Why I Wore Striped Footsie Pajamas to the Temple

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this season’s teen angst movie, illuminates the very real pressures of being a teenager. The teenage search for identity is interwoven so poignantly with the dislocation created by individual brokenness. Ironically, the scene of audience participation in a costumed presentation of the cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show seems tame by comparison. A must-see movie for parents, teachers and others who interact with teens, Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds us that when it comes to kids, if we master the relationships, we motivate the teens.

I felt that twice this past Sunday with two groups of Congregation Or Ami kids. First at a 6:45am drop-off for a NFTY-SoCal teen sub-regional trip to Disneyland and later at a 5:00pm pajama party for kindergarten through 3rd graders.

Disneyland: It’s the relationships, not the rides.
The first Sunday I could sleep late in a long time was interrupted when I rose at 6am to drive my 10th-grade son to the temple parking lot. There he met other teens and LoMPTY youth advisor Stefanie Philips for a van ride to the Magic Kingdom. Twelve teens who, on any given morning, could not drag their tired butts out of bed for school somehow were energized and excited to spend the day together. Was it the anticipation of storied amusement rides that made the day exciting? A bit, I’m sure. Moreso, I think the energy came from the opportunity to spend a day with other Jewish teens who – without academic, social or parental pressures – would accept, love and value them for who they are. That’s what Jewish youth grouping creates, and what our new Triple T (Tracks for Temple Teens) is designed to do. They provide nurturing, meaningful environments in which teens can lead, love and lift up each other within Jewish contexts.

It is all about relationships.
Relationships are why 53 teens gathered together last weekend for our first ever Triple T retreat. And they are why a bunch of our kindergarten through 3rd graders descended upon the synagogue – sans parents – for a Pajama Party.

Blue and red striped footsie pajamas
Rabbi Julia Weisz got me to wear blue and red striped footsie pajamas to temple. I fit in well with the large group of younger students who gathered at Congregation Or Ami for our first ever Kids Pajama Party. It was fun! Between a singalong with Cantor Doug Cotler and story time with Rabbi Paul (me) and Rabbi Julia, we played “pass the stuffed Torah” to get to know each other. We made “Shema Yisrael” pillowcases to ensure that our nighttime Shema rituals that much more special. We had a pizza dinner, and cookies and milk for a nighttime snack. The PJ party was fantastically friendly and fun. But don’t let the footsie pajamas and all rest of the silliness blind you to the higher purpose: deepening relationships between Or Ami kids, giving Jewish context to daily life, and binding them with their rabbis and cantor.

Campaign for Youth Engagement
It’s part of Or Ami’s Campaign for Youth Engagement, a multifaceted rethinking of Jewish education, promoted by the Union for Reform Judaism. We can teach great Judaism in very creative ways, but it can only succeed if the kids love being with their friends in a Jewish place. If we deepen these teenage relationships within a Jewish context, it may pay off – we hope – in greater long term Jewish involvement later on in life.

Bravo to Rabbi Julia Weisz, her partners and faculty for creating multiple pathways to Jewish involvement – so inspiring that I will wear pajamas anytime to deepen the connections.

Originally published at Or Am I?