Guiding New Jersey educator authors book to aid in raising teens
Joanne Doades is a woman with a mission. The Jewish educator and author of Parenting Jewish Teens: A Guide for the Perplexed (Jewish Lights Publishing) asserts: “I want this issue to be on the agenda for the organized Jewish community.” According to both scholarly research and near-universal parental experience, Doades said in a phone interview from her office at the Union for Reform Judaism in New York, the teenage years are the most difficult years in family life. Synagogues and JCCs traditionally so helpful in building communities and support networks for parents of babies and young children need to offer more in the way of such services to both teens and their parents. Doades said she views her book not as the ultimate authority on, but as a vehicle for, such community building.
Parenting Jewish Teens, whose subtitle is a conscious reference to 12th-century scholar Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed, draws upon ancient Jewish teachings to help parents guide their Jewish teens toward adulthood. Doades weaves together references both biblical the rivalry of siblings Jacob and Esau, the troubles between Joseph and his 11 brothers and personal issues surrounding her daughter’s bat mitzva to offer Jewish parents, as she puts it in her preface, “something to hang on to…as you try to hang on to your kids.”
Doades’ own Jewish education began in earnest when she became a parent: “I grew up in a nonaffiliated Jewish home, with no Jewish education whatsoever. After I got married and started having children, the ‘Jewish gene’ kicked in. I found the synagogue community very warm and welcoming.”
As the years passed, however, and her three children began exhibiting what she called “typical” and often disturbing teenage attitudes and behaviors, Doades found herself frustrated by the lack of Jewish community resources books, support groups, workshops available to parents of older children. When she earned a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College, her thesis was a critique of Jewish family education in general, with some specific suggestions on how to reach teenagers. She hadn’t planned on expanding it: “I truly thought that someone else would write this type of book, but it didn’t happen, so I did it.”
She had three reasons for writing the 150-page book: “First, I wanted to help the parents of Jewish teens in the same way that I needed help. I also wanted to demonstrate to parents and Jewish professionals the way that Jewish texts and teachings can really work in our lives. And finally, I wanted, and still want, to challenge the organized Jewish community to pay attention to this important segment of the Jewish population.”
Doades said she believes that Jewish parents must operate on two levels: “We must continue to supervise and teach our children, even though their actions might not reflect our teachings at any given time. At the same time, we can’t get so hung up in the heat of the moment that we lose sight of the longer vision. We need to help our children see that although this is a bad moment or day, or month we will endure. And ‘we’ refers to both the individual parent-child unit and the larger Jewish community.”
Doades herself is quite involved in the larger Jewish community. Residents of Short Hills, she and her husband, Ronald, are members of Congregation Beth El and Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, both in South Orange.
Her professional life is in the organized Jewish world as well: She works in URJ’s Department of Lifelong Jewish Learning. “Quite a change,” she quipped, “for a former IBM-er with an MBA in management.”
Her entire family was involved in the creation of Parenting Jewish Teens, Doades said. “I sent my kids, now in their 20s, every chapter as I was writing it, and sometimes made changes based on their suggestions.”
Reflecting on the difficulties of parenting teenagers in today’s world, Doades concluded, “We have to start rebuilding our communities. This is not something anyone else can do for us parents have to help each other.”
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