Moving Our Traditions for Our Time
Every generation reshapes Jewish tradition, both preserving and revitalizing its meaning and relevance. Sitting at Sally’s dining room table in spring 2004, Deborah Meyer and Sally Gottesman considered how they could serve this process of renewal. What questions, ideas, and framing would best engage and inspire our current generation of young people to develop both their Jewish identity and personal wellbeing—and to work for social change?
The answer they alighted upon was significant and grew out of the work they had already begun together: gender. Gender has always been critical to Jewish text and spiritual practice, and in contemporary culture, preconceptions about its expression have enormous power to shape who we are and can become. By building a Jewish organization that focused on gender and identity, Deborah and Sally knew they had the right avenue for our moment to engage Jewish teens by connecting the issues teens care about most to enduring Jewish values. Today, 16 years of research shows just how right Deborah and Sally were in understanding that when we embolden preteens and teens, engage families, and strengthen Jewish educators, we build stronger, more resilient Jewish people and Jewish communities.
With a clear vision, and under Deborah’s wise and skilled leadership, Moving Traditions developed its path for impact building powerful programs that help young people to pursue personal wholeness (shleimut), caring connections (hesed), and a just and equitable world (tzedek).
Since its founding in January 2005, Moving Traditions has become the leading nonprofit for impact-focused programs at the intersection of gender, wellbeing, and Judaism, partnering with more than 500 organizations and training thousands of Jewish educators and clergy to leverage fundamental change in the way the Jewish community understands and meets the needs of Jewish preteens and teens.
Indeed, we are living at a time in which it is not just important, but deeply imperative to continue Deborah and Sally’s feminist activist work. Together, we have the opportunity to support a new generation of Jewish youth of all genders, preparing them with leadership, collaboration, and activist skills to change the balance of our social contract and transform it into a new, more equitable and promising one for all.
The Opportunity of Kol Koleinu
The Kol Koleinu Teen Feminist Fellowship, Moving Traditions’ year-long education and leadership training program for teen Jewish feminists, is doing exactly this work of teaching young people how to collaborate for social change. Launched in 2018, the Kol Koleinu fellowship is building a national network of Jewish teen leaders who are prepared to advance social change in their communities on issues of gender by applying Jewish values and a feminist framework.
In 2020-21, Kol Koleinu roughly quadrupled in size from its pilot year, engaging 50 fellows in four cohorts across the country—and in 2021-22 there are 55 fellows. Kol Koleinu fellows learn together to deepen their feminist knowledge, use their expertise to teach their peers, and complete social change projects to engage other teens under the guidance of skilled adult mentors. Kol Koleinu thus has a ripple effect across communities, as the fellows’ work offers a peer-to-peer invitation for other youth to learn, engage, and act.
We see Kol Koleinu’s growth as evidence that this program is successfully offering the purpose, connectivity, and action that teens crave in the modern world. We also see it as a clear call to invest more comprehensively in Kol Koleinu so that the program’s impact continues to grow.
This need for greater investment coincides with Deborah’s transition from Moving Traditions. After 16 years at the helm, Deborah is passing her leadership onto a new CEO to oversee the next chapter in the organization’s impact. It is personally significant to Deborah to honor her founding partnership with Sally, their joint efforts for social change, and their shared joy at seeing a new generation of leaders emboldened to recognize all voices by dedicating this fellowship in their name: the Meyer-Gottesman Kol Koleinu Teen Feminist Fellowship.
One of the signature investments that Moving Traditions intends for Kol Koleinu is to dedicate a director to lead the program. To date, Kol Koleinu has been managed by a team of Moving Traditions program staff through its launch and refinement. The Kol Koleinu experience will strengthen in these primary ways:
- Extending impact: Developing strategy and a structure to embolden fellows to engage many other teens in their social action projects, extending and broadening the reach of their social changemaking.
- Improving the mentor experience: Enhancing the volunteer experience for Kol Koleinu adult mentors, bringing more structure and support to their recruitment, training, and ongoing guidance.
- Creating an alumni program: Moving Traditions and the fellowship will continue their impact through college and into the young adult years by creating an engaging alumni experience.
The Broader Impact Across Moving Traditions
These enhancements are exciting and important because beyond enriching the Kol Koleinu experience, they push Moving Traditions to build capacity in ways that advance priorities from our new strategic plan, including (but not limited to) making more visible teen engagement in social changemaking (tzedek) and upgrading our marketing and communications strategies and tools.
The overall impact of this campaign to name the Meyer-Gottesman Kol Koleinu Teen Feminist Fellowship —at this time when the feminist promise of equity for all genders feels threatened— will be a renewed momentum for social change led by Jewish youth who see themselves as prepared leaders and partners. They will have the skills to leverage their Jewish identity and values and engage their peers in ways that are relevant and meaningful for our current moment—just as Deborah and Sally did by together founding Moving Traditions in 2005.