We live in a time where our girls are receiving conflicting messages about their roles in society. They are challenged from all sides with subtle and not so subtle cultural conditioning determined to mold their value system to conform to the world around them. Our homes and schools stand at the forefront battling the insidious inroads made by the media and the secular society around us.
Peer pressure is also an extremely potent force. It can either work for or against us. Enter Bnos Agudas Yisroel which provides a framework for fulfilling, exciting, and inspiring activities within a Torah environment. The amazingly dedicated professional women who lead it serve as role models to the volunteer counselors. They in turn motivate and enthuse their young Bnos group members with Ruach. The numbers involved are breathtaking. Over 10,000 girls in close to thirty states meet weekly across America! Each community’s program sponsors many special activities throughout the year to support and encourage the camaraderie. Melava Malkas, Chanukah and Purim parties, ice-skating, roller skating, boating and barbecues are just a few of these special events.
The critical focus of Bnos Agudas Yisroel is to provide girls with the tools they need to promote healthy and safe relationships and lead productive lives. Unlike other organizations that deal with at-risk teens, the focus of Bnos is prevention. And it works. Just look at the number of Bnos members who go on to become counselors, Branch leaders and community leaders.
Just this past week, in a beautiful display of Achdus and Chesed, high school Bnos members from 17 schools in the metro New York area came together to pack very special Mishloach Manos. Together with Bnos Bikur Cholim participants, they personally delivered them to the residents of twenty-five different nursing homes. Special thanks to the participating schools and the Agudist Benevolent Society that sponsors the Bnos Bikur Cholim program in which high school girls make regular visits to nursing home seniors and to the homebound.
A phenomenal outgrowth of Bnos is the Bnos One on One Big Sister Program. Conceived and developed by Bnos Director, Mrs. Chana Baila Hass, it began in 2009 by matching up thirty big and little sister pairs in five Brooklyn high schools and six elementary schools. With its mission to build greater resiliency and promote educational achievement it now has thriving branches in seven states and Canada! 800 girls participate from over 75 different schools. Much of its success is due to its incredibly enthusiastic and dedicated managerial team. These women set an incredible example with their passion and commitment to the program. Sponsored by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz’s Center for Jewish Family Life with the assistance of a grant from the Covenant Foundation, divisions are located in Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles Miami, Toronto and in the metropolitan area in Brooklyn, Queens, Far Rockaway, Monsey and Lakewood, New Jersey.
They credit the project’s popularity to the prototype developed for the program. Its goal has always been for the girls to enjoy a fun time together. Teleconferences are conducted for the big sisters, where they are able to exchange ideas for spending quality time with their little sisters. Among their suggestions have been scrapbooking, jewelry making, cooking and baking, doing puzzles, playing word games and having their little sisters accompany them to play practice and shopping for Shabbos. Get togethers are organized throughout the school year for activities like craft making, Chasuna dancing and barbecues, all while wearing their Bnos One on One sweatshirts with its distinctive logo, generously provided by Outerstuff LTD’s Shlomo Werdiger (who serves as Chairman of the Board of Agudath Israel of America).
Perhaps Bnos One on One’s achievements are due to the fact that the program makes the big sisters feel terrific about themselves. Many of them feel that it is the most rewarding thing they’ve ever done. And as one of our little sister’s mother said, “A middle school girl, who generally feels insecure and self-conscious, can have the opportunity to feel important and valued by an older girl. This does worlds for a girl at this stage.” Her daughter, who used to be shy and introverted, has now developed the confidence to fully participate in school.
Rabbi Labish Becker, Executive Director of Agudath Israel of America, who supervises its youth divisions noted, “This is a perfect example of Agudas Yisroel’s commitment to meeting the critical need of providing a substantive framework to combat society’s negative influences, and at the same time nurture and build healthy and resilient members of the next generation of Klal Yisroel.”