Tween girls come together for wholesome Jewish fun

The Jewish Study Network’s newest forum for young girls is like a pint-sized Hadassah — if the women’s Zionist organization offered sleepovers, weekend trips and the chance to be a star.

On Feb. 18, about 28 girls from the Bay Area, ranging from 4th- to 8th-graders, sang, danced and acted in “Ima,” the group’s first production that appealed to “Jewish girls, their mothers and Jewish divinity,” coordinator Shaindy Stewart said.

“Girls who don’t go to school together and who have never met are really becoming friends,” she added.


JSN girls’ group members (clockwise from top left) Shoshana Leibowitz, Racheli Felsen, Tzipporah Feldman and Shifra Felsen wave goodbye as they leave on a recent trip to Los Angeles. photo/courtesy of sarah felsen

In addition to the onstage fun, the girls have participated in myriad activities including pre-holiday cooking (making honeydipped apples for Rosh Hashanah) and traveling (a recent trip to Los Angeles to watch a girls’ high school production, shop and go to restaurants).


A member of the choir in “Ima,” Efrat Wilnai said the L.A. excursion has been the highlight of her participation in the JSN group.

“We went to Munchies [a kosher candy store], stayed overnight, toured a gemach [money lender] and much more,” said the 10-year-old from Palo Alto. 

Events for the all-girls youth group began last September, around the start of the school year. To get the word out, Stewart posted fliers at Jewish day schools and relied on word of mouth. She has nearly 30 girls at each activity, which are fee-based to cover costs for supplies.

Esther Kestenbaum volunteers with JSN and has been instrumental in organizing the female cohort. She compared the youth group to the Girl Scouts, with the added benefit of a strong emphasis on Judaism.

“It’s kosher, wholesome fun,” she said.

In the future, Stewart said she would like to make the production an annual event. She also wants to coordinate a Shabbaton featuring different Bay Area schools. Whatever the activity, Stewart hopes each girl gains a positive feeling about being Jewish.

“A Jewish girl has many ways to express her talent, use her skills and have a really good time doing do so,” Stewart said. “I want her to feel a sense of pride and boost her self-esteem, especially at this age.”

All-female film screening in Palo Alto

Meryl Streep or Hannah Montana? Mothers and daughters don’t always agree on what constitutes entertainment — but Dena Levin is hoping to change that with a screening of “A Light for Greytowers” in Palo Alto on March 1.

“It’s hard to find a movie that could appeal to anyone,” said Levin, who watched the musical with her daughter in Los Angeles where it premiered two years ago. “It’s like a Jewish ‘Annie,’ so that’s what interested me also.”

Directed by Robin Garbose, “Greytowers” is a film intended to be seen exclusively by girls and women. It was filmed in accordance with the Jewish law that states Orthodox women cannot perform in front of adult males.

Based on a popular young adult novel, the film follows Miriam, a Russian girl who flees with her mother to England during the pogroms, and her experiences in an orphanage after her mother’s death.

The film will be shown 7 p.m. March 1 at the Cubberly Community Center Theatre in Palo Alto. Tickets are $12. For more information, call (650) 424-9800.