Second Thoughts: Staying Cool

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21 Feb 2008

Older, Better, Smarter? Who says? Not my grandchildren who think that I have a lot to learn about the world out there. The world of the gan (playschool, kindergarten), the world of grammar school, high school, youth groups. The world of hikes, music, the army, and most of all, for the girls, the world of fashion. They just don’t understand why some styles are downright ugly. I mean, if they’re in style, then by definition, they’re stylish, right? So what’s wrong with the way they dress?

And of course, there’s Hebrew. The kids, you see, speak a new language. Biblically based, perhaps, but there the relationship ends. Slang grows in leaps and bounds and reaches mind shattering proportions. If you don’t keep up with it, you have a hard time following a conversation with anyone under twenty.

Classical music is boring; classical styles in clothing are out; speed limits and crossing on green lights aren’t always necessary as long as you’re careful; and looking before you leap …. well, that’s only for old people. Sometimes, the kids are right. But many other times, they’re not.

Last week, a twelve year old tried to explain to me that ke’ilu (the Hebrew version of “like”) was an important word. I mean, if you can’t, ke’ilu, say it four times in every sentence, how can you possibly speak? Believe it or not, they can’t.

A fifteen year old tried to explain that sticking a plug into your ear to listen to music while doing your homework improves concentration and his sixteen year old sister said it was absolutely vital for jogging.

And a perfectly lovely (and usually sane) bride and groom tried to explain why the decibel volume at their wedding had to shatter glass. Otherwise, things wouldn’t be “simcha-dik”. I did a little gematria to see if “simcha” and “ra’ash/ noise” are numerically equal and guess what? They are not.

I absolutely love my grandkids and enjoy being with them. They are fresh, exuberant, idealistic, enthusiastic and absolutely wonderful. They teach me new words, open up new vistas, and fill me with youthful energy (at least for an hour or two) but I worry about them.

What will happen when they discover that employers and universities don’t appreciate a constant flow of “k’ilu”, and that while slang may be “in”, to get “out” and around in the world, you have to speak a language. What will they do when they learn that Beautiful and Ugly are not merely in the eye of the beholder; that there truly is such a thing as Beauty and Harmony and it’s not just a matter of style and taste. That following the rules may be a matter of life and death and that one day, you may just discover that your eardrums have gone on strike. I worry about these things.

The kids tell me that surely “my generation” had its idiosyncrasies too. I suppose we did, but it was all so long ago, that by now, they’ve melded into a pleasant, hazy memory. It seems to me, however, that whatever we did was less wacky than what they’re doing nowadays. At least we didn’t make more than one set of holes in our ears!

But then something happens (and in Israel, it happens often). Any little crisis (or big one, we shouldn’t know from them!) and the kids are out there on the front lines. Helping, caring, giving. Collecting, driving, donating, organizing. It never fails to amaze me how kids who “chill” out and hang around so long and so often, who waste so much time and who aren’t interested in long philosophical discussions (we were big on philosophy at their age) can, at the drop of a kippa, turn into such serious, competent, qualified doers.

Where did they learn it? How do they know what to do, and how do they get it done? When I watch them, or listen to them, I begin to understand that sometimes, understanding works backwards. Instead of always looking ahead to see what they will eventually become, we should turn around to see how amazingly marvelous they are right now, even with the serial sets of earrings, the audio-visual attachments, the digital paraphernalia, and whatever comes next.

I may be able to help them with their English, but they help me stay afloat in the mainstream. And if I can’t keep up, they shlep me along. It’s tiring but invigorating. And challenging, because I do feel that there’s still a place for a little sound advice and helpful knowledge from an older source. Of course they rarely listen. I suppose we didn’t either.

Kid-bashing is widespread adult entertainment. But all jokes aside, these are not light-headed kids. They are facing a fast, frightening and volatile world, one we never knew. And most of them are doing their darndest to stay grounded and hang on. Here in Israel, they’re regular participants in funerals – too many of them. (I was fifteen when I first attended a funeral but I didn’t attend another until seven years later.) They are kids who have seen, or just barely missed, terror attacks. Kids who learn first aid because it’s as necessary as brushing your teeth. And the army for most of the boys – and a year or two of National Service for the girls – looms large. It’s a chunk of life they give generously, and with love, to their people, their Land.

So I guess they deserve their years of freedom and growing up; of playing cool, speaking slang, listening to deafening music, wearing silly styles and thinking that they are strong enough to take on anything that life dishes up. Life will “dish up” it’s courses soon enough. And our kids will roll up their sleeves and take on the challenge. Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep up with them and stay cool.

May Hashem give them the wisdom and the strength to prevail. And perhaps, hopefully, they’ll be the ones to make this a better world – even if it comes wrapped in like, ke’ilu and a lot of noise!

Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars – a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. Her latest book – “A Different Dimension” published by Hamodia Publishers – is an anthology of essays on contemporary Jewish life.

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