What Jewish Teen Girls Are Doing Now

Soccer Maydels: Two Tales

1. This winter saw the debut of The Yeshiva Girls’ Indoor Soccer League, with teams in New York and New Jersey. “My friends and I love soccer,” says Estee Sce, 17, captain of the Ma’aya not team in New Jersey. “You need so much endurance to keep running up and down the field. It’s very good for girls. Soccer keeps girls in shape and then they feel better about themselves.” Estee says that when the formation of the team was announced at school, so many kids wanted to join that the school is starting a Junior Varsity team.

2. Israelis have long adored this game. But when avid soccer player Rachel Schneider, 13, a student at Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, New Jersey found out that there were no teams in Israel for girls her age, she was in her words, “basically almost in shock.” With the help of Metro West Jewish Federation in Whipp any. New Jersey, she started a soccer clinic for girls in Israel last summer. Most of the players came from working-class Sephardic families, many of whom were initially reluctant to allow their daughters to play soccer, or to send them to the sleep-away clinic.

“Some parents didn’t want their girls to become muscular. Others thought it was a boys’ sport,” said Rachel. “But other parents thought that it would benefit their girls, and put them in better shape. Maybe 60 per cent were against it,” she said.

In the end, said Rachel, learning soccer empowered these girls. “We have given them hope that they can learn a new sport, and that it is more than okay for girls to play the same kind of sports as boys.”

by Alice Sparberg Alexiou 

Rosh Hodesh For Girls

Rosh Hodesh, “new month,” is an ancient Jewish festival that, according to Midrash, was a gift to Jewish women because they refused to contribute to the making of the Golden Calf. In recent years Rosh Hodesh groups have become increasingly popular with women wanting to connect with Judaism. Now Kolot, the Center for Women”s and Gender Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, is developing a Rosh Hodesh program specifically for girls.

The germ of this idea arose from a 1998 conference that Kolot helped sponsor, focusing on eating disorders and body-image among teenage girls, said Lori Lefkovitz, professor of Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies and director of Kolot.

Lefkovitz described a group that last Purim discussed the part of the Esther story that concerns seducing her husband, which led to the question, how do you get what you want? What does it mean to mask your feelings? Then the girls made papicrmachc masks. Another meeting was devoted to the Biblical matriarchs Rachel and Leah. The girls discussed envy, then designed friendship bracelets.

“We want to give them .something authentic and affirming that is Jewish,” said Lefkovitz, whose own 14-year old daughter belongs to a Philadelphia group. “Jewish girls are so vulnerable. They come to this with a sense of innocence and pleasure.”

by Alice Sparberg Alexiou

Teens and Civil Rights

Last spring I spent three months leading students through a remarkable exhibit about combatting prejudice. Choosing to Participate, sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves, an organization for educators, took place at the New York Historical Society. A section was devoted to Elizabeth Eckford, one of the “Little Rock Nine,” the first black students to integrate that city’s high school in1957. Students viewed her personal articles such as a hair brush, and a replica of the dress she wore that first day of school. They also saw pictures, sometimes disturbing ones, including one of a white girl yelling at Eckford, alone that first day in the mob, whose shouts of “go home” and “lynch her” are preserved on recordings that are played in the background. The observer feels that she is right there with Elizabeth. I often asked the students coming through this part of the exhibit, “What was your first day of school like?” This simple question forced each student to reflect what it’s like to be the new kid and how hard it is to enter an unknown situation.

Another section of the exhibit tells the story of Billings, Montana, a community that in December 1993 placed symbolic menorahs in the windows of their homes after a series of hate crimes against the Jewish community. A striking image shows the entire population of Billings holding up menorahs: Jews, non-Jews, blacks. Native Americans all united as one. Then students hear the emotional journey of Jesus Colon, a young Hispanic man who failed to help a needy white woman because of his personal racial fears. He remained a bystander rather than helping, which forces the students to recall events where they too remained silent.

The last room contains pictures and stories of local heroes chosen by members of their communities. For me, this was the most important part of the exhibit, for here was the picture and story of my hero, Reverend Annie Bovian, who advocates strongly for the rights of incarcerated women in the New York prison system. I met Reverend Bovian three years ago at a Christmas party she had organized for children with mothers in prison. I often started my tours in the hall of heroes; by presenting Annie, I publicly declared my decision to work for social change.

One day as I was ending my tour I spoke with an 11 -year-old boy. He was extremely touched by the whole exhibit, but he said that he thought he himself could do very little. After he shared his doubts and desires I asked him, “How old do you think I am?” He looked confused, and hesitated, but nonetheless he responded quickly. “Twenty-four!” Very flattered, I told him I really was 16. I explained that I chose to dedicate my weekends and afternoons to being a guide because I felt it was my obligation to serve as a bridge between adults and youth. Everyone makes a decision about their role in society, I told him. I also said that simply by attending this exhibit and taking seriously the material presented in it, he had already taken the first steps towards choosing to participate. It turned out that this boy then came back weekend after weekend with his friends and family.  

by Jobeth Tananbaum