“Empowering young girls is tendentious and would be inappropriate for our local library,” was the response we received when asking to host a Women of the Wall storytime event.
For about a year now, Women of the Wall has been offering virtual storytime events for girls and boys with a focus on empowering the young generation. The events have all been on Zoom as Covid health restrictions have prevented us from gathering in person. As soon as Covid regulations allowed, we turned to a local Jerusalem library with the offer to provide a book reading and a play in which we’d do as we always do, empower young girls. We assumed we would be welcomed with open arms. An activity for kids, when most are cancelled due to the government’s new Covid regulations, is a rare thing. Instead, the library director, not knowing how to handle our request, forwarded it to the Jerusalem Municipality which then declined the offer.
It’s important to clarify why our request was turned away. We were told that the nature of our storytime event would not be suitable for their space. Empowering young girls would be inappropriate for our local library. Reading “The Princess and the Paper Bag”, the story of a princess who saves the day instead of the prince, would be unseemly.
Such a large portion of the stories we find in children’s books and movies celebrate the achievements of boys and men. Whether it be the knight in shining armor who saves the princess or the male doctor who helps sick people, the representation of girls is shamefully limited. Our goal is not to promote outlandish or radical notions to children but to simply level the playing field for our boys and girls. Both boys and girls can and should be the heroes of our stories.
This importance of the project goes beyond storytime. When a young person is told a story of a princess who chose to be a doctor and save the world instead of sitting still and looking pretty, the message is translated to other areas of life. For us, we see this as a way to inspire young girls to reclaim their place in Judaism. If a girl can be the hero, then a woman can be whatever she wants to be-a rabbi, cantor, community leader, you name it.
By refusing our request, the library and the Jerusalem Municipality have made their point loud and clear. The empowerment of young girls is not only not a priority but is inappropriate. An issue that one would assume would be resolved by 2021 is certainly alive and only propels us forward to continue fighting for what we believe in. This small hiccup as upsetting and shocking as it may be is fuel for us to continue expanding on our education programming for young girls. We see this as a new opportunity.