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The tallit as inspiration

New program for girls and their moms

By Cindy Mindell

tallitWEST HARTFORD – Over the last 20 years, the tallit has been increasingly embraced by women and b’not mitzvah in many Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist congregations.
How does a Jewish woman decide whether or not to wear a tallit? The question and the evolving role of the prayer shawl in the Jewish community are the basis of a new program for Jewish middle school girls called “Gurlz JAM.” The initiative was conceived by Rabbi Ilana Garber of Beth El Temple in West Hartford; Anna Elfenbaum, associate vice president of the Commission on Jewish Education and Leadership at the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford; and Heather Fielder, director of Jewish Teen Learning Connection (JTConnect). The three were discussing a shared concern, says Garber: “Our bat mitzvah girls bought beautiful tallitot, wore them once, and never wore them again.”
Gurlz JAM (Judaism, Anat and Me) presents an opportunity for Jewish girls and their moms to talk about issues they face today. The inaugural meeting will focus on the wearing of the tallit and how members of a family decide whether to incorporate it into their personal Jewish practice. A collaboration of several synagogues and Jewish organizations from the Greater Hartford area, the program is designed for all Jewish girls in grades 6 through 8 and their moms or other adult female role models.
Guest presenters Yael Freimann, Rabbi Sheryl Katzman, and Nancy Rosen have been inspired by “Women of the Wall (WOW),” a group that advocates for the right of women to worship as they see fit at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as well as the group’s chairwoman, Anat Hoffman. Gurlz JAM participants will learn about the history of Women of the Wall and the Jewish tradition of wearing prayer shawls, and engage in positive character and identity building. Over the course of the evening, the group will create a tallit that will be donated to WOW.
The meeting is not meant to convince girls to wear tallitot, “but rather to think about the mitzvah of tallit and the possibilities of adding this mitzvah to their Jewish observance,” says Garber. The program is intended to encourage an exploration of each participant’s personal Jewish expression as well as a wider understanding of how she fits into the Jewish community and larger world, she explains.
“We think it’s really important to foster conversations about Jewish spirituality, body image, and more during these years,” says Garber. Community partners for Gurlz JAM include Beth El Temple, the Commission on Jewish Education and Leadership of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, the Emanuel Synagogue, Jewish Teen Learning Connection, and the Mandell Jewish Community Center of Greater Hartford. Other events are in the planning stage.

Gurlz JAM will be held on Thursday, Jan. 24, 7-8:30 p.m. at the Underground, 740 North Main St., West Hartford. Reservations required: (860) 727-6110 / www.jtconnect.org

Comments? Email cindym@jewishledger.com.

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