As any parent will tell you, shepherding girls over the treacherous bridge of adolescence is no easy task. Making sure that there is a Jewish dimension to the journey adds other challenges. There are no easy answers. But a conversation with Tamar Frankiel seems a good place to begin.
As a writer, Frankiel is co-author of the recently published "Minding the Temple of the Soul," as well as "The Voice of Sarah," an elegantly written response to the notion that traditional Judaism is the sound of only men talking. As a Jewish educator, she has taught the history of religion, at schools such as Stanford and Princeton. Currently, she teaches at UC Riverside and the Claremont School of Theology, along with an informal parasha class she leads in Studio City. As a Jewish wife and mother, Frankiel, 51, has come on a rather long journey herself. Raised in a non-Jewish home in the comfortably conservative environs of Columbus Ohio, she later converted to Conservative Judaism, then to Orthodoxy, all prior to her marriage. Today, she and her husband have five children, ranging in age from 7 to 17, including three daughters.
Below are some of her comments during a recent interview with The Jewish Journal:
Judaism and Sex Education
"Traditionally, Judaism has regarded sexuality as a very private area. The marriage track is the framework within which this is discussed. The problem is that on a private basis, when a girl starts to mature -- which is really from pre-puberty to the time she gets married -- it's not clear who is mentoring her. Is it the schools? It used to be that it was the mother, or an aunt, perhaps, who was very close to her. But who is it now? Are we just going to leave it to sex education in the schools? I do think that this is a central issue in the Jewish community: Who is addressing the experience of girls in an ongoing way? Do we sit back and wait until a problem comes up?"
"Even in a traditional setting, girls know what's going on. They have crushes on boys and tease each other and that sort of thing. But in an Orthodox context, not much is done about those feelings. The message is still, 'Stay away.' In more liberal settings, there is experimentation, and a sense of testing parental limits.... I am most concerned about girls between 12 and 16, who are incapable of handling the kinds of sexual experiences that kids seem to be engaging in younger and younger."
Daring To Be Different
"Pressing upon our children the issue of Jewish identity -- sending the message that we don't have to act the way everyone else does, that we have values that are different from the rest of society, and we always did -- this is very, very important. Now, exploring Jewish values, for example, like why family is important and why we don't approve of certain things going on in the pop culture, means that parents have to be prepared to do all that.... But, for the child, I think the message that we don't have to do things the way everyone else does is actually very empowering."