About Mara Q&A

Why did you get involved in this work?

I grew up in a small Jewish community in Connecticut. My parents sent me to a Jewish nursery school, an Orthodox Yeshiva, and later to the Solomon Schechter Day School. Each of these Jewish educational environments heightened my awareness about the traditional roles that were expected of boys and girls, and outlined standards for modesty, from how to dress to what was forbidden to discuss.

Learning about our bodies, puberty, healthy relationships, or HIV/AIDS was off-limits. In all my years of attending Jewish day school, camp, study abroad programs, and youth groups, I did not receive a single health class or presentation about sexuality.

I believe parents should be the primary teachers when it comes to talking about sexuality. However, Jewish day schools, youth groups, and programs are also responsible to ensure our youth are receiving Sexuality Education within the context of Jewish Values. More than ever, our children need information to become sexually responsible.

How did you gain the experience to create JLove and Values?

I gained years of clinical experience from working in schools and agencies for children with emotional and psychological disabilities, as well as providing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy at the Audrey Hepburn Children’s House, a diagnostic and treatment center. Here I worked with children who were physically and sexually abused.

For five years I was a Health Educator for Planned Parenthood, presenting workshops to teenagers on all aspects of sexuality in various settings. I also ran Teen Information and Peer Services (TIPS), training a group of teen leaders to serve as educators and role models to their peers. Since 2007, I have been a consultant at a non-profit drug prevention agency. I am responsible for researching and implementing evidence-based curriculum on all aspects of drug prevention, self-esteem, decision making, and peer pressure. I also coordinate the education and training for ‘Varsity Athletes Against Substance Abuse’ and organize an alcohol poisoning mixed-media campaign for high school students attending the prom.

JLoveandValues combines my clinical experience with my background in sexuality teaching, as well as my knowledge of the greater Jewish community.

Why did you create JLove and Values?

When I presented Sexuality Education classes in the public school system, I was asked the same questions over and over again by teens:

  • How do I know when I’m ready to have sex?
  • Do you think it’s okay to have sex in high school?
  • What should I do when my mother won’t buy me the clothes I want to wear?
  • What’s the big deal with sexting (sending sexually explicit pictures via text)?

My response was standard, and always the same: the answer to these questions depends on your family values, and on your religious beliefs. JLoveandValues’s premise is to reach out and help youth process many of these value-based questions within the context of Jewish tradition, ethics and law.

Do you have children? How has this changed you?

I have two children, a boy and a girl. Having children gives me a second chance at seeing the world not only from a child’s eyes, but also from the perspective of both genders. It also helps me to empathize with the challenge of how to raise sexually healthy children in today’s world.

Do you have work experience abroad?

Yes; in 1999, I was granted a fellowship to work at two non-profit organizations in Tel Aviv, Israel: ‘One in Nine: Women for Women with Breast Cancer’, and Physicians for Human Rights.

I gained valuable experience working in a health clinic providing health care to foreign workers, and helping women secure funding to treat breast cancer. I played an instrumental role in lobbying for the drug Herceptin’s inclusion in the Israeli basket of health services. Finally, I aided in developing a protocol to assist physicians in the emergency room to detect domestic violence.

Click here to read Mara’s Bio