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Tali Aziza and Shapira Tessler


by Tali Aziza and Shapira Tessler, Israel, Feb 5, 2012

Strength is an aspiration, a goal and a destination. We all want to be strong people, but most of us struggle with finding the best possible route to our ultimate target. In the last several decades gender equality has taken several substantial leaps leading women to be stronger forces than ever before. However, many young girls fall short in the presence of boys, feeling insufficient or incapable of fulfilling their true potential.

This phenomena was recognized by Lindsay Hyde,  a young Harvard graduate who was particularly attuned to girls self belittlement in co-ed gym classes. Lindsay, was astounded to see how much elementary school girls humbled themselves, shying away from showing their true potential. She, decided that something had to be done to tap into the amazing wealth of potential these girls had. Lindsay moved on to start the program Strong Women Strong Girls on Harvard's campus in 2000.

Strong Women Strong Girls is a program that revolves around female empowerment and aspiring strength in girls ages 10-12 from difficult backgrounds. The program involves college aged, well rounded mentors working with fifteen elementary school girls in a carefully designed hour and a half program. The program consists of dealing with the peaks and valleys of the week, learning about an extraordinary woman in history and doing a group activity that shows the girls that they too are capable of what this strong woman once achieved. Every session ends with a special journal writing ritual in which the young girls answer questions in their journals prompted by their mentors. The mentors then respond to their entries and hand their journals back the following week for the cycle to continue. Through its multiple methods of teaching, Strong Women Strong Girls enables each and every girl participating in the program to feel empowered in some way and hopes that every girl leaves program feeling stronger than they did when they began.

Tal Ben Shahar, a  popular former positive psychology professor at Harvard University, now teaches psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. In one of Tal Ben Shahars lectures he spoke of the Strong Women Strong Girls program that though started at Harvard, was already successfully established at several university campuses in the states. Dr. Ben Shahar presented the program proudly and spoke highly of its successes in America. The concept particularly touched us and we both enquired with Dr. Ben Shahar about starting Strong Women Strong Girls in Israel.

We  were set up with Strong Women Strong Girls in Boston and after several hours of skype meetings and conversing over email it began to seem as though Strong Women Strong Girls in Israel would remain as but a dream.We felt as though we were confronting every wall that could be hit. Fortunately, we later learned about an amazing children's home in Netanya called Bet Elezraki. Bet Elezraki is home to 200 children (ranging in age from babies to eighteen year olds) who have been taken out of their homes by the government for a magnitude of reasons. The home is an amazing place that fosters growth as well as personal and academic achievement in each of their children. Strong Women Strong Girls appeared to be a perfect fit with Bet Elezraki and so we began planning our first semester of Strong Women Strong Girls in Israel.

The program was run on fifteen girls who, despite the immeasurable hardship they have endured had some of the most refreshingly shining personalities one could dream of. Each week's lesson had a valuable theme, such as acceptance of others, goal setting and determination. The girls learned of what makes a strong woman and of the traits that set her apart. They learned of various inspirational women in history such as Golda Meir, Rosa Parks, and Alice Miller. The girls additionally engaged in activities depicting the successes that these woman had achieved and finished off every lesson with special time to write in their journals. The girls really enjoyed feeling as though they have a secret relationship in a journal with one of us, and no one else would be able to read it. As the lessons continued the girls were feeling much more comfortable with us, and the nervous excitement they once had turned into enthused motivation to participate all the time.

We felt so privileged to be able to contribute to the positive transformation that the girls were experiencing. We truly believe in the strength of this program and in the value of the impact that it has had on the girls that have participated thus far. The program is multifaceted in its design so that every girl can take something out of every lesson, and in our first semester at Bet Elezraki the effects of the program on every girl, though different, were unmistakable.

 At a time when politics seem unstable, the economy is at a decline and the road to peace is still uncertain, we believe that Israeli society and the world at large could benefit immensely from an increase in strength. We hope that Strong Women Strong Girls will foster more strength in Israeli society and will continue to pave the way for incredible female advances in the future.

Former Winnipegger Tali Aziza and Shapira Tessler, co-Founders Strong Women Strong Girls in Israel

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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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