In response to the lively feedback received to American Jewish Teenager, Aish.com invited a number of teens to give voice to their personal views and opinions. Rachel is 16 years old.
While I am Jewish, American, and a teenager, I don’t think words can ever define me. Every teenager has a different story, a different background—a different dream. I was raised with care, love, and a strong Jewish upbringing. Shema was sung to me every night and my Torah projects were proudly attached to the fridge. My parents invested love into me and as a child I felt safe, secure. When a bully pushed me down in kindergarten I realized for the first time that not everyone loved me. I rushed home crying and my mother soothed me. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.
Braving the cold Brooklyn streets I saw people of all shapes, sizes, races, and religions, but I assuredly knew that I had my own people. I was not a part of these swearing, angry ones. I was the little girl in shul searching for my father’s tallis, the child playing merrily in the autumn leaves, oblivious to the drugs and sleazy affairs taking place behind the innocent red benches.
In fifth grade a teenager smacked my Beis Yaakov school bus and screamed “Dirty Jews!” We eight-year-old girls were not shocked, just morbidly fascinated.
When my family moved to the south everyone was friendly; the cashiers knew your name and smiled, and the lines got blurry. Gentile neighbors walking their dogs would say “Good Morning” and sometimes even “Good Sabbath”. Where did we belong if they also seemed right?
I think the reason why teenagers are branded with the “scarlet letter” of being emotional, rebellious and filled with angst is that we are sniffing for the truth. When we feel like we cannot speak, like we cannot express our longing. When we are packaged into a mold that does not fit, we want to escape. I am blessed. Many of my friends cannot talk to their parents.
If adults were more honest with us, then we would talk. Really talk. But most of them are deluding themselves.
I know I can always talk to my mother. And not just talk—really talk. If adults were more honest with us, then we would talk. Really talk. But most of them are deluding themselves. Most of them have the same Yetzer haras, the same passions and desires that we do. How can a girl struggling to seek past externals ask her mother for help when her mother is suffering with the same problem? Even more so when her mother doesn’t even admit or know about said issue?
Jealousy, anger, insincerity, stealing, gossiping – these struggles plague everyone, age one and up. It may be easier to blame these traits on “those teenagers” but wake up, America – the problems affect everyone. I am not saying that in order for a parent to communicate with his child he must be a perfect angel. But a parent has to be honest that he has flaws. Flaws are okay, flaws are imperative for human growth—embrace them! How can you expect your teen to be perfect when you are human too?
I have a lot of friends. One friend goes to a really religious school and tells me that if her principal knew she had an email address she would be kicked out. Another friend goes to public school and tells me how hard it is to be in the cafeteria and not buy the spicy fries. These girls would probably feel a lot better if they could tell their parents their struggles. But struggles sometimes are not permitted. Parents really don’t want to hear it. Because they are hiding from the truth themselves.
We are searching, searching, searching. It does not help when the adults who we assume have already found the truth shame us, undermine us, misunderstand us. It is even worse when the adults we trust are hypocrites. When we find that out, we don’t know what to believe in anymore.
Some of my friends are deep. We talk about, as she puts it, "the meaning of life." We talk about dating and marriage. We talk about real issues. We learn, we drink it in. We are seeking the truth, seeking to be good people.
And believe in us. We are, after all, the future.
Jewish teenagers are invited to send in their essays to firstname.lastname@example.org