Ever since the beginning of recorded human history, parents have complained about their children. Two thousand years ago, Roman philosopher Tullius Cicero wrote, “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.” Approximately 1,600 years before Cicero, our wise ancestors made it a Divine commandment for children to respect their parents. As my teenage children never tire from reminding me, how can anyone be convinced, without the evoking the fear of the All Mighty, to obey parents who seem to have “no clue”?
Adults also have a lot to say about today’s children. Isn’t this the generation that has a reputation for lacking face-to-face contact, having no social skills or the ability to work hard? Has anyone heard others complain about snowflake students whose psyche is so fragile that they need “safe spaces” to be educated?
Has anyone heard the complaint about young people who know nothing about the past; nothing about the obstacles and sacrifices that their grandparents and parents had to overcome just to lead comfortable lives? Has anyone heard about Jewish students who are offended, or even afraid, to go to university because someone might criticize Israel in their presence?
I’ve heard about all of them, but not from young people. The youth I see every day in my classroom, in my office and throughout the University of Toronto community usually know the value of hard work, express interesting ideas and are less addicted to their devices than I am. Most of them work harder than I did when I was in college. Almost all of them have part-time jobs and numerous other responsibilities.
There is one thing that worries all of them, and that is whether they will still have a habitable planet when the time comes to have their own kids. They worry whether rising temperatures will make more places unlivable, whether the plastic that we overuse will make oceans unsuitable for fish, about the consequences of toxic landfills on our water supply and the emissions that will make them sick just from breathing.
They worry about Israel, too. However, they are less concerned about how it is mistreated by the media or not supported enough by other nation states. Instead, they are worried because Israel is located in a desert, and that desert is getting hotter, and less inhabitable.
Given all these worries, all of them almost universally dismissed by adults who make decisions about the economy, taxation and recycling, it is no wonder that young people are frustrated. It is no wonder that Greta Thunberg had to take action to wake up the youth and mobilize them into political action. It is no wonder that kids in Toronto walked out from schools on Sept. 27 and marched downtown with handmade signs, asking us, adults, to start making moral decisions that will make sure the world exists for them.
For what it is worth, it is actually surprising that Jewish youth are not as prominent in this generation’s most consequential protest movement. When we think back to the fights for civil rights in the 1960s in the United States, or Zionist groups of the early 20th century, this situation does not make sense.
Are young Jews too comfortable to care? Is it because the organized Jewish community, with the exception of Shoresh and a handful of other groups, makes little effort to fight climate change? Is it because society is growing increasingly hostile to Jews and anything we do as a community? When Greta Thunberg tweeted that she joined the protest in Tel Aviv, some of her followers were outraged and suggested she should focus on human rights in the region instead.
Maybe these factors play a role. But I think that the majority of young Jews who join the climate protest movement do so as concerned people, rather than members of the organized Jewish community. This is a wakeup call, both for Jewish community leaders and for Jewish parents. We better make sure that the world still exists for kids, otherwise, how can we legitimately expect for them to fulfill the commandment of respecting us?