A Conference of their Own: For Jewish Girls in Boston
Moving Traditions, the premier resource for helping Jewish teens explore Judaism and their own identity from a gender perspective, invites Jewish pre-adolescent and adolescent girls to Celebr-8 U, an empowerment and networking conference on Sunday, April 29 from 2-5 pm at Temple Reyim in Newton. The event is the first of its kind in Greater Boston, and it was made possible with a generous innovations grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies. A committed team of Jewish educators, lay leaders and adolescent girls has been working for months to plan an exciting program to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood experienced by the 400-plus girls served regionally by the organization’s Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing! program and engage other girls who are seeking alternate connections to Jewish life. “Unfortunately a lot of teenagers see their bar and bat mitzvah as a graduation from Jewish life,” says Deborah Meyer, executive director of Moving Traditions, the Jenkintown, PA, nonprofit that developed the program. “They are dropping out just at a time in their life when they really need guidance.”
Since its establishment in 2005, the Philadelphia-based Moving Traditions helped more than 10,000 teens across the United States and Canada navigate the challenges of their daily lives through Rosh Hodesh and its partner program Shevet Achim: The Brotherhood for boys. The programs are effective because they help teens unpack the relevance of Jewish text, history and tradition in their lives, while enabling them to build a safe and trusted peer community. For example, girls may learn about heroic acts taken by women from the Bible in order think about their own their own leadership and personal agency. Both programs use a wide range of activities, which allow teens to appreciate Judaism from a multi-dimensional perspective. One local teen reports: “I have really gained a strong perspective of what it is like to be a teenager growing up Jewish through Rosh Hodesh. I think that a lot of times people think more about all the high school drama and never really think about religion. Rosh Hodesh really ties in being a teenager and dealing with the high school drama and being Jewish at the same time.”
Celebr-8 U will feature a keynote address by Becky Rolnick, a documentary filmmaker and social activist, who will speak about The Beauty that Remains, her current project which chronicles the story of Teeba, a young Iraqi girl who sustained life-threatening burns when a bomb exploded near her taxi several years ago, and her long journey to recovery with an adoptive family in the United States. Though Teeba’s reality differs from the girls’, it is a story cuts across religious and political lines, and touches upon many of the universal challenges faced by girls: the struggle to fit in, look a certain way, and feel comfortable in their own skin. Cheryl Weiner, Moving Traditions’ New England Regional Director, also believes that the film will move girls, who tend to underestimate their own personal power, to recognize their ability to create positive change in the world.
Participants will also have the opportunity to choose from a vast array of workshops facilitated by experts from around the world. Brooklyn-based Jewish educator and musician Naomi Less will lead a Jewish Chicks Rock session, designed to empower and ignite girls to pick up instruments and express themselves through music. Girls will also have the opportunity to create their own rituals to mark special moments in their lives with Mayyim Hayyim, and learn how to manage stress in their lives through Jewish yoga and meditation. Moving Traditions will also a track for adults, including Taking Teens Seriously: Inspiring Girls and Boys to Come of Age in Jewish Community by Deborah Meyer, and How to Talk to Adolescents about Body Image with Beth Mayer, President of Massachusetts Eating Disorders Association. Boston Globe contributor Meredith Goldstein will deliver the welcome address and speak briefly about her own Jewish journey.
“This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Rachael Goren-Watts, a Jewish educator who is renting two vans to bring twenty girls in from Western Massachusetts. “The workshop presenters are coming from all over the world with the sole purpose of meeting with these girls to help them explore Jewish female identity; nobody should miss this.” A Brookline parent, whose daughter has been part of a Rosh Hodesh group for four years concurs: “The Rosh Hodesh program is phenomenal! It is a real gift -- even a blessing -- for both teens and their parents!”
The Celebr-8-U Conference for girls in grades 6-12 will be held on April 29, from 2-5pm at Temple Reyim in Auburndale, MA. Teens do not need to be a member of a Rosh Hodesh group to participate. Find more information about the event and register on JewishBoston.com.