OK, here I go again, sounding like a grumpy, whiny old man, perhaps a Jewish version of Andy Rooney.
But I just can’t stop myself.
Recently, I attended a friend’s simchah at a big shul in town. I tend to be one of those people who prefers sitting in the back of a room, so I plunked myself down in the rear of the sanctuary, near a couple of rows full of kids around 12 or 13 years old. They were a good-looking bunch of youngsters, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that I wouldn’t be spending much time focused on God or Judaism or what was going on in the siddur or on the bimah.
Let me put it plainly – these kids just wouldn’t shut up. And it was more than a little distracting.
Over and over again, I watched as ushers, worshipers, teachers and even old guys (even older than me!) went up to these brash kids – who were boisterously chatting, laughing, clapping, flirting and carrying on, like they were in a movie theater – to tell them to shut the hell up, that some people in the sanctuary actually wanted to hear the service (and maybe even pray).
It was pretty clear that the youngsters didn’t care, because they went right back to their loud discussions and shenanigans, only quieting momentarily when the next adult came over to chastise them. (Which, of course, was an exercise in futility.)
I went over to one of the ushers later in the service and noted that some of the kids were students at a local Jewish day school. He simply laughed at me.
“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “They all act like this nowadays. That’s just how it is. It doesn’t matter where they go to school, Jewish or otherwise.”
I admit, I was no choirboy in Hebrew school or elsewhere as a young teenager. I used to like to schmooze and goof around with my buddies, especially during a long shul service or in the hallways. But I know one thing – when an adult came over to tell me to keep quiet, I did so. Usually with my knees trembling.
It seems that sense of awe, that skittishness about adults, is long gone, like polyester suits and mood rings. I mentioned this the other day to a friend who works with college students and he said, “Young people today, in general, aren’t scared or intimidated at all by adults. The problem is we’ve leveled the playing field. Kids now are immediately taught by their parents to call other adults by their first names. There’s no Mr. or Mrs. So-And-So. There’s only Stu and Zelda. And that’s how it all begins, that sense of disrespect and entitlement. Plus, they all know more about technology than us, and that really gives them a sense of superiority. So yes, there’s no respect for adults today.”
He may be right about that. But the problem goes even deeper, from a Jewish perspective (natch).
On Yom Kippur, my wife mentioned to me that she went into the ladies’ room at a shul and noticed several teenage girls in the lounge area. The girls, whom she recognized as students at a local Jewish day school, were on their cell phones, talking and texting away like crazy. Here they are, with their parents spending gobs of dough to give them an intensive Jewish education, and they’re texting in shul on the day Jews believe is the holiest one of the year?
Obviously, the problem isn’t just a lack of respect for adults but also a lack of respect for what is and isn’t appropriate behavior in shul. And maybe Judaism itself.
As parents and educators, we seem to have failed, to a certain extent. We seem to be raising a generation that doesn’t have much regard for anything, regardless of where or how they’re being educated. They just want to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it, and all with a sense of entitlement. And we’re the ones whose knees are trembling. We just want them to like us and not get mad at us.
That might sound quite uncool and “old fogie” to say out loud, but so be it.
How do we stem the tide? That’s for deeper minds to figure out. Right now, we have to recognize this problem. Because it only stands to reason that if we raise a village of spoiled brats (with some exceptions, of course), we’re going to reap just what we sew.