It’s kind of like this: Trisha Swed, 30, isn’t a scientist.
But in her academic studies and her years working directly with Jewish young adults and students at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and Temple University, she’s gotten to use a telescope and a microscope. Close-up field work and dispassionate study from afar. Swed’s got it covered.
Swed’s goal is to figure out how best to position the next generation of Jews for leadership of their communities. It’s a process of experimentation, new questions and new answers.
What do these students want for the world around them, and why do they want it?
Leading organizations like Hillel of Temple University, Diller Teen Fellows and the Teen Giving Project, Swed’s gained insight into what drives that generation. Swed, who is pursuing a Ph.D. from Antioch University’s Graduate School of Leadership and Change, spoke about Jewish educational priorities, social media and more.
What has been the biggest change in the student and young adult populations you work with?
Some of the changes that I’ve seen between young people from a few years ago and now is just their involvement in social media is really different. In 10 years, so much has actually changed in terms of what platforms people are engaging in, and what they really find exciting.
I’ve also been seeing a shift in parents, and how parents are involved with their students. It’s interesting, because there used to be a lot of language around “helicopter parents.” And now I don’t even know if “helicopter parents” is the right term for the different ways that relationships are held between kids and their parents.
That’s the biggest change. But how young people interact, how they’re sensitive, how they make decisions, and have the ability to really be integrated into their community has stayed the same. Although, I would say that we’ve actually been finding more ways to involve young people in our community in meaningful ways and creating spaces for them to make decisions. That’s a really important trend that we’ve been seeing that needs to continue for our community and for the Jewish community at large.
What do you think gives the students you work with hope for the future?
I don’t know if I would use “hopeful” as a word to describe how they’re feeling. I actually think that they are feeling determined to survive in the future. And they’re feeling determined to have a healthy Earth. And they feel determined to have healthy communities. They truly understand that this is what they’re going to inherit, this land that we’re leaving, our lessons and thoughts.
So many of them are just thinking about, ‘How do we create a world that we want to live in for us and for our children?’
What are some recent developments in the way people in your position are thinking about Jewish education?
One of the bigger shifts that is happening that is truly important is really focusing on identity development.
Jewish education, for these generations, can no longer be a top-down approach — “This is the text. This is what it means. This is how you embody that through your life.” It needs to be something that’s a little bit deeper.
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