Why jGirls Wants To Be More Than Just An­other Teen Pub­li­ca­tion

Forward Magazine - - Foreground - By Amy Oringel

When I was a teenager, I wasn’t at all in­ter­ested in the mag­a­zines tar­geted to girls my age: Seven­teen, Young Miss (which be­came YM), Sassy. They talked rev­er­ently about movies and TV shows I didn’t par­tic­u­larly like and bands I didn’t lis­ten to. And the girls on the cov­ers cer­tainly didn’t look like me.

Today, I would be a fre­quent vis­i­tor (and maybe even con­trib­u­tor) to jGirls Mag­a­zine (jgirls­magazine.org), an on­line pub­li­ca­tion with con­tent both for and by Jewish teenage girls. The brain­child of doc­u­men­tary film­maker and so­cial jus­tice ac­tivist El­iz­a­beth Mandel, jGirls provides any­one iden­ti­fy­ing as Jewish and fe­male be­tween the ages of 13 and 19 with an out­let that en­cour­ages self-ex­pres­sion and com­mu­nity. Par­tic­i­pants rep­re­sent a wide va­ri­ety of eco­nomic and cul­tural back­grounds, as well as all kinds of re­li­gious ob­ser­vance. Girls are ex­posed to and en­cour­aged to en­gage in dis­cus­sion about the myr­iad ways of liv­ing and think­ing at the nexus of these two iden­ti­ties.

“It’s crit­i­cal that girls trust their voices and trust that they will be heard,” Mandel told me. “With jGirls, we are telling them that they mat­ter and oth­ers be­lieve them. And that’s a fun­da­men­tal piece of ac­tivism.”

jGirls pub­lishes con­tent across mul­ti­ple cre­ative plat­forms, in­clud­ing po­etry, per­sonal es­says, fic­tion and other artis­tic for­mats. The site is over­seen by an ed­i­to­rial board of 14 girls, as well as three alum­nae ad­vi­sors, who are as­signed to var­i­ous com­mit­tees and run all as­pects of the mag­a­zine.

Or­ga­nized by sub­ject, is the writ­ing

ranges from such topics as grow­ing up in­ter­faith and liv­ing with spe­cial needs to cam­pus anti-Semitism, LGBTQ is­sues and, yes, #metoo, which has pro­vided the site’s most-read piece thus far.

Au­drey Honig, pre­vi­ously of the jGirls ed­i­to­rial board and now an alum­nae ad­vi­sor, is a fresh­man at Kala­ma­zoo Col­lege in Michi­gan. Af­ter serv­ing as head of the po­etry de­part­ment on the board, she is ma­jor­ing in English with a con­cen­tra­tion in po­etry.

“Par­tic­i­pat­ing on the jGirls board changed my abil­ity to speak up,” Honig said. “So many women start off with, ‘I don’t know if this is a good idea.’ I see my­self as a per­son who has many smart ideas! Hav­ing a space where my ideas are cel­e­brated has given me the con­fi­dence to ex­press my­self. We get train­ing that ap­plies to work­ing on the mag­a­zine, but it’s also use­ful as a Jewish woman in the world.”

For jGirl founder Mandel, the mag­a­zine is not just a la­bor of love, but the cul­mi­na­tion of her life’s work. A na­tive New Yorker, Mandel points to her up­bring­ing as a ma­jor mo­ti­va­tor in her ca­reer path. Grow­ing up in Riverdale in the 1970s, Mandel found her­self, un­know­ingly, at the epi­cen­ter of the con­ver­sa­tion con­cern­ing women and Ju­daism. Her neigh­bor­hood was Ortho­dox, but its over­ar­ch­ing at­ti­tude was pro­gres­sive. Girls were just start­ing to read To­rah at their bat mitz­vahs, the first lo­cal women’s prayer group was freshly off the ground and Lilith mag­a­zine was al­ways on the cof­fee ta­ble.

“There was a real sense of pos­si­bil­ity in the air,” Mandel said. “I was al­ways in­ter­ested in how far I could go with that pos­si­bil­ity and, at the same time, honor my strong sense of Jewish val­ues.”

Mandel’s hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts have taken her around the world to places such as Cam­bo­dia and In­done­sia, where she ad­dressed gen­der-based vi­o­lence and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. She quickly rec­og­nized the power of the me­dia to give a voice to the dis­en­fran­chised and sought, through her role as a pro­ducer and di­rec­tor, to cre­ate di­a­logue around these chal­leng­ing is­sues. But ul­ti­mately, she de­cided to turn the spotlight on her own cul­ture.

“My per­sonal joy and pride and strug­gle about be­ing Jewish and fe­male had so much to do with my iden­tity and choices,” she said. “jGirls com­bines the gen­der piece and the me­dia piece, but now I’m no longer he­li­copter­ing in to play a role. I’m cre­at­ing a space for younger ver­sions of me.”

Amy Oringel is a free­lance writer based in Bed­ford, New York.

‘It’s crit­i­cal that girls trust their voices and trust that they will be heard.’

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