BBC Program on Non-Jewish Teenagers in Israel

Dear Friends,


I have attached excerpts from an article in the Jerusalem Post by Mel Bazelel (May 17, 2009). The article is titled, “Religious Discipline,” and it describes how two non-Jewish teenage school dropouts quit their rebellious lives in Britain for a week-long obedience lesson with a Torah-committed family in Israel. The family lives in Nof Ayalon, a religious community founded by Yeshiva Sha’alvim. The visit of these teenagers was organized by the BBC reality TV show, World's Strictest Parents. This TV show produces a series about unruly British teenagers who lack discipline in their lives and who therefore benefit from living for a week with families in different countries that teach them about discipline. The excerpts from the article in the J. Post will be followed by brief excerpts from a related article in the Forward, and a Hazon commentary:



Sixteen-year-old Gemma Lyons and 17-year-old Jack Travers, both from Hampshire in the UK, went to live with David and Tzippi Sha-ked and their five children last week in Nof Ayalon, a community near Modi'in.

The teens, who admit to smoking and drinking alcohol, come from troubled homes - Gemma living with her mother and 14-year-old sister and Jack with his mother, stepfather and four siblings.

The duo visited the Western Wall, a Holocaust survivor, endured basic army training, experienced kibbutz life, Shabbat and much more during their week-long adventure, which is to air in August on the British satellite channel BBC3.

The week wasn't easy for either of the youngsters, Gemma and Jack told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. Both were quickly escorted to a mall to buy "appropriate" clothes for their new lifestyle.

Jack, who describes himself as a "goth," on meeting his new family, appeared in his full-black garb, complete with heavy eye-liner, nail varnish and long unruly hair.

…Gemma, who explained that she is more accustomed to "prancing around" in her bikini in hot climates, found the dress code challenging, but the change had a profound effect on her.

"When they explained the reason behind it, I understood it more and wanted to give it a go," she said. "When I go back to England, I'm going to dress a lot more modestly. I've learned so much … I think you need to respect yourself and if you cover up, you are respecting yourself, and when you get into a relationship, it's something special between yourself and the boy."

Gemma and Jack both listed the Western Wall as the highlight of their trip, even though Jack describes himself as an atheist.

"I'm not religious, but it was amazing," enthused Jack.

"I'm really interested in the Wall," said Gemma, who identifies as a Christian. "You can study it as much as you want, but when you go there, it's totally different." 

…Although the teens were staying with the Sha-keds, the whole community shared in the experience, said neighbor Chani Hadad.

"They thought they were choosing a family, but in fact they chose a whole community. The kids repeatedly expressed their amazement at how close this community is.”

"Everyone got so close, there were so many tears," Hadad said. "[From their perspective], they landed on a different planet, but they embraced the community and will take away a great deal of self-esteem because they both came with issues. They were both judging themselves on the lowest common denominator out there."

Both participants resolved that they are going to return to school and that they will apply some of the lessons learned to their family life at home.

"On the first day I got into an argument about the rules and people were so calm about everything; no one shouted, everyone was polite and no one got aggressive at all," Jack said.

"It makes the whole way of life much nicer. If there is one thing [I'll take away] it'll be that, because in my [family] home, there are loads of arguments," Jack said, adding he has a "bad relationship" with his mother.

The Sha-ked family's attitude to discipline also resonated with Gemma.

"When I go home, if I have a problem, I'm going to approach it in a mature manner … One day if I have kids, this is how I'm going to go about it."

Tzippi Sha-ked told the Post that she was overcome by "the resolution."

"It did not go smoothly at all," said Sha-ked. "We were quite anxious, but we decided we would put our best foot forward and be completely accepting.

"The thing that was most amazing was seeing two non-Jews who knew nothing about Judaism other than negative stuff from the BBC and they got a newfound appreciation; it's a pity that secular Israel doesn't see what they saw."

The program also impacted on the host community, reported Sha-ked, as they are more accustomed to the BBC's negative portrayal of Israel.

"I think the BBC is really taking a positive role here in promoting some of our values," she said.

Despite the heart-felt good-byes which took place Sunday, all parties plan to stay in touch and Jack is currently considering a stint on a kibbutz.

"They have become extensions of our family," gushed Sha-ked. "They made so many friends, it's unbelievable. They could have won a popularity contest!"


The following excerpts, which offer some additional insights regarding their experience, are from an article about their visit to Nof Ayalon by Nathan Jeffay (Forward, June 12th, 2009):

…Lyons has an anger problem - an issue the show’s producers tried to address in a novel way. "The teenagers met a Holocaust survivor who has every reason in the world to be angry, but who had a smile on her face. The boy gets depressed, and this also helped him put things in perspective," Rothbart [the show’s director] said.

… the family's values resonated with the teenagers in the end. "She's a pretty girl, and the mum said people may not judge her by who she is but what she's showing, and she began to accept this," Rothbart said. "In fact, now [that] she's back home, she's dressing more modestly.

…When it came time to observe the Sabbath, which occurred toward the end of the trip, Travers and Lyons were intrigued by Jewish observance. While the Shakeds expected their guests to observe the Sabbath laws only when in public, they chose to do as the family did. "They wanted to experience what it was like from our perspective," Shaked said.

For Travers, the Sabbath was a turning point. He stayed up until 4 A.M. chatting with the local youngsters who, Shaked reports, had resolved "not to judge a 'Goth' by his cover." She recalled: "It was a revelation to him that the teens of Nof Ayalon can hang out on a Friday night with no fistfights and without alcohol, but having fun."

…It seems that some other religious concepts impressed Travers and Lyons, as well. They heard about the Jewish idea of teshuvah, or repentance, and both plan to make amends with family members and teachers and return to their studies back home. And in a surprising endorsement of Israel, they both want to go back this summer - Lyons to spend time studying in university, and Travers to work on a kibbutz.


Hazon Commentary:


The title of the BBC program – World's Strictest Parents – does not necessarily express a Torah truth. Although the Torah encourages parents to guide their children with discipline, it does not mean that the “strictest” parents are automatically the best parents. As I learned from my Torah teachers, the discipline of parents and teachers must come from a place of love, and not from a place of anger or ego-gratification. In addition, some children may need more discipline, and some less. In this spirit, King Solomon wrote:


“Bring up each child in accordance with his own way.” (Proverbs 22:6).


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses this verse from Proverbs in his commentary on the Torah, and he writes:


“Each child should be guided in accordance with the path intended for him, the path that suits the qualities and tendencies latent in the depths of his personality, and thus he should be educated, both as a human being and as a Jew.” (Commentary on Genesis 25:27)


Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was a leading sage of the 19th century who encouraged formal study of “Mussar” – Torah teachings regarding ethics and the refinement of one’s character. Regarding discipline, he once gave the following parable:


If a wagon driver, whose wagon is being pulled by a horse, holds the reins too loosely, the horse can go off course; however, if he holds the reins too tight, he will choke the horse. The driver must therefore find the right balance. So too, parents and teachers need to be aware that a lack of proper discipline can cause a child to go off course; however, too much discipline can “choke” the child and thereby prevent the child from developing his or her own unique potential. Parents and teachers therefore need to find the right balance which is appropriate for each child.


I chose to share with you the story about the BBC program on the two British teenagers who came to live with a religious Jewish family in Israel, as I feel that it has a relevant message regarding our role as a people in the Land of Zion. These non-Jewish teenagers experienced the warmth of a close-knit religious Jewish community; moreover, they learned about some sacred Torah values which reveal the higher purpose of life. They also experienced some of the spiritual discipline of the Torah which enables us to actualize those values in our daily living. All this happened in one week, which included the holy and holistic Jewish Sabbath.


This story about one Jewish family can therefore serve as a reminder of what can happen if our entire people will fulfill the Torah in the Land of Zion and thereby become an ethical and spiritual model. As Moshe, our teacher, proclaimed to our people in his farewell address:


“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5,6)


Be Well, and Shalom.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Hazon - Our Universal Vision