WISE in Boston, Female Empowerment for Jewish Girls

 

Ko'ach Ve Ru'ach; A New Conversation

by Naomi Eisenberg

 

At the youth village that I volunteered at in Be’ersheva, Israel, this past summer, almost never had I seen one of the girls walk into the weight room. A few weeks into working there, though, after the herd of boys left the room, I saw one of the girls, Tamra*, peek inside. I asked her if she wanted to come in with me and learn a few things. Within minutes we were weight lifting, and the look on this girl’s face was brighter than I had ever seen. She saw the eight-kilogram dumbbells in my hands and was amazed that girls could be that strong. Next time, she wanted to do more, and even start learning some boxing moves (which she eventually did).

The backstory to this encounter is that Tamra comes from a household where her stepfather beats her. In all honesty, I don’t know any more about her story than that phrase- something that I overheard in a conversation. I know she was born in Peru and immigrated to Israel at age seven. Other than that, I am left in the dark, piecing together what I know about her in order to be as supportive as possible.

I could tell though, that to feel like she could lift weights, and to feel physically strong was extremely empowering to her. This does not mean that next time (god forbid) she is in a dangerous situation at home, she will have the skills and ability to fight back. Often freezing is the instinct, even for the most physically capable of women. It does mean, however, that she has planted a seed of strength within herself, one that has told her that she has the power to push herself, and perhaps revive pieces of herself that may have fallen apart in recent years. 

There exists in the Jewish community this idea that gender based violence “does not happen here,” that women are safe from assault, from violence, from abuse. We have the potential to ignore the possibility that someone we love could be in a dangerous relationship simply because we believe that in our community, a danger such as this does not exist. The unfortunate truth is that domestic violence occurs everywhere.

As an intern for the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship, I found out about WISE, (Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment) and its impactful curriculum for young women to learn self-defense, leadership and entrepreneurship skills. Although the program was initially crafted to reach out to young Muslim women, I saw immediately, that there exist universal messages that are beneficial to young women of all religions. Specifically, however, I saw the potential for overlap between the Muslim curriculum and a Jewish curriculum; both are based in empathy, respect, and kindness. After reaching out to Rana Abdelhamid, the founder of WISE, the two of us discussed together how the program could be expanded to reach the Jewish community.

And so, we are making it happen.

 

“Ko’ach Ve Ru’ach, Strength and Spirit” will be WISE’s first ever three-day intensive workshop geared towards young women of the Jewish community. The workshop will be taking place January 8-10 at Temple Israel, Boston. 20 high school age applicants will be chosen from the greater Boston area to participate.

Although addressing gender-based violence, is of course, not a Jewish specific issue, the program Ru’ach Ve Ko’ach will approach its lessons through a Jewish lens. We will discuss topics of healing; how are healing of the body and healing of the soul related? How can we use self-defense learning and physical strength building to empower us in a spiritual way? We will also discuss the Jewish obligation to social justice; how can we be an upstander rather than a bystander? How can we use empathy to learn about ourselves and others? And of course, we will learn about successful Jewish women, both historically and in the current events to see how many paths are possible in life for us. The young women will also gain concrete skills in self-defense, public speaking, resume building, and leadership strategies. We hope to utilize the safe space of the Jewish community to have an open, honest and educational dialogue.

This workshop is not only the beginning of a conversation about gender based violence in the Jewish community, but also a stepping stone to create further collaborations between Muslim and Jewish youth in the future.

Apply to Ka'uch Ve Ra'uch now! Applications are due December 25th, and 20 young girls will be chosen. 

 

* Tamra’s name has been changed to maintain her privacy and her safety.