Growing Strong Jewish Female Leaders

Do you have what it takes to be a leader? Are Jewish women among your role models? Are good leaders made by their actions alone or by the values they hold dear? These are questions that Solelim and Bogrim girls are exploring this summer through a focused curriculum constructed by Rabbi Rebecca Ben-Gideon, facilitated by our counselors and Roshei Aidah, Aviva Schwartz and Maya Zinkow, and supported by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.

DSC_6003Every summer, we think about the ways in which we can challenge our campers to grow and develop into strong Jewish leaders. Over the course of the summer, Solelot and Bogrot have been challenged to think about the strong Jewish women in their lives, as well as the ways in which they can develop even further into strong Jewish leaders. We’ve worked to inspire our young women to think about their own Jewish identities in the supportive egalitarian community we have and are really seeking to strengthen at camp.

During their first session early in the summer, each girl was asked to fill out a survey with the leadership roles they’d had already this summer—an aliyah, d’var torah, wearing a tallit—as well as whether they considered themselves a Jewish leader, a feminist, and much much more. Challenging them to take on new roles and leadership positions, they finished the survey and looked to current female Jewish leaders in the media: everyone from American Girl Doll Rebecca Rubin, to t’fillin-wearing Barbie, to Sheryl Sandberg, to Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

As they discussed the unrealistic expectations that Barbie affords young girls, both groups—Solelot and Bogrot—thoughtfully determined that those expectations hold true in so many other settings. One Bogrim camper said, “I know we’re all saying we don’t strive to look like Barbie, but when you’re a little child it’s still the first thing imprinted on your mind, whether you realize it or not.” Thinking about the strong women in their lives, each camper chose one of the most important women in their lives, and three words to describe them—everything from strong, to passionate, to progressive.

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In the second and third sessions of our program, Solelot and Bogrot explored mitzvot. Mitzvot are a part of who we are, and the girls in each session thought about the ways in which they can develop their leadership capabilities by experiencing new leadership roles in the ritual realm and through trying new mitzvah experiences. Each camper thought about their “signature mitzvah,” the mitzvah that they thought expressed the totality of their person—everything from studying Torah, to welcoming the stranger, to healing the sick. In an engaging activity that really got both groups of girls actively expanding the ways in which they think about mitzvot, each girl completed her own Mitzvah Bracket Challenge. Pitting two mitzvot against each other, every girl narrowed the mitzvot down to one signature and defining mitzvah they esteem above all else. They left the session, challenged to think about the ways they can try new mitzvot, extending their qualities of leadership.

In sessions to come, Solelot and Bogrot will be hearing from strong Jewish female leaders in our own Ramah community. This exciting program is truly pushing our female campers to think about the role models they are and will be, and what that means in our camp context and outside of it.

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