I strongly believe that the theme for the 2019 International Youth Day (this past Tuesday) is incredibly relevant to the direction in which Shules, community organisations and the education system in general should be going.
The theme this year is “transforming education”.
It highlights efforts to make education more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all youth, including efforts by youth themselves.
When you have three of the top ten issues that youth themselves identify as their biggest concerns (Mission Australia Youth Survey 2018), namely; mental health, body image and suicide, it is incumbent, if not obligatory, for us to engage with our youth in a manner that mitigates these serious issues.
It cannot, however, be addressed in a manner of tokenism. I recall quite a few years ago, asking my Shule board at the time, to encourage more youth to have a voice on the board. A few did in fact join the board I know they were hoping that they could make a difference. Unfortunately they remained pretty much voiceless. The older members didn’t allow their opinions (I don’t believe it was intentional but rather an already fixed mentality) to be voiced or to be given air time. I could sense the frustration building among the youth members. It did not take long before they left the board, disillusioned and disappointed, as they felt their voices were not being heard.
A familiar phrase, one which perhaps many of us heard growing up, was ‘‘children should be seen and not heard”. This old adage which is antiquated and provides a completely misguided attitude towards children and youth is unfortunately still an attitude to which some subscribe. It was likely this type of thinking and philosophy which led to the terrible handling of child sexual abuse. Fortunately, over the past few years, thanks to the efforts of many survivors of child abuse, this has been exposed and attitudes are changing. In fact, one of the seven child safe standards, requires organisations to develop strategies that promote child participation and empowerment.
The truth is that it is not just about allowing them to have a voice. Our youth are often much wiser than you may think, and they have the power to express their thoughts and views quite simply and with authority. R. Chanina remarked, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students” (Ta’anis 7a). Listening to the voices of our youth will no doubt assist us in both setting appropriate goals and achieving those set goals!
The same goes with the importance of being inclusive. We must not be satisfied with motherhood statements on the subject of inclusivity. Sadly there are way too many of these being said all the time. You could preach all day about being inclusive and welcoming but without demonstrable actions that show youth that they genuinely have a place in the community, sadly they will not feel they have a place. It was only a short few weeks ago where we saw the terribly tragic reality of a young man taking his own life because he didn’t feel he had a place in his community. This news should have shocked every community leader (and perhaps every community member) to the core! Even more devastating is that he was not the only one. There are more and more incidents we hear about on a regular basis.
We need our young people (and any person for that matter) to feel welcome, secure and comfortable in our Shules, schools and community groups. I am certainly of the belief that community leaders need to lead from the front or by example but it is the entire communities’ responsibility to ensure this occurs! It cannot be understated how judgmental views, snide remarks or hurtful comments by community members, can have such a devastating impact or effect on the life of a young person.
The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat lists different questions we will be asked when we reach the Heavenly tribunal one day. One of those questions, put in a more contemporary way, asks what we did to inspire or mentor the next generation. Did we address their needs at the current time or did we ignore them? Did we only consider what was good for ourselves or did we give thought and effort to benefiting and assisting the next generation? Did we truly listen to the voices of our youth and respond to the messages they imparted to us? Or were the voices treated as insignificant or unimportant?
Let us make sure we have the ability to answer in the affirmative. Do whatever is within your capability (we all can do something) to make a real difference. There is no deed too small. You never know, you may just be saving a life too!