1. Religion & Spirituality

Troubled Non-Jewish Teens Find Meaning with an Orthodox Family on Reality TV

By June 29, 2009

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In a case of "I never would have thought of that" a new BBC reality series titled "The World's Strictest Parents" recently sent two unruly British teens to live with an Orthodox Jewish family in Nof Ayalon, near Modi'in. American-born Tzipi and David Shaked live in accordance with Jewish law and moved to Nof Ayalon along with their five children to be among other halachic Jews. They volunteered to host two non-Jewish teens for the BBC show because, in Tzipi's words, they "saw it as a rare opportunity to extend a hand to troubled non-Jewish teens and in so doing, showcase Jewish values which should be seen by the outside world."

The teens who stayed with the Shaked family included sixteen year old Gemma Lyon and seventeen year old Jack Travers. Gemma has a penchant for wearing skimpy outfits and Jack is a self-styled Goth and body-piercing fan. The Shakeds were determined not to shove Judaism down their throats, but did insist that both teens alter their style of dress and observe the rules of negia, which forbids members of the opposite sex from touching each other unless they are married. They also sent the teens to spend a day training with the Israel Defense Forces.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of this situation was the ways in which both teens reacted to their new lifestyle. Although Gemma initially rebelled by walking down the Orthodox neighborhood street in a bikini (an act that got her temporarily kicked out of the Shaked's home), she also had the opportunity to deal with her anger management issues when she met a Holocaust survivor. This man, who had every reason to be angry at the world, had a smile on his face and profoundly affected both Gemma and Jack, the latter of whom struggles with depression. For both teens, this survivor's story put things in perspective.

The biggest turning point for Jack was when he had the opportunity to observe Shabbat near the end of the trip. This teen, who usually self-medicates with alcohol, stayed up until 4 AM singing Hebrew songs with local teens. According to the Shaked family, these Jewish teens had decided "not to judge a 'Goth' by his cover" and welcomed Jack into their community. "It was a revelation to him," Tzipi later recounted, "that the teens of Nof Ayalon can hang out on a Friday night with no fistfights and without alcohol, but having fun."

Both teens plan to act upon the Jewish concept of teshuvah - repentance - when they return to their British homes by making amends with family members and teachers they've offended. They also want to return to Israel, with Jack expressing a desire to work on a kibbutz.

A surprisingly heartfelt conclusion for the usually shallow reality TV show market, wouldn't you agree? Gemma and Jack's episode of "The World's Strictest Parents" is set to air later this summer.

June 29, 2009 at 2:39 pm
(1) Aliza G says:

I love this story!

June 29, 2009 at 3:57 pm
(2) stephanie says:

So many troubled teens have no perspective. They do not know anyone outside of their own neighborhood and ethnic group. In the USA, there are teens who live in the South Bronx or in the projects in Brooklyn who have never been to Manhattan, a subway ride away. All they know is poverty, gangs, drugs, etc. They go to schools that apparently teach them nothing of the world they could enter if they had the education to do so. Very sad.

June 29, 2009 at 9:30 pm
(3) ngg says:

I’m so delighted these teens responded so well to the (tough love) kind of environment where they could learn more positive means of making friends and relating to others.

June 13, 2010 at 5:32 am
(4) InOverOurHeads says:

Interesting story. On a different note, there’s actually a new reality series set around a suburban US Orthodox community. It’s called InOverOurHeads. You can watch it on JLTV – the Jewish Life Televisions Network (DirecTV 366) and at http://www.inoverourheads.com.

October 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm
(5) Survivor says:

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