By Alisha Pedowitz, Jewish LearningWorks’ Senior Educator
Chazak, Chazak, v’Nitchazek. Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened
(Said after the completion of reading a book of the Torah)
I spend a lot of time worrying about the current crisis of adolescent mental health. For the last few years, the idea of supporting adolescent resiliency and wellbeing through Jewish educational settings has been my primary focus at work. And, in parallel, I have been parenting my own two teenagers, now 14 and 16. It means there are days where it feels like my brain never shuts off from all of the worries related to teens—what they missed due to the impacts of the pandemic, and how it’s still affecting them, the concerns about social media and constant device usage, the polarized political climate, existential fears about their future due to the climate crisis, school shootings, the fallout from the Oct 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war in Gaza…all of this (and more) overlaid over the “normal” ups and downs and developmental rollercoaster that is part and parcel of adolescence. I find myself asking, both professionally and personally, “am I doing enough? Did I take advantage of that opportunity, did I miss something that I should have done to support better in this moment? Do they have all that they need?”
The moments where I find some degree of peace are when I’m able to notice or appreciate the moments that have gone well, when I’ve gotten to see my own kids (or, hear about other kids in a fellow educator’s program) show that they are doing ok—or perhaps more than ok, but actually thriving. It gives me a chance to say, “well, even with everything else going on, we did alright right there. If we can have moments like THAT, then this is what it is all about.”
In many ways it is, to me, the wisdom of this phrase that we traditionally say when we finish reading a book of Torah, chazak chazak v’nitchazek. It’s a reminder of, “hey, there’s going to be a lot to come—but before we get caught up in that—let’s look back at what we just completed. That in and of itself was an accomplishment. Let’s celebrate and mark that, and all that we did to get to this moment, all the strength and wisdom we acquired right up until this moment.” Sometimes, too, when it comes to supporting our adolescents—we’re so focused on what’s coming, and if we have done enough to prepare for it, as well as what’s missing or we wish we had done along the way, we forget to acknowledge all of the moments of good and of strength that have gotten us—and them—here. Our young people already have incredibly strengths that can be leveraged and bolstered, as do we in the things we have done to cultivate and support them along the way.
Let’s Learn More Togther
It is for this reason that I am so looking forward to learning with Dr. Betsy Stone on Friday March 22, 2024 for “Building for Strength: Supporting Adolescent Wellbeing Through a Stength Lens (In-Person)” as we shift from thinking through a deficit lens, worrying about all that is being missed, to one that allows us to maximize strengths for ourselves and our teens. And, hopefully allows us all to feel more of those moments of peace within ourselves as we navigate the chaos around us that we can’t control.