Please Don’t Talk Us Down

Our society is intolerant and suppressant of the voices of youth.

Individual prerogative and independent decision-making are virtues to be cherished, not detriments for adults to frown upon.

In this free American society of ours, “We The People” seems to have a faded asterisk attached to us: “*who are above the age of eighteen.” Age barriers are intrinsically written into our laws, preventing, discouraging, and stalling teenage and youth participation in a) the shaping of public policy, b) overall awareness of current events, and c) tolerance.

Society blames youth for many of its struggles. “These kids today” can’t and shouldn’t be trusted, they say. They’re all reckless and irresponsible, arrogant and inattentive. But why are so many teenagers inattentive? Because that’s the kind of youth that society fosters. The youth rates of literacy, political involvement, and kids who simply read the news would be unequivocally higher if our society was focused on encouraging us rather than admonishing us. But society is sanctimonious. Society is hypocritical. Paradoxically, while society is bashing teens and youth for our oh so foolish propensities, we’re also being held to a higher standard; a double standard.

Sixteen years olds can have jobs, therefore pay an income tax, but can’t vote: that’s called taxation without representation. Sixteen year olds can enlist in the army, therefore be handed some of the most dangerous and detrimental weapons known to man, butcan’t fight in combat. Sixteen year olds are allowed to drive motor vehicles, but they can’t watch R-rated movies.

It’s teenagers who stepped up and protested, bringing the 26th Amendment to the forefront. It’s teenagers who fill out colleges and universities. It’s teenagers who are the future of your country.

To society, teachers, parents, and mentors: please foster our voices, don’t muffle them. We promise not to push our homework-denying, fast-driving, music-blasting agenda on you.


What Did You Expect?

In Israel over the weekend, a so-called “groundbreaking” story emerged.

Eden Aberjil, a female Israeli soldier (who has finished her required time in the army) posted pictures to Facebook that were widely considered disrespectful and offensive.

The pictures displayed Aberjil posing in front of several Palestinian men. The men were prisoners, therefore blindfolded and handcuffed. Naturally outraged, Palestinian leaders quickly condemned the IDF and Aberjil, comparing the photos to those taken at the Abu Gharib prison in Baghdad (in 2004). IDF spokesman Barak Raz also denounced the photos, saying “we are talking about a serious violation of our morals and our ethical code.” Journalists almost universally expressed similar concerns.

But– momentarily– let me speak to you as a teenager.

When I have an experience with my friends– going to the beach, taking a trip to Israel, visiting a friend in another city– we take pictures. When we do something new, we take pictures. When we do something invigorating, we take pictures. And then we post them to Facebook so that everyone can comment and “like” our pictures.

Obviously, Aberjil’s experience wasn’t a walk on the beach or a weekend road trip to San Diego. It was much more controversial and eccentric. In fact, I would argue that it was wrong and immoral. I don’t think that she had nefarious intentions, but I do think that it showed poor judgement on her part. But that’s where I’d like to point something out.

Israeli soldiers are eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. They are taken straight out of high school and placed into one of the most rigorous training programs in the military world. Once they are wearing that deep green uniform, they are immediately held to an exceptionally high ethical code. As they should be.

But as hard as it may be to imagine, they are teenagers. They are youth. We hope and pray that the people defending the state of Israel will not break the rules and will be sensible, mature adults. But the world is so shocked when a young Israeli soldier makes a poor, naive decision. Why isn’t the world prepared for that? They are teenagers. There’s a reason that you can’t drink until you’re twenty-one in the United States. It’s because that’s when the brain starts to fully develop.

Why are we so shocked when teenagers behave like teenagers? We should be constantly impressed by the soldiers who don’t do childish things, and be cautious of people like Eden Aberjil. I’m not saying to hold soldiers to a lower standard. I’m saying that when someone acts their age, the action they performed shouldn’t be a rude awakening.

I’m sorry if this wasn’t the post you wanted to read, but I believe it’s the truth.

Notes of Irritation

Unless someone asks me to do otherwise, I think that this will be my last pre-written post. I am happy to share more about my trip to Poland and more from my journal if someone has the desire to read it. After this, I will start posting more political entries again. This is two different journal entries that are somewhat connected. They are not– at all– meant to give off a holier-than-thou attitude. They are simply meant to convey the way I was feeling at the time. I hope these entries paint a picture of the peculiarity I was experiencing rather than illustrate any sort of criticism or hostility toward my friends.

1. On the bus, just outside of Majdanek.

Human nature is a funny thing. We walk through Majdanek- silence. No one is faking their emotion. The camp evokes feeling beyond literary expression. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. Silence. From staff and camper alike. We get to the end. We do a tekes (ceremony).  Silence. Emotion chokes back any words. We pray Mincha (the afternoon service). Silence. We get on the bus, and within a few seconds, kids are laughing and chatting, yelling and joking, eating Kit-Kat bars and Oreos. No one is talking about it. No one is processing it. No one is crying, or silent, or dumbfounded. This is bizarre.

2. Outside a mass grave of eight-hundred children.

I wish I could smell the bodies.

No, I’m not sadistic or evil. I just wish that there was something there besides a blue fence surrounding bushes and leaves. It’s so hard to connect. I imagine the kids and I imagine the Nazis. But there’s not something there to help me connect. And now I’m on a bus full of kids. And they’re all screwing around.

I wish they could smell the bodies.


Last night, I returned from a seven-week trip that changed the way I look at the world on a political level, but also on a sociological and religious level.

In the coming days, I’ll take a short hiatus from narrating on politics and, instead, share some journal entires and thoughts that I wrote while I was in Poland. I’ll also explain the changes in my political ideologies– why being in Israel caused me to move further right or further left on certain issues.

The most important realization I had, however– the thing that kept me open to so many other opinions– is that the world isn’t drawn in black and white. It’s important not to incarcerate yourself in any political or religious box. While I was in Israel, I heard people say things that made me want to punch them. I also heard people say things that made me want to hug them. But regardless of what the opinion was, I learned that I had to keep everything in context: there’s a reason that the man living on the Lebanese border is so right-wing. There’s a reason that the Palestinian man who has been neglected all his life is so left-wing. You have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes– really understand where they’re coming from– before you argue with them (or decide whether or not it’s a good idea to argue with them).

This past Friday, on the corner of Gaza Street in Jerusalem, I met Noam Shalit, the father of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In an uncomfortable effort to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime moment, I hesitantly walked up to him and asked–perhaps naïvely–what it is that we, Jewish American youth, can do to help his son’s situation.

Noam Shalit turned to me, his furrowed brow frozen in a frown than seemed to encapsulate his whole body, and very slowly shook his head. “Nothing,” he said, almost in a whisper, “thank you for your support.”

Americans tend to have strong opinions about things that we think we understand. And then we make a big ruckus about joining a cause, sell bracelets, ask people to donate money, and the list goes on. Sometimes, however, nothing can be done. My brief encounter with Noam Shalit was a wakeup call; not to the idea that we can’t do anything, but rather to the idea that if we’re going to get ourselves involved and invest time and effort, we should know the realities of the situation and avoid the precarious and all too familiar belief that we are invincible. Because we’re not.

There’s one other experience that should be shared before I write future posts. Last week, early Tuesday morning, my group was hiking up a mountain just outside of Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city. As we were climbing up the final stretch, right when we began to be able to see the Red Sea and the peak where we were going to pray Shacharit (the morning service) we heard a very loud “BOOM,” that sounded like planks being thrown thrown into a dumpster at a construction site. We kept walking. a few seconds later we heard another one. We asked our staff what the noises were and they assured us that it was nothing…that the IDF does special trial runs in the desert all the time and that we shouldn’t worry.

The “BOOM”s that we heard were not planks from a construction project in Eilat. They were two of five rockets that were fired from the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula with the intention of hitting the Eilat area. They were fired with the intention of hitting anything Jewish. They were fired to hit me.

So, next time you decide, like me, that the man who lives on the Lebanese border is crazy and unjustified (which I happen to partially believe), think about how your opinion might be changed if you were constantly under fire from enemy rockets. Think you might be angry?