Moving Traditions — Moving Forward

In a world where one in five teens has reported abusing prescription medications, where physical aggression occurs in one third of teen dating relationships, and 81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat, it’s clear that teen girls are dealing with a ton of challenges every day. Jewish girls now have some guidance for developing into Jewish women.

“Rosh Hodesh — It’s a Girl Thing” is the flagship program of the organization Moving Traditions, directed by Deborah Meyer. It is designed to build intimate and empowering communities of Jewish girls in small groups across the country, and address gender issues in Jewish life. The girls meet every month with a trained facilitator to talk about their lives, their experiences, their gender, their friends — all within a rich Jewish framework of innovation and tradition. At Purim, for example, the girls might do the “It Isn’t Romantic” activity — using the Purim story to think about relationships and first-person narratives, and then creating their own modern Megillot.

Moving Traditions’ first national training conference took place in Philadelphia this past August. Over 65 group leaders — Jewish women from all over the United States, many in their 20s and 30s — spent serious time talking about their own experiences. What does feminism mean today? How do we see ourselves as Jews? How can Judaism enrich our sense of ourselves as women? And how can we be good mentors and models to girls in their teens — so they can think about these questions for themselves?

One of the big topics of the training weekend was dealing with the media — from television, to fashion magazines, to Facebook. “Let’s make them critical consumers, not passive recipients,” said Tami Astorino. She asked participants to think about Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein’s book which argues that the all-pervasive media present “femininity as performance, sexuality as performance, identity as performance, each of those traits available for a price.” These are tough ideas, issues that Jewish women of all ages deal with every day.

That’s why an important dynamic in the Rosh Hodesh groups — for girls and facilitators alike — is to know that the girls are the authorities of their own experience. “It’s not about you [the facilitator] imparting wisdom; it’s about accessing wisdom from each other, from you, from the heart,” said Barbara Berley-Mellits, one of the authors of the Rosh Hodesh curriculum. Fundamentally, Moving Traditions advises, it’s not about telling the girls what to think — it’s about telling them to think.