experiments, instruments & measurement book

Light a Fire, Spark a Conversation

by David Lieberman, B’nai Jeshurun


Growing up in Jewish day schools, I always assumed that when a teacher asked my class to study a text in chevruta, she or he needed a break, or just didn't feel like teaching that day.  Chevruta time meant time to slack off and socialize.  My work with LOMED this year has altered my view and taught me the value of the chevruta model.

A common complaint about “kids today” is that their communication through texting, Facebook and SMS is fractured, superficial and remote.  In my work with teens at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, I have heard from many parents that are worried their kids are not socializing, and on weekends rarely peek out from behind their computers.  How do we foster community, friendship and a sense of belonging in a culture with an attention span of only 140 characters?

What I’ve discovered this year is that conversation, like any other skill must be learned and practiced.  One of our main goals in the teen program at BJ is to get our kids comfortable with talking about themselves and most importantly teaching them how to really listen to each other.  Herein lies the true value of chevruta work.  We learn in Pirkei Avot that a wise person is one who learns from *everybody*.  But that learning can only take place if we are able to truly listen to one another.

Almost every time we meet, I encourage the participants in my teen programs to practice active listening.  “Listening is not the same as waiting to talk,” I tell them.  “Don't finish your partner's sentences, don't jump right in with an anecdote of your own as soon as they finish talking.”  I ask them to wait until their conversation partner is done speaking and then ask follow-up questions to ensure they have understood what was said.

One method of igniting conversation that works really well with boys (and especially teen boys) is to turn off the overhead lights and light a fire.

 For some reason, guys are transfixed by flames and are uninhibited and open in their conversation if they have a fire to stare into.  If lighting a fire is unfeasible in your space, try using a lava lamp or a similar, moving light source.  Sometimes even just turning off the lights will do the trick.

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