By Chevi Rubin
What Happens when you Combine Bible Study, Leadership Training, and Social Action with Strong, Confident, Young Women Ready to Take on the World?
This year, Lookstein Virtual piloted four cohorts of In Their Footsteps: Women’s Leadership in The Bible and Today, an online Jewish women’s leadership program generously funded by the Hadassah Foundation. As our final cohorts are winding down, we’d like to share a few helpful takeaways and a whole lot of nachat.
The Plan (some background for those of you who are not familiar with our program):
1- Attract young Jewish women who are destined for leadership.
2- Study Biblical stories about female heroines in order to find inspiration.
3- Encourage participants to identify their own strengths and skills and take stock of leadership areas that could use refining.
4- Ask each participant to identify an issue or need in their community or beyond and create their own social action project.
5- Meet as a group to learn, build, and practice concrete leadership skills, share successes and failures, and support one another as each participant plans, perfects, and executes her project.
Our 3 Biggest Takeaways
1 – Flexibility is key. Our participants are already on their way to becoming superstars, and they are busy! All year we competed with SAT prep, play rehearsals, trips around the world, team sports, family commitments… The list goes on, but because our participants could join from anywhere and because they were truly interested in the content, they showed up. Bottom line – make it awesome and flexible, and they will make it work.
2 – Don’t shy away from Jewish content. Bible study is a core element of our program, and we were concerned that this element of the program would not necessarily speak to everyone in our target demographic. Every cohort, and nearly every participant from a wide range of backgrounds, asked us for more and more Jewish content. Bring on the substance!
3 – Jump right in! Our participants were ready to get to work immediately. Critical steps in group forming such as introductions, ice breakers, and expectation setting can happen in parallel with concrete learning. If they are excited and ready to make things happen, let them run with it!
Introducing our Leaders (#jewishgirlsrock)
Last week I had the privilege of attending the end of year project showcase for one of our cohorts. While listening to each participant present her project, I was struck by just how fitting the name of our program is.
We wanted the name to reflect the idea of a chain of leadership. We know that strong leaders pass on their skills and know-how to the next generation. Our goal in selecting the name “In Their Footsteps” was to set the stage for the up and coming women leaders to find inspiration in Biblical women, and to follow in their brave footsteps. We also wanted participants to follow in the footsteps of our amazing program facilitators, each a Jewish woman leader in her own right, who have made (and continue to make) outstanding contributions to the Jewish community.
What we could never have predicted was the degree to which we would all be inspired to speak, act, and follow in the footsteps of our first graduating cohorts.
In the footsteps of Soren, who is spearheading an awareness campaign on human trafficking as a means to combat this issue in her own city.
In the footsteps of Alex, Julia, Carol, and Ahava who are each working on new initiatives to break boundaries and create more inclusive environments in their schools.
In the footsteps of Liora, who initiated and runs a book drive for Syrian refugees.
In the footsteps of Oryah, who has taken it upon herself to raise awareness in her community about the water shortage crisis in third world countries.
In the footsteps of Anna and Hadassah, who have started a collection and distribution system in order to get critical supplies to families in need in their communities.
In the footsteps Hadassah and Rebecca, who identified an animal shelter in need and are implementing a plan to raise awareness and solicit funding and volunteer time on behalf of the shelter.
These young women have accomplished so much in such a short period of time, and they are just at the beginning of their journey. Let’s follow in their footsteps and stand up to injustice, lead our peers, and create the change that we want to see in our own immediate Jewish communities and in the world.
If you’d like to learn more about any of these projects or connect with the young women who are leading them, or if you would like to learn more about our new leadership mentoring program, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chevi Rubin is the Director of Communications at Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy, a project of The Lookstein Center at Bar-Ilan University.