by Shelley Marsh

The writer, Issac Bashevis Singer wrote:

‘We have to believe in free-will. We’ve got no choice.’

Many of our young people truly believe their choices are determined by the beliefs and expectations others have for them. The choices some parents make for their children. The choices some teachers direct their students towards.

To celebrate International Youth Day, I’d love our young people to take a moment for reflection and ask themselves:

‘What is it I want to do in the world?’

‘What is it I bring to the world that no one else brings?’

‘What will make me happy as I move into adulthood?’

I ask those questions of young people a great deal. And I anticipate their answers might well change, as would the answers of adults as they also grow and develop at different stages of their lives.

In the UK, we are truly privileged that our children and young people are able to access education which gives them the tools to fulfil their potential. In secondary education, careers advisors work with them to offer guidance and support, signposting towards ‘next steps’ – which very often in our community means university and then work.

It is more unusual for Jewish youth to consider apprenticeships or to move directly into work from school. Young people are often influenced by their families and friends to follow on from school.

In 1973, Barbara Streisand sang:

Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time re-written every line?

For many adults in the British Jewish community, the options are probably greater now than they were in the past. Not everyone in our community had the opportunity or desire, to go to university or attend Gap Year programmes. The parents and grandparents of today’s young people appear to be more focussed than ever on the steps they perceive their children and grandchildren should follow:


Option one = further education (ideally resulting in a degree)

Option two = a successful career


It’s that second option that brings us full circle to what do our young people chose to do in the world? What does ‘success’ look like for young people in our community and in other communities around the world?

It is perhaps time for us to ensure that family conversations with children and young people are about being successful at being contented.

In the book of Proverbs, we read,

“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face; A sad heart makes a despondent mood. All the days of a poor person are wretched, but contentment is a feast without end.” (Proverbs 15:13 and 15)

As educators and families, we spend time discussing and developing programmes to develop young people’s well-being. To fully enable that, perhaps we need to help each young person understand what makes them feel joyful and sad, to explore that

both happiness and sadness are part of the human condition. By discussing the importance of joyfulness and sadness in greater depth, and how to accept that we will have both elements with us throughout our lifetimes, we are strengthening a young person’s outlook.

Ultimately, each person decides on who and how they choose to be in their community and in the world.

Rabbi Yishmael says:

Be yielding to an elder, pleasant to a youth and greet every person with joy. (Pirkei Avot 3:12)


As educators and families, our role is to encourage, literally give courage, to our young people to make their decisions as autonomously as possible.