To launch a wide-ranging conversation about feminism and activism, the teens at this year’s Kol Koleinu retreat were asked to think about their personal, emotional experiences and priorities.
In response to the prompt, “What upsets you most right now about how sexism affects your life and the lives of people you love,” participants wrote their answers on Post-it notes that were then affixed to the wall and shared with the group. Several of the notes were about gender stereotypes and the double bind; others addressed body image; some took on issues related to sports. Even as clusters of Post-its revealed persistent themes, each person had the space to think about what was most significant to her.
“We want the teens to explore topics and change-making strategies that are authentic to them, while also taking risks,” says Jennifer Anolik, Moving Traditions’ Curriculum Manager, who runs Kol Koleinu. “Risk-taking is important to feminism, and to creating change.”
This year, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, resilience and adaptability have also become major themes. The November retreat was the first time that many of the 2019-2020 Kol Koleinu fellowship participants were able to meet in-person, but COVID-19 has made a second in-person meeting impossible. The program’s regular online meetings, and its vibrant online community, have taken on new significance. Kol Koleinu participants are now striving to support each other and reimagine new ways to complete their fellowship projects. As an unexpected crisis has intruded on their plans, they are gaining insight into the usefulness of being able to revise their expectations, pivot, and find alternative ways to meaningfully advance their change-making work.
Even before social distancing became a priority, Kol Koleinu operated primarily online so that it could connect teens across the country, and reach a range of Jewish communities. There are 14 students in the current cohort. The program is offered by Moving Traditions, in collaboration with NFTY and USY.
“Moving Traditions added Kol Koleinu to its offerings two years ago, initially with the support of a grant from Hadassah. We discovered a related project that was underway through NFTY in New York, spearheaded by a former Rosh Hodesh program participant, and soon joined forces,” says Rabbi Tamara Cohen, Moving Traditions’ VP and Chief of Program Strategy. “We aspired to offer something to older teens—particularly those who had participated in Rosh Hodesh and were looking to build on their experiences, but also others who ready to take a next step in their leadership, activism, and ability to make feminist change as Jewish teens.”
With the leadership of Anolik and Rabbi Cohen, Kol Koleinu is one of Moving Traditions’ many educational offerings driven by its mission to “embolden teens by fostering self-discovery, challenging sexism, and inspiring a commitment to Jewish life and learning.” Though all of the teens in this year’s cohort identify as women, in the past there was a male participant and a few participants who identified as genderqueer. Indeed, the fellowship’s name itself—which means “All of Our Voices”—is meant to “. . . signal a feminism that is gender inclusive and a vision of a community that truly elevates and celebrates all voices. In many Jewish communities in the past, and in some still today, the voices of women and sexual and gender minorities have been quieted, silenced, and/or sexualized. This program envisions a community where all voices are heard and taken seriously.”
Kol Koleinu seeks to help participants create change in diverse Jewish communities across the country—their Jewish communities. It also responds to very real concerns expressed by Jewish teens today.
Jennifer Anolik points to the Jewish Education Project’s GenZ Now: Jewish Teens Research Study. In a survey of Jewish teens who were asked about “which problems the teens they know need help with,” 68% of female respondents said “self-esteem issues” and 55% said “challenging sexism.” In helping young people to develop leadership qualities and empowering them to become agents of change, Kol Koleinu is responding to needs expressed by Jewish young women themselves.
Anolik and the fellowship participants meet regularly online to explore topics including theories of activism as well as the stories of famous—and not-so-famous—Jewish activists. Through these examples, the teens see that they, too, may be able to enact change. As their ideas develop, Anolik explains, it is critical to ensure that young people feel supported in their change-making.
“There’s this idea of the feminist activist who is always on her own, working solo,” Anolik says. “We try to break down that stereotype.”
The fellowship offers opportunities for the teens to build community and learn from one another. Each participant chooses and works to become an expert on a topic that relates to feminism (such as reproductive justice, racial justice, gender and Judaism, and intersectional identities). They then share their new expertise with the rest of the group and, through teaching, have an enormously beneficial learning experience. In this model, Anolik provides structure and guidance while encouraging the teens to “take up a lot of space” in the meetings.
The final core component of the fellowship is completing an activist project. Participants must first propose their project ideas (working individually or in small groups). Based on their proposals, they are then matched up with mentors—adults who have worked as activists or advocates in relevant areas. The teens are encouraged to check in on a semi-regular basis and learn from their mentors’ experience. The goal is to ensure that young people are not only empowered, but also prepared.
Sometimes “learning from the experience of others” is the change-making project. This year, one of the Kol Koleinu participants is creating a podcast featuring conversations with women in STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and math). The podcast’s creator decided to find out what it is actually like to work in those fields as a Jewish woman. What are the possibilities and challenges, and how might a young woman prepare to face them? Do Jewish women who work in STEM experience sexism? If so, what do they do?
Other Kol Koleinu teens are creating workshops to educate their peers on topics ranging from voting to sex education. One participant planned to do a project that would rally her synagogue community around the importance of sustainability. Unfortunately, the in-person version of the project has been delayed due to COVID-19.
“Activism takes time. Change takes time,” Anolik reminds this year’s Kol Koleinu participants. “Some projects can be done in a few months; some take years.” As the end of the term approaches, Moving Traditions is honoring the already impressive work of the teens, and encouraging them to persevere. In many ways, their work has only just begun.
By Miriam R. Haier, for The Covenant Foundation
“There are children, grownups, everywhere
That would love to hear your voices
Singing for our health to be bright
So that we can join together...and paint our world with healing and hope”
-From the original song, Painting Our World with Healing Hope, by Karina and Debora Zilberman
“Families that share stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time...Through sharing the past, families recreate themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
—“Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being
Read more about Dr. Marshall Duke and his work, here.
“There are people out there who are educating their hearts as we speak. They’re getting on with the work, they’re loving their kids, they’re loving their students, they’re loving their communities. We must retrain our vision toward those people—we must develop eyes to see and ears to hear where that love is already happening—that is worth our energy and our care and our time, to tend that love, to show that love ourselves.”
—Krista Tippett, Founder and CEO, The On Being Project
“There are just two outcomes that really matter: First, that students feel Judaism is the fertile ground in which they get nurtured to grow, and second, that they find Judaism joyful.” Rabbi Joy Levitt, Executive Director, JCC Manhattan
"Civil discourse requires us to listen generously and to act as though—and to really believe—we could be open to persuasion. We each may think: 'I did not cause this situation, I am not to blame.' Yet we each have the capacity to help society turn the corner, if we honestly ask what went wrong and what we can do about it."
- Martha Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and Joseph William Singer, Bussey Professor of Law, Harvard University
The Wow Metric of Success: Jewish Life in Bloom on the Farm: Spring has arrived, and the Jewish community is busy planting with purpose. In Vaughan, Ontario, the yellow coltsfoot and purple-blue scilla are just starting to flower at the Kavanah Garden, a half acre community garden that’s part of Shoresh, the Canadian-based Jewish environmental organization that includes the Kavanah Garden and Bela Farm. Last Sunday, on “Yom Manual Labor” volunteers gathered to turn the soil, plant seeds, paint outdoor tables and participate in construction projects with the Shoresh team, preparing the garden for growing season.
“Our Jewish community is only as strong as its ability to include all members in the fabric of Jewish life. Doing so helps each of us recognize the unique strengths we all bring to the Jewish community, and that community cannot possibly be complete until we actively and intentionally welcome each other.”
-Meredith Englander Polsky, 2017 Covenant Award Recipient, Director of Institutes and Training, Matan, and Developmental Support Coordinator, Temple Beth Ami Nursery School
“From all of my teachers, I have grown wise.” Psalms 119:99. Framing Jewish Education, a project of The Jewish Lens and supported by The Covenant Foundation, was created to engage teachers, students, and families in conversation about the value of Jewish education and to illustrate the power of great teaching and learning via a curriculum based on visual literacy and text.
“For me, study is a divine and daily imperative; I study a page of Talmud daily so that I am not only teaching. My teaching is constantly being fed by my learning.” —Erica Brown Associate Professor, George Washington School of Education and Human Development. Director, Mayberg Center for Jewish Education and Leadership, 2009 Covenant Award Recipient
The Covenant Classroom means something different to every educator but common goals are to motivate, engage and be inclusive of all learners. In this volume, we’ve collected an array of Teachings on Inspiration and Motivation in all areas of Education.
#ThankATeacher It has been twenty-five years since The Covenant Foundation first opened its doors, and we continue to be humbled by extraordinary Jewish educators from across North America and across the spectrum of Jewish life who have devoted their careers and considerable talents to the field of Jewish education. Now, in celebration of a quarter-century-old tradition of honoring Jewish education and educators, and to kick off a year of public engagement around great teaching, we’re proud to share The Covenant Foundation voices app with you: a new digital way to give and share your gratitude.
“What would it look like if we bet on Jewish early childhood education for the long-term, as our tradition instructs? The task might seem large, but the reward, we know, is great (Pirkei Avot 2:15).”
“Countless leaders have been inspired by the story of the Jewish people leaving bondage in Egypt – those whose names we know, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and those whose names we never will know, whose every-day acts of kindness and resistance fuel social change. This story, our story, has become a cornerstone of modern social justice work.”
—Abby Levine, Director of The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable
This is how I see a “Covenant Classroom”: a place where challenging topics are passionately discussed; a place where complex ancient texts are grappled with; a place in which self- esteem grows, and motivation to learn increases exponentially because of it. An environment in which each Jewish soul is given the confidence to continue the eternal search for meaning.”
—Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County and 2015 Covenant Award Recipient
“When powerful, new approaches to learning are introduced through digital tools, meaningful disruptions occur along the way… When this happens, new approaches which previously seemed inaccessible, are suddenly within reach.”
—Barry Joseph, Associate Director for Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives, American Museum of Natural History
“The future of Jewish teen engagement can in fact be found in 3D printers, and in text-people, and in service, and outdoor education, and in anything that brings teens into contact with authentic learning experiences and passionate, caring, knowledgeable educators.”
—Charlie Schwartz, Senior Jewish Educator, Director, BIMA & Genesis, Brandeis High School Programs
Portal seems like a particularly apt metaphor for entry points into Jewish life and learning because ultimately we want those experiences to be deeply experiential and transformative. We also want them to be accessible. A portal has no toll; passage is free. At the same time, a portal is particularistic, not a generic entrance. It conveys a sense of magic, ritual, and power. Similarly, we want to convey that Jewish life is rich, layered, and meaningful beyond what is immediately apparent. We want the encounter with Jewish life to take you on a journey that is profound and surprising. And, given that each of us may enter through the same portal but have a completely different experience of what is on the other "side," the possibilities are endless.
— Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, The Jewish Women’s Archive
"We need a new kind of creativity in the classroom that’s going to reach Jewish kids… If a teacher is imaginative, he or she is going to connect to students’ hearts and souls.”
—Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, Board Member, The Covenant Foundation.
"There are four types of students... The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on one side lets it out the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the lees. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." —Pirkei Avot 5:15
"There’s a misconception that a venture must depend on large grants from big donors. It makes more sense and it’s more sustainable to test out an idea, and see whether it has the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives."
— Ariel Beery, founder, PresenTense
I think [creating new Jewish texts] is a really good description of what we’re trying to do. These days we’re increasingly creating products that are intended to be shared on the web. We’ve felt and continue to feel that this medium, and virtual communication as a whole, is being under-tapped for its possibilities for making art.
— Reflections from Sam Ball on the New Jewish Filmmaker Project