Anyone stepping into a position of leadership successfully led by others navigates a fine balance between following in the well-tread paths and blazing a new one. As someone who has been deeply involved in this journal since its inception, I appreciate that I have little need to invest significant energy managing that dialectic.
I consider myself fortunate to have worked closely with outstanding colleagues, Founding Editor Shalom Berger and outgoing Editor Beverly Buncher. Each modeled what I consider to be one of the most important traits for educators and leaders – the desire to listen, and to learn from others’ input, advice and expertise. I consider myself even more fortunate that they will both continue to play significant roles in guiding the journal. I will try to follow their example.
Observant readers will have noticed that the format of the journal, both in terms of the structure of its content and even in terms of its graphic layout, has gone through a number of iterations. That was all part of an ongoing process of learning and improving the journal, to make it more valuable and more readable. That process continues, and reflects idea expressed by Rabbi A.I Kook as hayashan yit-hadesh vehahadash yitkadesh – the old will be renewed and the new will be sanctified.
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When I was in the eleventh grade a new student entered our small, traditional Yeshiva. Let’s call him Morris. Morris could not be contained. He was sharp-witted and street-smart beyond any of our imaginations, but could not sit in class and had no tolerance for the regular goings-on in school. In fact, our Yeshiva was perhaps the eighth or ninth he had attended. Morris really didn’t care much whether or not he succeeded in school, and we never ceased to be delighted by the tales of his adventures. To us as teens, Morris was exciting.
Morris was, of course, was what we would today call an at-risk kid. He worked in a pornographic print shop at night (that was before the days of the Internet), sold drugs on the roof of the Yeshiva during breaks, ran guns in Harlem on the weekend, and slept with his Italian girlfriend in an abandoned neighborhood house. Both he and we knew that trouble was just around the corner, if not there already.
But the thrill of adventure made him blind to the associated dangers, and even when those dangers presented themselves they became part of the excitement. The only time he was truly scared was when he spent a night in jail (I’ll spare you the sordid, but exciting [!] details). And even that did not deter him – he just realized that he needed to become more careful about not getting caught.
No family, no school, no community is immune to having a Morris. The dangerous behaviors may vary – violence, sex, drugs, depression, eating disorders, and the list goes on – yet they each are but individualized pleas; perhaps for our attention, perhaps to feel alive, perhaps a search for meaningfulness – but pleas nonetheless.
Whereas it was not long ago that discussing these topics was taboo (“it doesn’t happen to nice Jewish kids”), today everyone realizes and most acknowledge that we must not bury our heads in the sand. Like many topics, this one is certainly important and complex enough to warrant multiple issues dedicated to it. Recognizing the signs of kids at-risk, dealing with the various manifestations of at-risk behaviors, understanding their sources, exploring the variety of ways (both episodic and communal-systematic) with which they can be approached, examining a spiritual component of the topic (yes, this is a Jewish issue is addition to being a human, educational one), are all components which must be addressed.
Our Research section features Drs. Esther Altmann and Rona Novick, focusing on eating disorders and bullying, respectively, and Vicky Gilpin on depression. Particularly important in this issue is the Applications section, with articles on treatment programs, community-based programming, and a unique on-line community for Jewish teens – including an interview with its founder, Rabbi Shu Eliovson. In Getting the Discussion Started we have excerpts from two worthwhile books – one from the world of general education by Dr. Richard Sagor and another, with a specifically Jewish perspective, from journalist Faranak Margolese. Finally, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky introduces a spiritual component into the discussion
It is our hope that this issue of the journal will serve as a valuable resource, raise important questions, and spark constructive discourse. As we like to say, it’s about getting the discussion started.