From social media to role models, from challenges to opportunities
By: Chandrea Serebro
“This trend has also fostered unhealthy academic competition in schools, a lack of consideration for students who are not academically strong, and a disregard for those who prefer other areas of school life.”
King David Linksfield
My grade 11 year was the year that I recognised that English is more exciting than merely identifying concord errors. I learned the art of poetry and explored the different ways in which writers relay their voices about societal experiences. Towards the end of the year, we completed our learning of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Through Prospero’s transformation from vengeance to humanity, I learned about the power and transience of magic. My English teacher, Mr David Kaplan, inspired me to appreciate those moments of magic and to continue to create them.
Mr Kaplan taught my class during his final year of teaching before his retirement. His fervour and enthusiasm not only for the English language, but also for teaching, enhanced my passion for learning new ideas. Mr Kaplan never failed to make every single student smile. We respected his absolute genius while we simultaneously enjoyed sharing laughs and jokes with him. He explained complex, dimensional content with total clarity and patience. He always shared his personal moments of magic, anecdotes, and humorous comments to extend beyond the confines of the classroom and engage us in conversations. One word that is commonly used to describe Mr Kaplan is an “Icon”. He used every opportunity flawlessly to say one of his renowned remarks which we would always write down to remember.
Mr Kaplan has fundamentally transformed the way I see the world through his erudition for teaching by instilling an indelible impact in my life and delivering quality education, which ultimately inspired me to explore and appreciate the wonders of English.
Yakira Aires, Matric
Anyone who knows me well will know that chiefly among the things I love, two of those things
include words and food: The beauty of the English language and really … good … food. So, when I stumbled upon (a euphemism for ‘stole’) a copy of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food from my parent’s house over two decades ago, I haven’t been able to put it down. I have always loved to cook. But Rodin has been a literary and culinary inspiration for me since I first began to devour the 544 pages of The Book of Jewish Food. It is so much more than just a cookbook. It is an encyclopaedia of the Jewish people, written through the prism of what has always brought people together … food. And cuisine is not just about food. It’s about cultural heritage. Rodin’s writing is eloquent but thorough, academic yet poetic. It doesn’t surprise me that it took her 16 years to write this masterpiece.
In preparation for a lockdown Pesach seder, I experimented with her Meat, Potato and Prune
Tzimmus Stew, a recipe dating back to the first decade of the 20th century. My toddlers couldn’t be bribed with all the Lego in the world to try it, but I had to because Claudia Roden convinced me: “Stretching from the eastern borders of Germany, to the western regions of Tsarist Russia, for more than three centuries the world of the shtetl has shaped the memories of the great warmth and vitality of these closely knit communities and inspired the sentiment around food.” In her chapter on the Sephardi world, subtitled Many Styles of Sephardi Cooking, with Echoes from Ancient Baghdad, Medieval Spain, and The Ottoman Empire, I discovered Brinjal Kasaundi, a recipe for an aromatic brinjal chutney that is as satisfying to make as it is to eat. It was created by the Bene Israel community, who arrived in India sometime in the first or second century when their ancestors were shipwrecked in western India while on a trading voyage to the far east.
Through pogroms and persecution, for a couple of thousand years, Jews have always steadfastly insisted on separateness. To a large degree, we have always and will always separate ourselves to preserve our scared way of life. Despite all it has cost us, our separateness is our salvation. One of the most compelling examples of this is the laws of kashrut. Rodin captures much of its essence, along with her staggering collection of sumptuous recipes: “Faced with a hostile and brutal outside world … the minutiae of ritual were a prime source of satisfaction, and the rituals connected with food … were an expression of the Jewish ethos that came to symbolise the eternal unity of Jewish life. In that world, where people talked intimately with G-d, where the spiritual was exalted over the physical and the ideal man was a pale scholar aflame with inner light, food was the link between the holy and the profane.”
Sara Zinman, English Teacher
King David Victory Park
Challenges and Benefits for youth today
Being young in our day and age has its advantages and disadvantages. Firstly, I have decided to elaborate on a topic closer to home – the challenges faced by the youth and specifically by teenagers at school. In the school environment, I find that the amount of pressure students put themselves under to achieve academically is far higher than ever before, and certainly more prevalent than when my parents were at school. Instead of it being cool to ‘sit at the back of the class’ and not to work, the dynamic has shifted completely, where it is now considered ‘cool’ to work in school and to excel academically, so much so that I find that break time conversations are often centred around a test that was just written; or one that is about to be. Despite the obvious positive impacts that this ‘culture of hard work’ has brought with it, it can be said that this trend has also fostered unhealthy academic competition in schools, a lack of consideration for students who are not academically strong, and a disregard for those who prefer other areas of school life such as sports, arts and culture, and Judaica. Furthermore, this relatively new-found idea that students must excel in school has also certainly increased feelings of stress and anxiety, where students are under constant pressure from their teachers, classmates, and even their friends to do well. To mitigate this issue, schools, students, and teachers must foster an environment where each student is able to tackle learning and academics at their own pace, and where their results are just that – their own.
One of the advantages of being young in the 21st century is the opportunity that we have been afforded to cultivate resilience in the face of uncertainty and hardship. Resilience is defined as one’s capacity to endure and recover quickly from difficulties. This has certainly been the case for me, and countless others who lived through and managed to endure the uncertainties brought on by living through the COVID pandemic, and the subsequent challenges faced with it such as online school and not being able to see friends and family at a time when the development of friendships and external relationships is central to who we are as adolescent teenagers. During COVID, I and many other teenagers learned valuable lessons that are sure to equip us to tackle any issues which we may face in the future. During the lockdowns, I found myself taking away valuable insights such as the fact that family is everything (especially when living in closer quarters), how to take advantage of technology so that I could work, live, and learn anywhere, and that adaptability and flexibility are key to living in our ever-changing world. With these lessons, I now feel as if I am ready to face the many challenges that teen-hood and early adulthood throw at me and consider it a privilege to have lived through something so frightening, yet so life-changing such as COVID. The resilience I find myself possessing walking away from the pandemic seems invaluable and has already assisted me with navigating the turbulent waters of grade 11.
Daniel Kapeluschnik, Grade 11
Hirsch Lyons Boys
The biggest challenges of your generation:
Robert Swan, a climate activist, once stated that “the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”. This is a dangerous truth that permeates our society and especially those in my generation. We do not believe that we have the power to save our home for the sake of our future, and our children’s future. In fact, there is a growing state of apathy and hopelessness when we think about our future on this planet. With rising temperatures, plastic-clogged oceans and rivers, and increasing pollution levels, we see the world around us crumbling to dust and do not believe that we can do anything about it. We see dark predictions of flooding, lack of drinking water, and mass starvation on social media and the more we engage with them, the more they are pushed at us by algorithms. This further enhances our feelings of fear and ineptitude. We think: “What can I do? It is too late. Someone else will have to deal with this.” However, we cannot save our planet if every single person does not act and reduce their carbon footprint, raise awareness about climate change, and pressure governments to pass laws to move to clean energy, decrease dumping, and promote environmental welfare. The youth have always been active in sparking huge changes in society, such as during the Soweto Riots in 1976 in apartheid South Africa which contributed greatly to the fall of apartheid. As Jews, we have a responsibility to protect our people as well as those around us. Therefore, we all need to put in our effort to stop climate change so that we have a future as a people. Ultimately, our generation needs to realise that we do have agency and a part to play in solving the climate crisis. We need to turn the heat up on our efforts before the world turns the heat up first.
Lior Marks, Matric
What skills do the youth of today need in order to best succeed?
Youth of today need to have the emotional skills to navigate life’s successes and challenges. Being in touch with their emotional reality is a key element to succeed. The next step is learning how to regulate those emotions in order to interact in a meaningful way with their parents, peers, and teachers. These skills lay the foundation for maturity which I believe to be an essential component of success.
In this world of information overload, it’s also absolutely essential that youth attain the skill of what our sages call Havdala which is the ability to discern between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood, good and bad, constructive and destructive, sacred and profane, love and hate, kind and cruel. Without this skill our youth won’t even have the capacity to clearly define success in this modern age, where lines are so blurred. This obviously requires the skill of being reflective and developing depth of thought which is the opposite of being superficial.
How do we teach these skills? I have no doubt it starts with us. We have to develop emotional maturity and become the textbook of success. In addition, we need to ignite an interest in uncovering and beholding the mystery and depth of our world. When we have the courage to explore the layers of life and reveal some of its concealment our own success will certainly rub off on those around us in a profound way.
Rabbi Akiva Furman, Teacher
Hirsch Lyons Girls
The Mishna in Pirkei Avos teaches us that a wise person learns from everyone. It’s very hard to pinpoint one individual that stands out, I have merited to learn about and from many great people. My parents, wife, teachers, family, friends, and my students have definitely all inspired and continue to inspire me. Life is a lot more exciting if one sees the good that every single person has to offer and seeks to learn from them and their ways. One thing that as a teacher stands out for me, is that if I think back to my teachers at school, I cannot always remember exactly what they taught me, but I can remember what kind of person they were, I therefore strive to be that person who will be remembered in a positive, kind, and caring way.
Rabbi Naftali Wainer, Teacher
The biggest challenges and opportunities of your generation:
I believe that, as humans, we all have a tendency to be lazy to some extent. However, in the
case of my generation, I believe that laziness poses a greater challenge due to the way it is
promoted and encouraged. The advent of social media has enabled us to seek constant instant
gratification, which limits and sometimes even destroys our critical thinking. Media have
been designed intentionally for the exploitation of our laziness for profit. For instance, why
would you write your own essay and think independently, when ChatGPT could do it all for
you? At Hirsch Lyons we have classes dedicated to character development, and personal
growth. I have learned skills on how to grow as a person that will help me combat this
I think technology has revolutionised access to education and provides opportunities
and skills that previously weren’t readily accessible. With online education platforms,
students can now access educational materials and engage with teachers without actually
physically being present. Owing to the number of resources available, we have the
opportunity also to learn constantly and educate ourselves on a variety of topics. Education is
no longer limited to the sciences, but to practical skills and developing our own personal
interests. In addition to this we have opportunities to develop further our Jewish identities and
knowledge systems, as there are so many resources online. We have the ability to learn Torah
from and with other Jews from all over the world, enabling us with skills to grow in our
Torah knowledge. Also, previous barriers to education, such as geographical position and
socioeconomic factors, have been virtually eliminated. Therefore, I believe our access to
unlimited education is our greatest opportunity for success.
Aliza Cobb, Matric
Torah Academy Girls
Your greatest role model:
My cousin Eli Kay was murdered on his way to work in the Old City in Jerusalem on the 21 November 2021 purely because he was Jewish. He left South Africa after school to live in Israel as he had a passion and love for our homeland. Following his Aliya, he gave back to the land and worked in a Kibbutz. Eli had true commitment to whatever he took upon himself to do and gave up his future for the future of Israel. He was a dedicated Jewish citizen, son, brother, and cousin. He taught me to be a pioneer and ambassador in whatever I do and to stay strong to my values and beliefs. I admire Eli because of his selflessness, and I hope to make an impact as did he.
Ella Levin, Matric
The major challenges for the youth of this generation?
I believe that the youth of this generation have no time to be kids. We exist in a highly pressured and fast-paced society and our children are unfortunately not immune to the effects. They feel it in their schoolwork, they see it in their homes, and they shy away from it in their future. Our children need to be children. They need time to enjoy not having adult responsibilities. They need time to hang onto the joys of childhood.
Kerryn Feigenbaum, Teacher
Torah Academy Boys
“To find yourself, think for yourself.” Socrates
Finding oneself has always been the mountain that youth must climb. The mountain, however, seems much steeper, and the conditions while climbing that mountain have become much cloudier. It’s never been an easy voyage, but it seems an odyssey now.
Today’s youth has been raised by a screen. This has opened a portal of never-ending helpful knowledge, but also the door to a mind-numbing abyss of endless scrolling and trolling. A screen has become a mask, an escape, an alternate life – one they have trouble reconciling with reality. It is difficult to deal with quiet moments, arduous tasks, and the unpredictable nature of life when you’ve been exposed to a wonderland of instant gratification and customisation.
In world where an answer can be instantly generated, it is difficult to see the beauty of pursuit.
It is difficult to find your voice when there is a constant stream of biased, misinformed opinions in the media. When you are won over by the rhetoric. When your ears are so filled to the brim with one-sided information that you are unable to sift fact from fiction and opinion from truth. You are unable to find your voice in all of it because you are fluent in the language of everything you have absorbed.
It’s difficult to be authentic when being accepted means being the same. It’s difficult to find mental peace and gratitude when the dominant culture is to hustle, to capitalise, and monetise. A world where success means money and money means time. It’s difficult to see the value of time, spirituality, and family when a society promotes materialism.
It’s easy to blame and shame the youth for their inability to be present, their shifted value system, and their lack of an authentic voice; however, one needs to remember: this is all they know. It is in our best interest to create and encourage moments of disconnection, so that they may connect once again with what is truly valuable. It is up to us to challenge their minds and coax that forgotten voice inside them. They must be taught to trust it and use it, even if it means they walk on the road less travelled. As history has proven, forging one’s own path has transformed the world.
Thalia Govender, English teacher
Who do you admire most?
I truly admire my Zeida Max Lurie, of blessed memory. Although I never met him, people have only spoken about him with the fondest regard. I have always heard that he was the most gentle and good natured man. It was said that he never mentioned anything unpleasant about anyone.
That he sacrificed so much for his family, such as working to put his brother through university and also sacrificing for his country, fighting overseas for 5 years in World War II.
He was also a very avid sportsman, having played for Transvaal (now known as the Lions) in the 1947 Currie Cup final and also playing golf throughout his life.
His hobbies, including woodworking and gardening, were his ways of utilising nature to make something beautiful. A person that the only word I can use to describe is “mensch” and someone whom I can only admire and hope to emulate.
Adir Lurie, Grade 11
Yeshiva College Boys
How can the youth better navigate social media and the internet?
In Jewish thought, we look to the snake’s forked tongue as a metaphorical lesson. How speech has the power for good and equal power to harm. It is with that same allusion in mind, that I would encourage my students to approach the internet and social media. It has the power to heal and hurt. The internet and social media have an intoxicating quality which entices us all into a rabbit hole of information, entertainment, and nonsensical and mindless elements. It is therefore essential to set limits to social media usage. Give yourself time limits. Time for research and time for fun. Here you may find it useful to have a partner; an accountability partner. Someone to whisper in your ear, “Is it enough now?” This could be a parent or a friend. You could even set an alarm to remind you to rein in time spent on your device. Your partners can also be used to ensure that you are not being exposed to images and information that are not appropriate for your age. Parents of younger children should have apps and restrictions in place on their children’s devices. As children get older and more tech-savvy, parents and teachers can then guide them by using internal checks and balances. Teenagers must also take responsibility for their use of devices by asking themselves: Is this good for me, my mind, and my soul?
Social media is a unique way of communication and the maze of this media needs its own techniques for navigating the web. How to be safe? How to be kind? How to speak up and how to disengage when necessary? Privacy and safety is of the utmost importance and parents and teenagers themselves must be aware of their social media settings as well as setting their own boundaries as to which posts are acceptable or not.
Our religion gives us Shabbas, the perfect digital detox – to remind us to put away our phones and speak to our family, engage with our friends, and find enjoyment beyond our screens. Our youth are presented with, as Robert Frost describes, a fork in the road. It is up to them to choose the one to travel.
Ronit Chaya Janet, Teacher
How can social media be positive for the youth of today?
As a passionate Jewish boy with a love for learning, I sometimes feel that I may be different to many other teenagers. Gen Z is known for being the first to grow up entirely in the digital age, with access to technology and social media. While this has its benefits, it can also make it difficult for some of us to connect with our faith and values. I’ve noticed that a number of teenagers don’t seem as religiously affiliated as in previous generations. According to a 2019 Pew Research Centre survey, 36% of Gen Z identifies as religiously unaffiliated, which is higher than other generations. However, my religion is a huge part of who I am, and it’s something that I’m really passionate about. Being religious does come with its own set of challenges, though. For example, my religion restricts me from having certain types of social media and apps on my phone, and it also guides me away from constant social gatherings. So, I might be a bit less socially conscious than some of my peers. However, I think that my dedication to my faith and values aligns really well with my generation’s focus on social justice and activism. Overall, I think there’s a perception in my generation that being observant or religious is restrictive and perhaps not cool. If anything, it’s the opposite. I’ve found being observant to be liberating and empowering and giving me the best opportunity to fulfil my potential in all areas of my life.
Samuel Froom, Grade 11
Yeshiva College Girls
Biggest challenges for the youth:
The two greatest challenges I believe the youth face today are mental health struggles and technology. David A. Scott, already a few years ago, mentioned that mental health concerns increase with reduced social interactions which result from the use of social media for communication. These two factors seem to be linked. What is fascinating, however, is that these two challenges are, in my opinion, also the two biggest opportunities. Let me explain. Witnessing the bounce back of teens post-COVID and their new-found excitement and enthusiasm for life was extraordinary. They developed a resilience and determination that was not present before. They experienced constant disappointment, and therefore flexibility and adaptability became part of life. They grappled with loss, trauma, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear of the unknown which all made them stronger. These are vital tools which will assist them in navigating mental health struggles.
The second factor – technology – offers so many opportunities that never existed before: unlimited access to information; exposure to ideas and opinions; instantaneous solutions to queries, and many more. Online education platforms offer support to those who fall behind. And of course, Artificial Intelligence, which assists students to formulate their thoughts. Technology brings as much opportunity as it does challenge.
To conclude, teenagers are craving connection. While navigating mental health concerns and social media pressures, they are looking for real, genuine, human connection in which they feel truly heard.
As it says profoundly in Kohelet 4:9-10: “Two are better off than one…For should they fall, one can raise the other; but woe betide him who is alone and falls with no companion to raise him!”
Ruth Diner, Deputy Principal
How can social media be positive for the youth of today?
We are a generation struggling to define ourselves after the isolation of COVID. We are now able to focus on the future once more, while trying to achieve a stable present. The future obviously presents certain challenges, whether we envisage this in South Africa or abroad (for many, in Israel), but it is a future which is bright and filled with possibility. One of the lasting effects of the isolation is the emphasis on the virtual rather than the physical or real. The increase in exposure to virtual modes of communication has meant that our world is ‘virtually’ dominated by social media, which presents its own complexities. Portraying the correct image or presenting a photo opportunity on social media has become the ultimate goal for many. There is an expectation on social media platforms that validation and acceptance of others will be a given, regardless of the messages portrayed. Furthermore, social media influencers are able to impact our generation simply by posting superficial imagery. Overall, our generation has become dominated by the form, and much of the substance is at risk of being lost. Therefore, Shamai’s timeless life lesson in Pirkei Avot – “Say a little, do a lot” – is a message which is more important than ever. Although I am not generally known to “say a little”, I try to act in a manner consistent both with what I have said and what I may have posted on social Media.
What skills do the youth of today need in order to best succeed?
Success can have a very personal definition, what one may see as successful may not necessarily be considered such in the eyes of another. Yet if you strive for success while considering the needs and feelings of others, then when you do succeed it may more likely be considered a success by all. Therefore, one may say the key to success is selflessness, the more you look out for others and seek to help someone other than yourself, the more likely you are to succeed, both due to the support others will give if that is your attitude and due to the appreciation of success that a wider audience will have for your achievements. This attitude has always been true and is even more needed today, where in the modern world, society has only become more selfish and true interpersonal relationships and care have fallen to new lows. By being there for others we can truly make the world a better place and achieve everlasting success. Rabbi Naftali Wainer, Teacher
Who inspires you most, past or present?
A person who inspires me is the richest man in the world, Elon Musk. He is visionary thinker and has accomplished amazing things from electric cars to space travel. He is ambitious, never scared to take risks and he is driven to make a positive impact on the world. I learnt from him to think creatively, live life to the fullest and never be scared to take risks. Yedidya Simmons, Grade 10
Who do you admire most?
My Great Grandfather Shmuel was born in Russia to a proud secular Zionist family. From a young age he was actively involved in the Beter Revisionist Zionist Movement and upon reaching a high rank in the movement he was given the opportunity to move to British Mandated Palestine to help young Jews immigrate. He moved there with my great grandmother, Tzipora, and on arrival settled on a Kibbutz and had their first child – my great aunt Mina. With the outbreak of World War 2 Shmuel joined the Irgun and later the Haganah, a paramilitary organisation, which “illegally” helped Jews escape the atrocities of the Holocaust whilst also fighting for a liberated Israel from British control. Shmuel was forced to go into hiding as the British and local Arab soldiers offered money for his head. He had to separate himself from his wife who, with her bravery, never revealed his locations despite the fact that she was constantly raided by British soldiers. Tzipora gave birth to my grandmother, Nitza, 10 years after Mina. Shmuel continued in his efforts to help Jews escape Europe and throughout this time would become very close friends with Menachem Begin who would one day offer him a position in government which he refused because he wanted to live a settled life with his family. In 1948, Shmuel’s efforts reached a climax when he fought in the war of independence and witnessed his dream become a reality. Unfortunately, he would not live to see the day for Begin to be in government as he passed away a few years prior due to lung infections. Shmuel’s bravery and story have taught me that one of the most valuable things in life is peoplehood. To him not only were his people a community, but they were his family, and he was willing to risk his life to save his family. His courage and resilience has taught me that no matter my age I have the ability to make a difference and that through facing hardships you can achieve success. To sum it up in one sentence: “If you will it, it is no dream!” I am honoured to be named after this hero and I hope to follow in his footsteps.
Ethan Samuel Werb, Grade 11
The ideal role model for the youth of today:
I believe it is important for our youth to have adults and older children in their world who they can respect and learn from. However, it is important that we do not work with a simple definition of a role model that promotes an ideal type of person, achievements, or behaviour that should or could be emulated. The notion of an ideal type of person or behaviour concerns me as it is unattainable. We are all flawed and we struggle in particular areas. I also don’t believe we should encourage our children to emulate the behaviour, actions, or achievements of another. We are unique, with different ways of seeing the world, with different strengths and potential.
That said, role-models serve an important function in society by sharing learning and experiences with the next generation. So, I suggest that we work with an idea of role-modelling that reveals inner experiences at the same time as outward appearances. I would hope that learned rabbis, knowledgeable teachers, kind and generous parents, excellent sportspeople, and skilled artists show they are human with areas they wrestle with and work through as part of an ongoing process. I would hope that they make explicit the recognition of another person’s individual strengths that are different to their own. With this in mind, we could help our children to find ways to make meaning in their lives and contribute to their communities and society.
Lauren Palte, Head of Visual Art/Head of Grade 7