Two non-Jewish teenage school dropouts quit their rebellious lives in Britain for a week-long obedience lesson with a firm religious-Zionist family for the BBC reality TV show World's Strictest Parents.
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 first thing these two non-Jewish teens had to contend with was the ‘family’ dress code.
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. "It was a very strict dress code," said Jack. "[When I] turned up on the first day with it on, they didn't make a big thing out of it but said 'we don't dress this way' and 'we want to change how you dress'."
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."
And the trip - highlight:
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." Gemma said she was "so excited" when the show's destination was revealed to her, but Jack recalled that he, on the other hand, "was dreading it." "If there's one thing I hate, it's when people try and [force] religion on you." However, Jack soon felt like part of the Sha-ked family and at the end of filming, found it hard to say good-bye.
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."
The teen resolution:
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."
The host parents:
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 more I think about this idea, the more I like. A few surrogate national religious families play parent-hosts with Palestinian teens might go a long way in opening up a change in dialogue, but then again, the Palestinian teens would have to be young enough to be trusted not to murder the Jewish parents while they are sleeping. Perhaps, it would better just to place teens of ‘progressive’ North American and European families for now.
h/t: The Muqata