Hugs and High School

by Brian on June 26, 2009

in A Parent in Israel,Only in Israel

What I’ll remember most about our son Amir’s graduation from 12th grade earlier this week was the hugs. Hugs between the guys. Hugs from the teachers to the graduates while on stage receiving their diplomas. The spontaneous group hug and circle dance the guys did to Mashina’s “Return, Return” at the end of the evening.

It was all so sweet. And it got me reminiscing. I don’t remember ever being so affectionate with my male friends when I was in high school, some 30 years ago. On the contrary, I distinctly recall that, after all 400 12th graders received their diplomas in our high school gym, I gave a big bear hug to my best friend John while thinking that this was the first time I’d ever hugged him or any other guy (girls, well that was another story…)

I also remember that it wasn’t until I arrived in Israel after college and found myself in a more traditional Jewish framework that I got into the habit of shaking someone’s hand. Before that: no handshakes, no hugs. What did we do then? Just glare at each other for 12 years?

Fortunately, when you need to do some impromptu research, there’s nothing like Facebook. I put out my question on hugs and high school. My contemporaries weighed in quickly. No, absolutely we did not hug back in 1978, they said. There were the occasional “soul handshakes” and a few high fives.

By the 1980s, “everybody was doing that stupid BH 90210 hand slap and point the fingers thing,” my friend Boaz wrote. “We used to make out in the hallways but that was it,” Debbie from Modi’in added.

But the times they are a changing, even in the U.S. An article by Sarah Kershaw in The New York Times that my Facebook buddy Yosef referred me to described how hugs have now caught on in high school…outside of Israel. So much so that there are different terms for all the hugging.

For example, there’s the “bear claw” where a boy embraces a girl awkwardly with his elbows poking out. The “fist bump and slap on the back.” Something known as the “shake and lean.” And now the “triple” – any combination of three girls and boys hugging at once.

It’s become so rampant that some schools are now trying to limit hugging via a “three-second rule” or to ban hugs outright. “Touching and physical contact is very dangerous territory,” bemoaned a principal in New Jersey interviewed by Kershaw.

The kids disagree, calling it the “hello” of their generation. “We like to get cozy,” said a San Francisco eighth grader. “The high-five is, like, boring.”

What seems to be unique to Israel (and perhaps other Mediterranean countries – I haven’t done a scientific study), is hugging between students and teachers, something that would be absolutely verboten in a litigious U.S. where it could be perceived as bordering on sexual harassment or abuse.

All hugging aside, the graduation ceremony of our oldest child was very emotional for my wife Jody and I. To think that we have come so far as to have a child finished with his formal education. How did we get so old! “Proud and old are not mutually exclusive,” our friend Shira was quick to point out on Facebook.

Some other highlights from graduation:

— As each boy (Amir attended an all boy’s school) received his diploma, his teacher read a short paragraph describing the graduate (Hartman high school, with a graduating class of 56, is small enough to indulge such a personal touch).

— There was a lot of emphasis on the army and mechinot (pre-army preparatory programs) rather than “where are you going to college next year?”

— Amir put together a great slide show with music summing up the six years the guys have been together. The photos of the class from 7th grade elicited some raucous teenage guffaws.

— Hartman Institute founder Rabbi David Hartman gave an impassioned speech on the importance for religious youth to fight against extremism and intolerance. “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not religious,” he exhorted the graduates.

— This being Israel, the dress code was casual, though a number of the graduates wore loosely knotted ties over untucked short sleeve shirts and jeans. Needless to say there were no caps and gowns. And so, at the end of the evening, rather than toss their caps into the air, they threw their kippot to the sky.

Jody and I were so filled with pride and excitement. It’s a major milestone…for the entire family. So what did we do when Amir came over to us after the ceremony was done?

We gave him a great big hug, of course.

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