Posted in Manhigut on 19. Feb, 2012
One might think that deciding to postpone university by one year to study and volunteer in Israel would be enough to define someone as a leader. For a few participants on Young Judaea Year Course, even that wasn’t enough. More than two hundred recent high school graduates from North America and Europe are spending the current academic year in Israel. Despite the incredible opportunities afforded to them to learn, effect change, and make a difference, 33 of them have decided that they desire even more, choosing to enroll in the Manhigut (leadership) track.
According to the Year Course website, Manhigut offers participants the chance to “engage in life-changing community action projects.” One student, Talia Niederman from North Bergen, New Jersey, has begun doing exactly that. Along with her friends Sammy Schwartz (White Plains, NY), Catie Stewart (West Chester, PA), Carly Karten (Aledo, TX), Ali Hathaway (Ashland, MA), and Emily Griminger (Bethesda, MD), Talia recently created Garin Kol L’Nashim, roughly translating to “The Voice for Women group” to both raise awareness and improve the lives of women in Israel.
Just a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the program’s second semester, Talia took part in an activity led by the staff to expose her group to various causes from which to select a volunteer project. When the topic turned to women’s issues, it seemed like an obvious choice. “Why hadn’t I done anything in the past” she asked herself. With recent media attention on religious extremism and the exclusion of women in Israel, the issue and the fact that American Jews know so little about the topic resonated with Talia and several of her friends who decided to create the group. But their efforts are far from restricted to just religious issues with women. The group is working on combating sex trafficking and assisting victims of sexual abuse.
Their efforts to better the lives of Israeli women are being realized in various ways. One day of the week, Talia and the other women volunteer at the Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center founded by Young Judaea alumna Miriam Schler. When Miriam mentioned that her daughter would be going to summer camp this year, the group decided to work on a Bat-Mitzvah project, encouraging Young Judaea members in America to raise funds for the crisis center.
Another day, the volunteers work at a residential battered women shelter north of Tel Aviv. Talia works in the gan (kindergarten), cooking, cleaning, and assisting with the residents’ chores.
These Year Course chanichim are only in Israel until late May; what will be when they leave? They are on top of it, already planting seeds to identify successors. They have begun a sex trafficking awareness campaign in the US, putting together a kit of educational materials that Young Judaea’s high school members can use to lobby and petition Knesset members and to fundraise for the women’s shelters. They have also reached out to the NU Campaign a Jerusalem-based company which creates and sells t-shirts to raise awareness for various social justice causes.
While there are not yet any males in Garin Kol L’Nashim, they’re by no means unwelcome. Several have expressed interest in joining and have begun helping with PR to spread the word.
To read the group’s blog and learn about what steps they are taking for the betterment of women’s lives, visit click here.
- Inside Israel