by Toby Klein
“So who exactly is going to take you seriously,” a neighbor laughs.
“Don’t underestimate us,” I warned. “You’ll soon see we’re more than Jewish summer camp rejects.”
“Sorry sweetie, but look at your generation … Yikes.”
As I stood there pondering the exchange that had just taken place, I realized that it wasn’t the lack of trust that had bothered me, but rather from where the lack of trust was coming. Many have speculated that the new generation, that my generation is undermining the core aspects of traditional Jewish values that our adult counterparts once held so dear.
Seemingly harmless phrases such as, “we need to fix this for the new generation,” or even a simple, “kids these days,” are underhandedly scapegoating the problem to my generation. There is a lack of trust – a disconnect – between the two generational sides. While one could argue that our generation is going to completely alienate itself from the Jewish values (endogamy, respecting our elders, a patriarchal rooted society, etc.) and ideals that shaped the generation before us (something I too am worried about), I ask one question: who raised us?
Each generation is deemed a product of their society, yet there is an insurmountable valley of a divide between the “new” and “older” generations – one created the society, the other was born into it. We are scrutinized for trying to color this world and make it our own, yet we’re also condemned for leaving things as they are. And as a Jewish teenager trying to stay afloat between these two strong tides, I reply with a stereotypical teenage response; I am going to rebel.
Here I sit now, rebelling with my very presence in this office, the office on the fifth floor of the Jewish Federation of Chicago building, as the philanthropy intern, in a space typically occupied by full-time paid staff. I am treated as an equal, I am respected as a colleague; I am one of them. The position – a part time job redesigning teen philanthropy programs and assisting with philanthropy “boot camps” – was created for me. I am piloting an internship that will soon be filled by other teens rebelling for this cause, rebelling against our generational standards. I’m changing people’s minds about what a teenager is capable of doing – that is my rebellion.
And yes, sometimes I am a typical teenager and will sit on my butt, but it’ll be a surprise to us both if you don’t see that butt in a board room at a foundation meeting. Yes, I am a teenager, and yes, I sure as hell am rebelling. Rebelling against what adults think teenagers are capable of, rebelling against the stereotypes of what the youth can truly do – rebelling against the stereotype that age can solely define a person.
So maybe the path that I’m on isn’t common for someone my age. Heck, maybe I picked the path with a rotting sign that says “danger ahead, the prior generation will condemn your actions,” but it’s the path toward ending age and generational stereotypes. I’m running full force ahead and I don’t plan on walking anytime soon. So the next time that you hear an adult point fingers at my generation – the new generation of philanthropists – ask yourself if you trust the generation who raised them, as they created the world the new generation was born into. And remember, in order to spark a change – be it in thinking or action – one must always rebel.
Toby Klein is the teen philanthropy intern in the Youth Initiatives Department at the Jewish Federation of Chicago and is a Junior at Glenbrook North.