woken up by the rocket alarms. We are all okay.”

The war is not ending soon; but what we can provide for our teens, we can provide right now. To the organizations who responded immediately — setting up Zooms, sending resources and continuing to check in on your people — thank you. Let’s all show our teens we are here for them now, and we will be there for them next week and the week after when their feelings are still raw. The meetings we are holding need to continue. Open your doors to let teens sit with their emotions, and ask them to articulate how we can help.

A buzz. Email. A colleague: “Hey, I heard you may be holding something on Sunday for teens to talk about what happened over the weekend. Is this something you can open up to others? I am not sure how many of my teens would go, but I am trying to think of different ways to support the group.”

Today we are working to fulfill their psychological and safety needs, the basis of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but we need to continue thinking about how we will climb the pyramid and fulfill their social, self-esteem and self-actualization needs. As communal workers and educators, I urge colleagues to explore solutions in partnership. In meetings, I continue to hear staff voice their struggle to assist because they do not fill the role of a therapist, educator or parent. If this is you, then reach out to professionals who can help and begin to collaborate to better our community and foster resiliency among our teens.

Right now, the responsibility as an educator and as a member of the Jewish community is to create a space for one another to process the war in Israel. We need to also look ahead and model how today can hold two truths: a war is happening where people are hurting, and the work we do as Jewish professionals needs to be accomplished. Each day is something new; so each day, we must embrace the emerging thoughts, feelings and emotions of our people. I call on educators around the world to create a third space online and in-person. Find ways for our youth to engage in positive and healthy methods to grow as people and cultivate light in this darkness.

This article was originally posted on eJewishPhilanthropy.

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