For a group of Jewish 2nd grade girls, a lesson in advocacy — and a life-changing trip to Washington

The classmates at a Chicago Jewish day school met with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and White House spokesperson John Kirby during their trip

It was a meeting that began like countless others at the White House: “Thank you for inviting us to meet with you today. We are so honored to be here,” said Hazel Nisenbaum, the advocacy group’s leader. She wore a sky-blue suit and white kitten heels. 

What followed made clear that the group’s business in Washington was anything but typical. 

“We are a group of second grade girls at Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School in Chicago, Ill.,” Hazel continued, before White House Jewish liaison Shelley Greenspan interrupted and asked if she could take notes. Eight-year-old Hazel, all business, agreed. “We may only be 7 and 8 years old, but we know we can make a big difference in the world. We are proud to be Jewish and are proud to be girls.” (That’s according to a video provided by Kara Goldman, Hazel’s mother, who can’t stop kvelling.)

In the Friday meeting at the White House, Hazel was tasked with introducing the Jewish Girls Rights Club, whose 11 members were in Washington with their mothers for a high-level advocacy day that even the most seasoned Washington veterans would envy. 

Their day began on Capitol Hill, in meetings with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and the chief of staff to Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and a private tour of the Capitol. Afterward, they went to the White House for a visit that included conversations with Greenspan, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, White House Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein and Deputy Director Rachel Vogelstein, and Rebecca Lissner, deputy national security advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris. The girls ended the day at the Supreme Court. (They all read I Dissent, a biographical picture book about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, before the trip.)

“I was so encouraged by how tenacious and precocious these girls were. Yet as young as they all were, I was very impressed by how they had a keen sense of the ancient prejudices that fuel this recent rise in antisemitism that they have grown up with, and the need to stand up for the rights of women and girls,” Wasserman Schultz told Jewish Insider on Monday. “My heart was so full after speaking with these young ladies.”

Wasserman Schultz was rushing to another meeting after her conversation with the girls on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, but “she made the girls feel like she had all the time in the world to hear from them,” Goldman said. “She really had such a gentle way with the girls and also provided such inspirational advice about breaking down barriers and not taking no for an answer.”  

The girls wore pins — designed by Hazel — imprinted with the words “Jewish Girls Rights” in a pink Word Art font, two Israeli flags and  a blue Star of David in the middle. Wasserman Schultz put on the pin after their meeting, as did Kirby. 

Hazel started the Girls Rights Club to talk with her friends about issues like pay equity and reproductive choice “in an age-appropriate way,” Goldman said. Hazel grew up learning about those issues from her mother; Goldman is a reproductive endocrinologist at Northwestern University, and she talks to her four children about her work. It was only after the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel that Hazel and her friends decided to add “Jewish” to the name of their club.

“They heard in an age-appropriate way that we have to protect Jewish girls,” Goldman said. “They hear a lot, and we talk a lot at home, about what’s been going on. They have tremendous pride in Israel. I think they feel a deep connection to Judaism and a deeper connection to Israel.”

After the girls started saying that they wanted to go to the White House to talk to President Joe Biden about these issues, one of the girl’s mothers — who works at AIPAC — called Greenspan, a friend, to ask if she could help set something up. Greenspan arranged a full day for the girls, who left Washington feeling inspired (and tired).

Jewish Girls Rights Club meets with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz  (D-FL)

“I was so impressed when the Jewish Girls Rights group reached out and asked for a meeting,” Greenspan told JI. “Listening to them share their perspectives and dreams was an important reminder that no matter how challenging the world can be, fearless young girls are a North Star. Jewish women are powerful agents of change and I know our future is bright with these young girls leading the way.”

The girls care about antisemitism and sexism, but those aren’t the words they use. The way they communicate their ideals is simpler and more straightforward.

“They just think that things should be fair for girls and for Jews,” said Goldman. “They notice that there’s never been a female president, and there’s never been a Jewish president.” What inspires them is strong Jewish female leaders, added Goldman, and that’s what they experienced in Washington. 

Each girl had a clipboard with printed-out copies of the scripts for their meetings. An Israeli student mentioned her family members who had to “leave their houses because of Hamas,” according to the prepared script. “We want to visit them and get them presents and I miss them.” Another student said she is proud because Israel is the only Jewish country in the world, and also because it has had a female leader, “and we should have a female president in America,” the script stated.

“We saw strong female Jewish leaders in all three branches,” said Goldman. “I think they saw the possibilities of what their future could hold.”

On Friday night, after the long day of meetings, the girls and their mothers gathered in their hotel room to celebrate Shabbat. They had brought homemade challah with them from Chicago.

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