The Jewish Girl’s Guide

Want to camp? Pray? Eat? Change the world?

Across the Nation
1640 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20037; (202) 857- 6633;

B’nai B’rith Youth Organization comprises two single-sex organizations: Aleph Zadek Aleph (AZA) for boys and B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG), and in local chapters the two run events together much of the time. Still, girls say they do appreciate the opportunity they have for sex-segregated programming, such as the Mind, Body, Attitude program [LILITH, Fall 1999]. BBGers frequently run events on nutrition, body image, and self esteem.

84 William St., New York, NY 10038; (212)797-9000

B’nos Agudath is a youth group for Orthodox girls, elementary to high school, with 75 branches nationwide. The focus is on leadership and education; sessions on eating disorders among Jewish girls are in development. A popular program is the weekly bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. B’nos Agudath’s new programs reflect a growing awareness of girls’ needs in the Orthodox community, as well as traditional roles for females.

HABONIM DROR; (212) 255-1796

Habonim Dror, a Zionist organization, has camps in six states and has been a frontrunner in coordinating Judaism with healthy gender activities. The camps have held “Take Back the Night” marches and run regular co-ed programs on gender issues. Habonim has made Feminism one of its primary interest categories, along with Zionism, Judaism, socialism, and social justice. Since these topics are introduced as early as fourth grade, and feminist activities are as commonplace as swimming or arts and crafts, gender educational activities at Habonim are encountered without stigma.

MACCABI USA; (215) 561-6900

Maccabi is the umbrella organization for the youth competitions held yearly in the U.S. and the one held every four years in Israel. The 5,000 participants are under the age of 17. Sports are constantly being added to the girls’ roster, most recently volleyball and soccer. Although Maccabi encourages athleticism in girls, leaders have no training about body image or eating disorders.

333 7th Ave., New York, NY 10001; 1-888-TOUR-4-YOU

The central body for the youth groups of Orthodox congregations, NCSY offers several programs just for girls, which combine Jewish studies with sporting activities and travel: a Summer Experience for Girls at the Homowack, a resort in the Catskills; Michlelet NCSY, a six-week summer program in Israel; and Camp Canada for Girls, in Ontario.

(888) 888-6697

“There is a revolution happening in terms of gender programming,” says one leader about NFTY, the youth movement of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Four years ago, a chapter in California held an all-girls weekend. The idea now is “spreading like wild-fire,” though some wonder if gender-segregated programming works against the movement’s egalitarian commitments.

To reach those teens who don’t respond to the hyper-activity of NFTY, the UAHC is now hiring outreach experts to consult with congregations to “engage the unengaged.”

33 Central Dr., Bronxville, NY 10708;;

The National Jewish Girl Scout Committee is a branch of the Girl Scout Association that aims to promote Jewish programming and education in the Girl Scouts, promote Girl Scouting in the Jewish community, and coordinate with the Israel scouting organizations. A Junior Girl Scout who creates a project about holidays will receive the “Bat Or” badge; a Cadette can earn the “Or Emunah” pin.

155 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010; (212) 533-7800;

USY is the Conservative youth group for grades 9-12 and Kadima is for grades 6-8, with programs that focus on Israel, tzedakah, social action and religion. USY has no “special interest” programming, as they call it, for girls. Leadership is divided almost evenly between girls and boys, and prayer services may be egalitarian or non-egalitarian, depending on the synagogue with which they affiliate. At regional and international USY functions, the egalitarian option isn’t always assured. (One USY official did estimate that the majority of USY-ers attend the egalitarian religious services when available.)

50 West 58th St., New York, NY 10019; (212) 303-8014;

Young Judaea is a pluralistic Zionist youth group run by Hadassah that is open to youth from third grade through college. It runs camps, trips to Israel and college programs there as well. The group is co-ed and has no national programming of specific female interest. YJ leadership is split evenly between boys and girls. A recent survey of YJ alums showed them to have a tiny rate of intermarriage, a high affiliation with Israel, and a high rate of synagogue involvement. The survey reported that YJ was especially positive for those who are now over 30 or male.

Acting Locally
3800 Mount Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, CA 94549; (925) 284-9191;

In September, Temple Isaiah’s religious school launched the Jewish Multicultural Curriculum Project, pioneering the study of African, Middle Eastern, South American and East Asian Jews. The program also tries to combat some anti-girl notions—e.g., by teaching kids about how fat women are valued in some Jewish sub-cultures. Run by a multicultural team of Jewish women, including feminist activist Loolwa Khazzoom, the program will be published as a curriculum and resource guide, with special attention on foremothers from around the globe.

David Posnack Jewish Community Center, 5850 S. Pine Island Rd., Davie, Florida 33328; (954) 434-0499

“Girl Power,” a conference, was organized by the JCC for the first time this year. The program included separate sessions for girls and adults: Girls got programs on self-defense and self-esteem; parents attended discussions of peer pressure and their daughters’ self-esteem. The program didn’t offer Jewish content, but this conference, and others like it around the country, indicate that girls” concerns are creeping onto the Jewish agenda.

Janet Shlaes; (847) 568-5150

This program provides the young Orthodox women of Hannah Sachks Bais Yaakov High School in Chicago with educational and career development information, self-knowledge and skills to expand their vocational and educational opportunities and choices.

Hedy Campeas-Cohen, Jewish Vocational Services, (773) 583-4673

Positive Experiences—Exploration of Relationships and Self-Worth (PEERS) is a violence prevention classroom program offered to students in some Chicago-area day schools. The program tries to address peer and domestic violence and abuse.

Tracy Klevens, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, (312) 357-4762

Uptown Cafe, sponsored by the Jewish United Fund of Chicago, is a dignified alternative to soup kitchens. Guests order kosher food from their own tables instead of standing in line and converse with the volunteers during the meal instead of quick conveyor belt service. About 10% of the 1,500 volunteers are under 18, and half of those are female.

1515 Reisterstown Rd., Suite 300, Baltimore, MD 21208; (410) 484- 1991;

The Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters League reaches out to “at risk” Jewish youth for mentoring and guidance. The League’s Girl’s Project is open to all girls, trying to catch them young—between 10 and 13. At the annual convention, girls attend workshops on their changing bodies, nutrition, money, careers and feelings; their parents attend their own workshops on eating disorders, communication, and the Internet. The project also runs a mentoring program and publishes the GP News, with advice, career spotlights and suggested reading for adults and teens about adolescence.

Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, 6101 Montrose Rd., Suite 200, Rockville, MD 20852; (301)770-5070;;

Panim El Panim is a co-ed high school program bringing to Washington Jewish teens interested in politics and social activism. Over several days, teens explore the Jewish side of Washington, —pro-Israel lobbies, public officials, and museums. Just over half the participants are female, and the program tries to recruit girls to show them that politics doesn’t have to be male-dominated.

Harold Grinspoon Supporting Foundation, Tracie Bernstein, 380 Union St., West Springfield, MA 01089; (413) 781-0734, ext.

275 B’nai Tzedek, run by the Greenspoon Foundation, takes the phenomenon of the bar/bat mitzvah tzedakah project one step further. A bat mitzvah donates $125, which is matched by several organizations, bringing the endowment fund to $500. Contributions can be made to the fund on any occasion, and a participant donates 5% a year to charitable organizations. B’nai Tzedek has recently expanded to 12 communities and has instituted a teen advisory board that allocates part of the B’nai Tzedek fund. Marni Polansky, a participant, told LILITH, “I always feel so fulfilled after making a donation through B’nai Tzedek…a seed that allows the Jewish community to flourish.”

Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Randi Levine, (612)417-2354

The idea started with Go M.A.D. (Make a Difference), a one-time innovative program to bring together affiliated and unaffiliated Jewish teens from St. Paul and Minneapolis to teach them about community activism. Out of that grew a committee of teens and adults to focus on teen initiatives and “peer networking”— through which teens reach out to their unaffiliated counterparts— as well as a teen-run, teen-written newsletter, “Yad B’Yad.”

22nd St., New York, NY 10011; (212) 647-8966;;

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice is a grass-roots organization that includes activists from teenagers to the elderly. The most popular projects for teens have been a police accountability project and an education project. JFREJ also runs “anti-bias” workshops at camps, synagogues and schools that focus on how to be an agent of social change, combatting anti-Semitism and other prejudice. JFREJ also recently started a theater initiative at a Brooklyn high school in which Jewish students and students of color write and perform a piece about public education.


This New York-based hotline and service for Orthodox victims of domestic violence has created the High School Prevention Project, a one-day workshop that travels to local Orthodox girls’ schools. It is “designed to make the girls more skillful in building interpersonal relationships, alert them to warning signs in a relationship and strengthen their conflict resolution skills.”

(215) 665-8575; (202) 234-6832

Operation Understanding, which runs programs out of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., seeks to improve relations between Jews and African-American teens. High school juniors travel together for a month to sites important to each community: Senegal, Israel, Harlem, the Lower East Side, Crown Heights, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta and Memphis. Students learn about shared history in the civil rights movement, discuss prejudice, and attend churches and synagogues in a year-long involvement. Alums average about 30 speaking engagements a year about their experiences.

Thinking Globally
160 Grove St., Wellesley, MA 02481; (781)237-3358

The Center for Ventures in Girls’ Education is committed to cultivating leadership in girls. The “Leader Reader” provides mentors and gives girls the tools to plan their own leadership and service projects. “Girl Ink,” the newsletter of the program, highlights career women and discusses programs.

Deborah Lake Forston; (617) 731- 9697;

“Eat!” is a new play that tours high schools and colleges, mainly in the Boston area. It focuses on how the media and adults can influence the body image of teens, and introduces “Lisa,” her disordered eating, and her ultimate recovery. Each performance is followed by discussion.

900 N. Franklin St., Suite 210, Chicago, IL 60610; (312) 266-2842;

The Girl’s Best Friend Foundation focuses exclusively on girls and young women. The Sisters Empowering Sisters project gives teenage girls the opportunity to give $10,000 in grants to girl-directed groups. Girls research programs, interview applicants, and make group decisions. Grants have been given to programs about dating violence, female sports teams, art exhibits of girls’ works, and others. One girl commented, “I realized that whatever I do will make a big impact for someone else. I feel proud of myself.”


Girls, Inc., is an all-encompassing initiative that works to empower girls. Girls, Inc., has written a Girl’s Bill of Rights, which includes the right to appreciate their own bodies, to be themselves and resist gender stereotypes, and to prepare for interesting work and economic success. Another program is A Sporting Chance, which praises the emotional and physical benefits of athleticism in girls; as well as Act SMART, which, with the help of top scientific companies, encourages girls to participate in science and technology.

Teen-Adult Partnerships
KOLOT; 215-576-0800

The feminist arm of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Kolot created the first conference on Judaism and eating disorders, and offers consultations on similar conferences around the country. Ideas for teens’ Rosh Hodesh groups are also available [LILITH, Fall 1999].

260 5th Avenue, Suite 701, New York, NY 10001; (212) 213-2113, ext. 23

This progressive foundation has created The Youth Endowment Fund to help young Jews send ongoing financial support to poor American children. A one-time contribution of $1,100 creates a Fund, and can be set up to honor a child for a bar/bat mitzvah, religious school graduation or other event. Each participant receives newsletters, financial statements and descriptions of local organizations serving low-income youth. The participant decides annually which organization should receive the proceeds from his or her fund.

1828 L St., NW, Suite 250 Washington, D.C. 20036; {202)857-1300

Jewish Women International, formerly B’nai B’rith Women, runs mother-daughter activities including mother-daughter slumber parties and a mother-daughter lesbian conference. JWI also has a “Break the Cycle of Violence” initiative, which covers issues of child and peer abuse.

68 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 02445; (617)232-2258;

15 West 65th St., NYC 10023; (212) 580-0099;

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Women of Valor project is a series of educational posters on women such as Barbara Myerhoff, Bella Abzug, and Bobbie Rosenfeld. It is also in multimedia form at In conjunction, this year, Ma’yan also sponsored Women & Girls Sports Dinner, which featured Olympic gold medalist Kerri Strug, Olympic Judo coach Rusty Kanokogi, and Robin Barsky of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

2940 Westwood Blvd., Suite 7, Los Angeles, CA 90064; (310) 442- 0020;

Mazon is a fundraising organization that gives grants to other groups to help end hunger. Mazon encourages b’nai mitzvah to donate 3% of the cost of their celebration, and also to give donations instead of party favors.

Words Words Words

Girlzone is an information- and energy-packed website with essays on the evils of advertising, nutrition tips for high energy and stress release (not weight loss), and profiles on young feminists like singer Ani DiFranco. The only pitfall is the sad truth of websites: essays about advertising are juxtaposed with Gap ads.


Jvibe is a website for Jewish teens that includes everything from popular culture to activism to bulletin boards. Teens can discuss being a Jew in a small town at Christmas, read reports from Israel, and learn about community service with the VibeAction initiative. The Action site features writing about homelessness and other subjects, as well as ideas for direct action.

P.O. Box 3620, Duluth, MN 55803;

New Moon is a magazine, a website, and a new television show. The magazine is subtitled “The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams,” for girls ages 8-14. It encourages girls to take action—a 14-year-old member of the Editorial Board wrote to Time Magazine after their famous issue on the death of feminism, saying, “I think that instead of looking to the television or toy store shelf for what feminism looks like, we should just look to the girl next door.” The website is packed with information and activities for girls.

224 West 29th St., New York, NY 10001; (212) 279-0708;;

This organization publishes the magazines New Youth Connections and Foster Care Youth United, written by students in the New York City public school and national foster care systems. They have also created several anthologies including The Heart Knows Something Different: Teenage Voices from the Foster Care System and The Struggle to Be Strong: True Stories by Teens About Overcoming Tough Times.


Elisheva Averett-Balser created this list because “when I came out there was no such list…. I wanted to make a safe online home for teens like me. Whether they be gay lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, this list would serve as a comfortable place for them to talk about their Judaism and their sexuality, how their day was or just a place to make friends that won’t judge them. Any age is welcome, but be prepared for Mature Themes!” To subscribe, write to;

P.O. Box 120-027, Boston, MA 02111; (617)426-5505

Teen Voices Magazine comes out quarterly, and its slogan is “Because you’re more than just a pretty face.” It includes articles about alcoholism, incest, sexual pressure and race. It also runs articles on sisterhood, women in music and relationships.

P.O. Box 1236 Colorado Springs, CO 80901; (888) TEENMAG

XX Empowered Magazine is a bimonthly magazine for young females that provides a fresh alternative to teen fashion magazines. A recent issue included articles on women in martial arts, a “real” teen model search, an “inner beauty pageant,” and profiles of career women. Most of the articles are written by adolescent girls.

Try This!
Women’s Awareness Week At Bialik High School 

Montreal high school students Marci Surkes and Shira Kogut were tired of sitting in class and not learning about influential women, and sitting in the lunch room and not discussing feminist issues. So a few years ago, they created Women’s Awareness Week, featuring a Take Back the Night march; information sessions during lunches about breast cancer and domestic violence; and a curricular shift in each class to focus on women in each field. They made a special effort to include the male students, to show them that you don’t have to fit a stereotype to be concerned about women’s issues, or to be considered a (gasp!) feminist. As for their legacy: Women’s Awareness Week has become a tradition at their high school, with new programs every year.

Susannah Jaffe is a sophomore at Barnard College.