Given that most of my work these days is making tallitot, I spend lots of time working with twelve year olds. I know that lots of people avoid working with middle school kids. While in my younger years, I spent lots of time with really little kids, teaching day care, and doing Jewish programming with the under 5 set, I have discovered that I adore working with early adolescents.

Usually, a parent will call or email me to discuss the possibility of my making a tallit for their child. Then, I will meet with the parent and child together. I assume that by meeting with me, the parent is sold on the idea of a tallit and of working with me. So, during that initial design meeting, and during the rest of the process, I treat the child as my primary client. The parent foots the bill, but it is the bar or bat mitzvah that is my main focus.

It is hard to be an early adolescent. There are many parallels to toddler-hood, so my experience with young kids comes in handy. One of the iconic images of toddler-hood is a child standing on the threshold of the house, wailing, because they don't know if they want to go out or stay in the house. That very same push-pull towards independence is a hallmark of adolescence.

It's hard to wake up each morning and not quite be sure what you will see when you look in the mirror. It's hard to have wildly different levels of hormones coursing through your body. I once read a study that said that adolescents just experience emotions bigger than adults do. So the heart break over wearing the wrong garment, or the snub from a former friend isn't over dramatization, but truly felt on an operatic scale.

I love that at that cusp of nearly adulthood, kids have one foot in the world of childhood and the other stepping into the understandings of adulthood. I try to have the tallit connect to both aspects of who they are. The tallit may be as comfy as a blankie, but it will also deal with serious issues of spirituality.

In Hebrew school, kids are taught the prayers. Mostly, they aren't told how hard it is to be focused during prayer. Often kids are shown a model of piety, without being shown how complicated, conflicted and un-simple actual spiritual like is.

When I work with a bar mitzvah I will share some of my own difficulties with doing the spiritual stuff right much of the time. I find again and again that for many of the kids I work with, the fact that Judaism is complicated and a little messy makes it far more appealing than it is with simply a Hebrew School approach.

I love seeing these kids suddenly get it. I love seeing kids who come into my home because their parents wanted the to, leave with their faces animated. By the time I walk them to the door, I can almost see the ideas dancing around their heads.

When they return to tie the tzitzit, and see the completed tallit for the first is gratifying for me to see how much they appreciate having been heard. That I remembered what they loved, the ghosts of ideas we discussed, incorporated into the tallit.

So yes, I love working with twelve year olds.


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