The Story Behind the Slam Poem Heard Round the Orthodox World

22 Nov 2013

SAR High School senior Ethan Metzger achieved viral fame when a video of him reciting his poem, “My Parents Brainwashed Me,” at Bronx Youth Poetry Slam, was published online. The poem details the thoughts that race through Metzger’s mind when a non-Orthodox classmate accused him of being brainwashed by his parents.

The video has already been used as a teaching tool in at least one other Jewish high school.
“You’re absolutely right, my parents did brainwash me,” he responded as fellow teens snapped their fingers to his rhythm. “As early as I can remember, my parents have been brainwashing me to have respect for other people, for their belongings and for myself. Since I was little they corrupted me into thinking that I need to treat everyone else like I would want to be treated, no matter what. My father twisted my infant brain in such a horrific way that he made me value my integrity. And to make matters worse, he led by example.”

At the end of the poem, Metzger explained that he decided against confronting his classmate because, “my parents also polluted my conscience into believing that I shouldn’t judge someone until I walk a mile in their shoes.”

Metzger practiced his slam poetry as part of the Yeshiva High School Poetry Slam, a poetry competition conducted in several yeshivot and Jewish day schools throughout the year.

“I’m not surprised that something like this came out of the Jewish high school poetry competition or that it ended up going viral,” Aaron Roller, co-founder of the Yeshiva High School Poetry Slam explained. “We wanted to help students take ownership of their religious experience through thinking deeply about their lives and developing creative ways to express their values and sensibilities.”

Reached by phone, Metzger said that the pride that influenced the poem came from a summer he spent on NCSY’s Jewish Overseas Leadership Experience (JOLT) two years ago.

“It was the summer of my life,” he explained. “It really had a profound affect of me the way I view Judaism.”

As part of the five-week trip, Metzger and his fellow teenagers on JOLT visited concentration camps in Poland and then led a summer camp in Germany for unaffiliated Jewish teens.

“Only after Poland, did I realize that it was my responsibility to motivate and inspire people to become passionate about their Judaism in the same way I am,” he said. “I had never been in that position where people were looking up at me as the kids in the [summer] camp were.”

That is the goal of the JOLT itinerary, explained David Cutler, the head of NCSY Summer.

“Many teens who grow up in the United States take their Judaism for granted,” Cutler said. “On JOLT we show them just how fortunate they are and what their responsibility is to the rest of Klal Yisrael.”

The trip concluded with a visit to Israel. While Metzger had been to Israel three times before, this time was different. “When I got off the plane and saw the first sign in Hebrew I felt so at home, in a way that I never felt before because of everything that we had been through on JOLT,” he recalled.

Metzger graduates SAR this year and plans to spend the next year learning in Israel.

“One of the conclusions I came to on JOLT is that Judaism is a big part of me and I’m going to stand up for it,” he said.


Learn more about NCSY’s Jewish Overseas Leadership Experience (JOLT)

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.