For the last several years, the Hadassah Foundation has partnered with the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy (LJVA), which provides online learning to Jewish students around the globe–to-date, they have served about 2000 students in day schools, synagogue schools, and public schools in five countries!  This cutting-edge organization, which is transforming how Jewish education is taught, has been featured several times in the annual Slingshot Fund guide, which highlights especially innovative projects in the Jewish community.

 For two years, the HF supported the design and piloting of a new LJVA course for high-school age girls: In Their Footsteps: Women’s Leadership in the Bible and Today.   Students study Biblical texts about female leaders to explore different conceptions of leadership, and then complete a social action project.  Last year, the HF supported the inclusion of a mentoring component, which enabled the course participants to interact with an adult in their home community in addition to their virtual classmates and teacher.

Although Lookstein has been pleased with the progress of In Their Footsteps, they came to an important realization as they implemented the program: gender norms about leadership are “baked in” from a very young age.  By the time a children reaches high school–the point at which most Jewish leadership programs begin–young people have already formulated notions about leadership that are often based on the stereotypes they witness firsthand. In fact, recent studies indicate that American teenagers hold significant gender biases, particularly about women in powerful leadership positions.

To address this problem, and to create a new narrative about leadership–and, in particular, female leadership–for young people, they sought the HF’s support for a new program: Leadership Lab, a gender-sensitive online course for 7th and 8th grader students of both sexes that develops age-appropriate leadership competencies, including advocacy and activism, research and strategy, communication, and collaboration.   

In the first part of the program, youth will examine the live and work of Jewish women leaders who have led organizations, countries, and movements. Because all the leaders studied will be women, these females will become role models and points of reference for participants, thus helping to counter gender biases in the Jewish community.  The second part of the course will offer an opportunity to apply what they learn: the course will culminate with a multi-week simulation of a fictional “Universal Jewish Congress.” Students will play the roles of junior representatives, and as such be assigned to task forces and committees. They will be required to research, debate with peers, work on proposals collaboratively, and vote on real-life issues that affect the Jewish community, including those related to gender (for example, compensation in Jewish non-profits.)

To give students explicit skill targets, a deeper understanding of their leadership trajectory, and to ensure that students have the freedom to grow at their own pace and in their own way, the students will be able to earn “badges” as they complete course tasks (like assignments) that will enable them to gain competency in different leadership skills. 
We are excited that through this program, LVJA will help rewrite the narrative for young people about what it means to be a powerful Jewish woman and leader!