To date, the sparse research on Jewish adolescents has focused primarily on their Jewish identification, often measured by their ritual behaviors and affiliations. Largely unexplored, however, is their Jewish identity , how Jewish teenagers in America today view themselves and their place in the world.
Utilizing an ethnographic research design, this study combined observations and interviews that allowed Jewish teenagers to express, in their own words and actions, what mattered to them most, and what constituted their identities. By giving voice to teenagers this dissertation offers a better understanding of adolescence as a stage of life in its own right, not simply a platform that leads to adulthood. Ultimately several of the themes that emerged from the teenagers themselves developed into chapters for this dissertation focusing on issues ranging from gender, sexuality, pop culture, and online social networking. And while these themes are explored in a uniquely Jewish context, many of the findings are applicable across American teenagers in general.
This study focused its attention on Jewish teenagers in three settings that are recognized as sites where Jewish education and the development of Jewish identity occur—a Jewish day school, a Jewish summer camp and a Jewish youth group. In particular this research examines the complex interaction between individuals, their peer groups and these institutions. Overall the research found that the peer group was a critical, if not the most critical, feature influencing adolescent identity development today. This research also reveals that identity is rarely ever a monolithic or static construct and instead looks at how adolescents vacillate between their multiple identities.
Through an exploration of these Jewish teenagers' narratives and the various settings in which they are located, this study contributes to our broader conceptions of adolescence, socialization and identity. This dissertation highlights an ethno-religious group that, like several others in the United States, is struggling to remain relevant to its younger population. It concludes by suggesting several implications and recommendations that educators and communities should consider, in order to engage, educate and socialize teenagers, both within their institutions and society at large.