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Jewish Boys in Crisis

JTA offers solutions to a problem that doesn’t seem to exist

Hadara Graubart
August 04, 2009

In an article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Amy Klein riffs on a recent spate of secular books tackling the troubled state of modern boyhood, asking, “Are Jewish boys in crisis?” While she initially concludes that, first, that’s too simple a question and, second, the answer would likely be “no,” Klein goes on to address the Jewish boys’ crisis throughout her article, gradually revealing it as that most recognizable and reportedly pervasive of crises: boys are not engaging sufficiently in Jewish life, stirring fears in the community not for their general success and achievement but for Jewish continuity.

Malina Saval, author of The Secret Lives of Boys, discusses one Jewish kid from her book, a 15-year-old Hebrew-school teaching assistant recovering from a drug addiction. Klein asks: “How could this self-reflective, hyper-intellectual, culturally aware, music- and fashion-obsessed nonconformist have gotten into drugs at such a young age?” Maybe things have changed since we were in high school, but that question sort of answers itself. That is, unless Klein’s descriptor—intellectual, aware, etc.—is simply code for “Jewish.” And although Michael Gurian, author of The Purpose of Boys, says of Jewish boys, “I wouldn’t say they’re in crisis in the same way other boys are in crisis,” he has started a program to help them specifically, through his synagogue in Spokane, Washington.

While the books the article jumps off from address problems like drugs, teenage fatherhood, and school dropout rates, the Jewish angle brings it back to boys not wanting to do extra homework for Hebrew school. One solution it suggests: Using the tactics of Christian bible-study programs, a new organization aimed at helping boys with this “crisis” attempts to suck them in by having them do, as one participant’s father puts it, “guys’ guy stuff” with Jews. We can just imagine the pitch: “Hey, nice slam dunk, Josh! Have you thought about whether you’ll circumcise your son?”

Hadara Graubart was formerly a writer and editor for Tablet Magazine.