Distracted Driving: Where do you draw the line?

— by Peter Dissinger

It is no stretch to say that distracted driving is an epidemic in today’s world. Whether texting, fiddling with the radio, calling a friend, or even using the GPS, there are so many easy ways for any driver to become distracted in an instant. This is especially true for teens, including myself. Maybe it’s a notification from our incredibly useful smart phones or even an inclination to be reckless, but research shows that teenagers are especially at risk for these types of behaviors. It may seem shocking to some adults, but from my perspective, this is not radical data; it is the real experience of so many teenagers (and probably adults as well).

The video Distracted Driving: Where do you draw the line? was created for the “Put the Brakes on Distract Driving” campaign of the Coalition for Youth of Lower Merion and Narberth.

USY students break dreidel spinning record in Philadelphia

Some 900 Jewish high school students, gathered in Center City Philadelphia from across North America this week for United Synagogue Youth’s annual international convention, appear to have “topped” the official world record for the most Hanukkah dreidels spun simultaneously in the same room.  With so many more present than needed to break the current record of 541, these Jewish teens fully expected to reach their goal and independent observers say preliminarily that they believe 687 of them successfully achieved their goal.

More after the jump.
It takes several months for the Guinness Book of World Records to verify and authenticate such claims, but official observers included the manager and staff of the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown.

The USYers, as they are known, just back from a morning of community service – including some dressed as “mitzvah clowns,” having performed at a nearby children’s hospital – were seated ten-to-a-table, at nearly 100 tables in a large ballroom, screaming and cheering themselves and each other on.  As one observer noted, “The group readied themselves, steadied their hands, and spun without abandon.”

The current Guinness world record of 541 Hanukkah dreidels being spun simultaneously for at least ten seconds was set in 2005 at Temple Emmanuel in Cherry Hill, NJ.  Others have since claimed to top that official record but have yet to be verified.

Dreidel is a popular Yiddish-named children’s game of chance, traditionally played on Hanukkah, which began this year at sundown Tuesday night, December 20.  Players spin tops – in this case, colorful plastic ones with a distinctive shape and slender top – with a Hebrew letter on each side, winning or losing gelt, usually chocolate coins wrapped in foil, with each spin.

The USY convention, the largest annual gathering of Jewish youth, wraps up a year of events marking USY’s 60th anniversary, also includes remarks Thursday by four-star General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, the highest ranking Jewish member of the U.S. military.

United Synagogue’s youth organization was established in 1951, and since then it has given Jewish teenagers the opportunity to come together to celebrate and learn about Judaism, develop a sense of Jewish identity, acquire leadership skills, and build lifelong friendships.  It has become one of the largest and most active Jewish youth groups in the world.

According to USY Convention Director Karen Stein:

Part of our objective is to teach the Jewish values of g’milut hasadim (performing acts of loving-kindness for others) and tikkun olam, which is, literally, repairing the world,” .  “We make a positive impact on the surrounding community while teaching our youth the importance of helping others, regardless of faith or race.  It’s amazing how the positive energy generated by students’ experiences at Convention can have an impact for months afterward.  USYers return to their regions and chapters full of new ideas that give a real boost to the level of programming and involvement in USY.

Book Review of OyMG: Jewish Girl, Christian Camp, Holy Moly

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

OyMG is a provocative, important read and discussion for contemporary Jewish parents and clergy – first. Then give it to your teens and students to read and discuss with you. Issues of intergroup dating, in this case Jewish Christian dating, are vibrantly and frankly portrayed in this compelling teen novel format. You will cringe and cry and sigh and wonder and wish you had it in your hands sooner. I couldn’t put it down.

More after the jump.
It’s important for parent groups to get together to discuss this topic, inter-dating that is a vast reality in the melting pot reality that has finally arrived for most Jewish families. Amy Fellner Dominy tells it like it is and has all the characters of inter-dating scenarios spelled out so we can fully identify with their perspectives – the grandfather who collapses, the evangelical Christian grandmother who is after the Jewish girls; soul, the young couple, respectively Jewish and Christian who are in love, and the private school scholarship opportunity that challenges the Jewish girl’s willingness to keep a firm hold on her Jewish identity when a longed-for prize looms close at hand.  

Parents and educators, after you read and discuss this book with each other, then give it to your students/children ages 14 and up to read. There’s a discussion guide on the author’s website, Amydominy.com.  

I recommend you discuss the story closely with youth and encourage youth groups to take up the book for discussion as well. When with teens, your own, classes or youth groups —  listen for their ideas and values. Teens and adolescents won’t be able to take in your views unless you first listen theirs respectfully. When we meet youth where they are in their emotional, spiritual and physical lives and reflect back their views and experiences without judgement or they will be less likely to hide their actions and intents.

How to set them up not to resist our hopes and dreams, which can lead to their potentially endangering themselves, as well as losing their sense of commitment to Jewish lives and families, is not easy. Please blog-in with our views and approaches. While visiting South Africa, several women and men said their parents had phrased things very clearly and helpfully for them. “While we hope you will find a Jewish person to date and marry, we recognize the numbers are small here. So when you date, do be very clear with a non-Jewish person that you can’t marry someone who doesn’t first become Jewish, because having a Jewish family is one of the most beautiful and important things for you.” And, more often then not, , I meet South African spouses born in other traditions who are now Jewish and in many ways more involved Jewishly than even their own Jewish partners.

Relationship shift happen of necessity as we move from the commanding position of parenting children to guiding young adults. We will create dating policies for our youth, curfews and more to try to keep them safe and in line with our values and to keep them safe.  Even so, as a parent, step-parent and step-grandparent, I have noticed that it is our caliber of relationship with them will prove the most effective tool for holiness and happiness, safety and good decisions to prevail. Try OmGD, it will definitely create the basis for necessary discussion, parent-youth, teacher-student, and book groups, too.

OyMG is a tough subject presented in an open-hearted way with a fast-reading, compelling narrative. In the months since reading it  I’ve found myself recommending this powerful novel to many parents, educators and clergy as well as to teens who study with me privately.   I know the author would like it to just be put straight into the hands of teens, which you might elect to do. Hopefully your relationship with your children, grandchildren or students is such that a holy and healthy discussion of crucial matters for their lives like dating, is one of your important goals.  

OyMG by Amy Fellner, Dominy Walker & Company, Hardcover 256 pages, $16.99/$21.00 Can., Ages: 12 and up