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Synagogue Strike

Thursday, June 14, 2012
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Dear Miriam,

My 14-year-old daughter suddenly is refusing to come to synagogue with the rest of the family. She had a beautiful Bat Mitzvah last year and has always been a great Hebrew school student.  Should I make her attend services with us or let her have this rebellion?

Signed,
Synagogue Strike

Dear Strike,

Having recently completed her Bat Mitzvah studies and celebration, it actually makes a lot of sense to me that your daughter may need a break from the rigors of Jewish institutional life. Beautiful or not, she’s probably relieved that this rite of passage is over. It’s also likely that many of your daughter’s friends are dropping out of the synagogue scene after, perhaps, one too many DJ dance parties in the social hall and speeches about fountain pens.

You just celebrated your daughter becoming a Jewish adult, and it’s possible that choosing to take a break from the way your family does Judaism may be one way that she is exercising this newfound adulthood. As difficult as it is for you, her taking this break (and your support, however tacit) may provide her with the opportunity to explore her own identity and beliefs and form a vision of her Judaism independent of the one with which she grew up. Allowing her that space now may actually increase the likelihood that she’ll find her way back to Judaism on her own, whereas forcing her to conform to your standards may drive her away from Judaism in the future.

If your daughter has recently exhibited any other alarming behaviors, such as falling grades at school, trouble with friends or lack of interest in activities she previously loved, then there might be something else going on. In that case, I encourage you to talk to her school guidance counselor to see what’s happening when you’re not around, and perhaps also to your rabbi for suggestions. But if everything else is fine, try to ride this out and, as you say, “let her have this rebellion.”

If letting her sit out of the family’s synagogue attendance entirely is too much for you (especially if it’s leading to tension with her younger siblings), see if you can work out parameters on which you can all agree. Perhaps you decide she needs to attend services once a month, or Friday nights but not Saturdays, or for holidays but not Shabbat, or when there’s a special occasion being celebrated by a member of your community. Even better, ask what seems reasonable to her. The best way to show her the value of her Jewish education and Bat Mitzvah celebration is to demonstrate that you trust her and take her seriously as someone capable of making responsible decisions. Then remember that she’s also a 14-year-old, and what she decides today could just as easily turn around tomorrow!

Be well,
Miriam

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