The Real Challenge

Only 58% of youths (which the majority are presumably religious youth and Arabs) think that young people respect their parents.

If there is one thing characterizing the discourse of secular parents in recent years, it is a deep sense of frustration. The sense that we have raised a generation that thinks that it only deserves things, expects things to be done for them, and does not know how to do things for others; that knows very well what a child's rights are, but hasn't heard about the obligations of a child; that does not know how to take into account others and respect adults and certainly not their parents; that is not interested in anything other than celebrities, the Children's Channel, and computer games, doesn't read the news, and doesn't know what's going on in the country.

We raised a generation whose symbols are the phrase, "I feel like it" (as in "I feel like some Super Goal cards") and the question "Can I" (for example: "Can I have the car?," and "Can I have 200 shekels?"), and is stunned when the answer is "No." Television has taught them that the greatest ambition in life is not a career, nor to have an impact on, or change, the world, and not even to be important or powerful, put simply to be famous. We have taught them that parents are a kind of transportation company. The education system has taught them well... What has it really taught them? Is this just a sense?

A survey of the democracy index for youth conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2004 found that only 18 percent of youths themselves feel that youths are not violent. Only 58 percent (of which the majority are presumably religious youth and Arabs) think that youths respect their parents. One out of every two Israeli youths does not feel he is a part of the state and its problems. The percentage of youths interested in politics dropped from 58 percent in 2000 to just 50 percent in 2004.

A survey by Yedioth Ahronoth and Hagal Hahadash revealed on Independence Day that 43 percent of youths don't read books at all. The principal of the Herzliya Gymnasium, Hana Ne'eman, said in a Haaretz interview six months ago that youth "don't know Hebrew," and that "it's not just a paucity of language; it's a paucity of knowledge." In response to the question, do they, as they always say, at least know other things that we didn't know, she said: "No, no."

True, these are generalizations. There are also youths who volunteer and those who do a year of community work in development towns; and there are parents who succeeded in limiting their kids' use of the computer and hours spent watching television. But in the end, the face of the generation resembles of the face of Kazaa (the Yedioth Ahronoth-Gal Hahadash poll found that 72 percent of youth download songs using shareware programs, which enable massive copyright infringements). The general sense is that we haven't learned a thing from Aviv Geffen, and another "screwed up generation" has grown up here, lacking values and devoid of knowledge, that doesn't know why it's here.

If at least they were self-absorbed, yet happy... but they aren't.

Those who try to persuade people to return to religious observance have in recent years seen high school students as a preferred target. If there is something that explains some teenagers' willingness to buy the preachers' spiel on values that is so superficial, dormant and unconvincing, it is the fact that for over 30 years, secularism hasn't offered them alternative values. It seems as if Zionism was unable to build a new and updated system of values. There are those who envy religious education - not the content and values in it - but the fact that it actually instills values.

Yes, the parents are guilty. But they're not alone. We have an education system that doesn't correct children's spelling mistakes, and doesn\t require them to memorize, and when there are discipline problems, the parents are called. We have an educational system that doesn't expect anything from the children, and thinks they are allowed to do a lot. Yes, that's also what the children think, that they're allowed to do lots of things.

Perhaps it would be presumptuous to suggest a comprehensive solution, but it is possible to point to one possible direction. Two weeks ago, Yair Sheleg began a series of articles on the fourth stream in Judaism, the secular stream. Sheleg reported on the establishment of the first secular hesder yeshiva. Only a decade ago, when there was talk of a secular hesder yeshiva, it sounded like a joke. Today it is a given. The pre-military academies are preparing cadres of young leaders. The secular stream is also starting to conduct weddings.

The real challenge of the secular stream of Judaism is the education crisis. One of its ambitions should be the creation of a network of schools - within the state school network, not outside of it. These schools would teach Judaism in a secular spirit, but most importantly, would instill values (secular Jewish values): social involvement, making the world a better place, helping others (including gentiles), respecting one's parents, democracy. These schools would expect the youth to know a lot - a lot of Bible, a lot of history of the land of Israel and its geography, a lot of Jewish history, and a lot of philosophy. A lot. This is not a comprehensive solution, but it is a way to train the elites, in distressed areas as well, and eventually, it is the elites who make the decisions. And this needs to happen quickly, before we lose another generation.