Moving Traditions: Jewish Teens in the Age of #MeToo

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Being a teenager can be tough. Just ask 13-year-old Hope.

“Our emotions change a lot because of our hormones and just growing up,” the precocious middle schooler said.

Fortunately, to cope with those feelings, Hope knows where to turn. Once a month, she heads to Adath Israel, which hosts a girls-only group called Rosh Hodesh. That’s a program from the national organization Moving Traditions, which for the last 12 years has helped kids get through the ordinary challenges of their extraordinary teenage years.

“Everyone there is going through similar things,” Hope said. “To know that you’re not alone — and people there totally understand you — feels great.”

Rosh Hodesh and its boys-only counterpart, Shevet Achim, are small support groups for teenagers, led by a trained adult facilitator, meant to aid kids in their self-discovery, to challenge sexism and to create a commitment to Jewish life. Groups meet once a month, ideally for two years, usually in a synagogue or other partner institution, with the curriculum evolving as the teens get older. So far, about 20,000 teens have participated nationwide.

“It’s engaging and intimate, and a safe place where teens can talk about what’s on their minds, whether that’s academic pressure, their bodies or sexuality,” said Deborah Meyer, CEO of Moving Traditions, which is supported by our Jewish Federation. “And we discuss it from a values-based perspective, through the lens of Jewish teachings. It lays the foundation for teens to form a healthy identity and really flourish.”

Moving Traditions is also finding itself an important space for both girls and boys to grapple with the #MeToo cultural moment.

As public conversation turns to sexual harassment and assault, Meyer sees it as a tremendous teaching opportunity not only to help Jewish teens “learn what healthy relationships look like, based on respect and mutuality,” but also to influence culture. “We have boys asking, ‘What can I do to stop this behavior?’ which is heartening,” she said.

Because Moving Traditions teens already engage in age-appropriate talk about self-esteem, relationships and intimacy, they are well-equipped to tackle such discussions.

And as Jewish communities respond to the #MeToo movement, Moving Traditions has been asked to adapt its program for Jewish day schools as well. Meyer said, “We need teens to understand that they can choose not to buy into cultural patterns of harassment and abuse, but instead to break those patterns.”

Hope plans to stick with Rosh Hodesh: “I haven’t fully experienced my teenage years yet, but I know when I’m older it’ll be a great support system. I love it.”

So does her mother, Peg. “At this age, it’s important to have this special time set aside, where they can relate, and feel relaxed and safe,” she said. “Everyone should have that.”

For more information about Moving Traditions or to find a group near you, visit movingtraditions.org.

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