Draft lessons for the Sacred Choices high school module were piloted in approximately 25 Union congregations and read by a team of experts in adolescent development, sex education and Jewish education.
Session 1: Be a Man (Who Reveres God) and Act Like a Lady (of Valor) This session is designed to help students decipher the messages they may be getting from society at large about gender roles and traditional or stereotypical definitions of masculinity and femininity. Such messages may come from people they know, the media they engage with, or organizations that they are involved with, such as school. The session also touches briefly upon how stereotypical definitions of gender can contribute to homophobia. The idea that Judaism can offer additional messages to those offered by the media is seen as a potentially helpful way to reconsider what our culture tells our young people is absolute. As young adults learn to interpret the messages they are getting from society at large and the media in particular, we are telling them that Judaism also has something to offer them. Here, students will learn about Jewish definitions of admirable men and women and contrast them with portrayals in the contemporary media.
Session 2: I Think I Lust You This session expands upon the exercise the students began in the first session related to learning how to filter messages about sexuality and gender from popular culture and the media. Here they will focus on filtering messages about love to differentiate it from lust. This session looks at biblical texts and Martin Bubers I-Thou theory of relationships for guidance about the qualities that make up a loving sexual relationship and with a critical eye toward their presentation of ideal relationships.
Session 3: Wrap an Eruv Around My Heart Todays teens choose to publicize their lives in many ways. Many give anyone access to their profiles, journal entries and photos on a variety of Internet sites. The Jewish value of tzniut, modesty, offers an alternative way of thinking. By considering what it means to be modest, teens will be encouraged to think differently about what they keep private and what they display to the public. In this session, the value of privacy is the focus.
Session 4: Who am I? Sexual Orientation This session explores our Jewish obligation to treat all individuals as children of God. It presents the Reform Movements position on homosexuality; issues relating to lesbian, gay and bisexual Jews and offers the opportunity for the participants to learn about the experience of being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, straight or questioning Jewish teen in North America. This session will convey to the participants that no matter what their individual sexual orientation, they have inherent worth and that the experience of adolescence for all teens, regardless of their sexual orientation, has similarities and differences that we can benefit from understanding.
Session 5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T This session addresses rights and responsibilities within a relationship and how they are essential to the creation of a healthy dynamic between two individuals. Participants will explore the Jewish value of kavod, respect, as a core element of a healthy relationship and a central component of ones responsibility to another. Participants will also examine how kavod relates to both being in a relationship as well as ending one.
Session 6: Lets Talk About Sex This session discusses the range of expressions of sexuality, intimacy and ethics by asking participants to place some hypothetical cases on a continuum of ethical sexual relationships developed by Rabbi Eugene Borowitz and to consider their own behavior in light of that continuum. The discussion of sexual behavior and sexual choices in this session is thus more frank and graphic than in other sessions.
Session 7: Oops, I Did It Again As we conclude this unit, we hope that students have learned about how Judaism can guide them in this important area of their lives and decision-making. We also hope to have helped students fine-tune their own instincts about what is right for them. We know that most people learn about making the right decisions in relationships through trial and error and that some people never learn. These sessions are designed to teach students that they can turn to Jewish traditions and the people in their Jewish community for help in making these decisions. In this final session, we explore the value of tshuvah and teach that we always have the power to learn from our mistakes, change our behaviors and move on.
Parent and Family Lessons
Parent Session: Helping My Child Navigate This session invites parents of high-school-aged students to consider the concept of a Jewish sex ethic and how they might discuss the subject with their children. Rather than focusing on the psychology or growth development of the teenage years, this session offers a general understanding of Jewish viewpoints on sexuality and provides parents a framework for conducting conversations about sex with their teens.
Family Session: Sh'miat HaOzen -- Attentiveness This session explores the Jewish virtue or middah of shmiat haozen, attentiveness. Parents and teens are encouraged to consider how this concept can be a useful tool in exploring parent-teen communications in general and conversations about being sexual in particular. Pirke Avot 6:6, which introduces the middah of shmiat haozen, which literally means a listening of the ear, describes a person who acts according to Torah, ever striving to be a better person, actively listening with the intention of learning and growing. This description proves to be an excellent model for both generations to explore and upon which parents and teens can work together to base their evolving relationship.
I have co-taught Sacred Choices to high school students for the past three years. One teacher is a female rabbi and the other is a male layman (non-clergy). The course quickly became very popular with the students, many of whom have taken it 2 or three times. Each time is different because of the different group dynamics. Student evaluations give the course high marks. Students enjoy the opportunity to speak about sex freely and publicly with adults who aren't their parents. Students want to know what their Torah teaches about sexual relationships. Students easily apply the lessons to their own lives. They are surprised to hear religious leaders teach that sex can be sacred. Christopher Kraus, Cincinnati, OH
This is our first year to teach the Sacred Choices curriculum in our Confirmation Academy. As one of the instructors, I am finding it simple to teach and seemingly well received. If we can impact, for the better, even ONE life the effort will be worthwhile. Thank you, URJ, for being so progressive. Shari Williams Myers, Oklahoma City, OK