Yudit Sidikman would like little girls to dream about growing up to be tigresses instead of princesses.
By accessing “the tigress inside them,” she said, women can gain confidence, set personal boundaries, and protect themselves from physical and psychological abuse.
Sidikman, who grew up in Franklin and Highland Park and graduated from Highland Park High School, is the founder and CEO of the Jerusalem-based El HaLev Center, which aims to reduce violence against vulnerable people through self-confidence and self-defense training.
Its clients include women, children, those with special needs, and seniors.
Sidikman conducts workshops throughout Israel for at-risk and Arab adolescent girls, as well as self-defense workshops for women in the Israel Defense Forces and the Jerusalem Battered Women’s Shelter. El HaLev also runs a children’s summer camp.
On Oct. 20, Sidikman returned to Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, where she grew up and became a bat mitzva and where her parents, Carol and Larry Zicklin, still belong. Her father, a former congregation president, is also the former president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
She conducted two workshops that day, teaching teens martial arts techniques and leading an adult workshop on establishing personal boundaries.
Sidikman first visited Israel at age 16 through the Reform movement’s North American Federation of Temple Youth. She made aliya several years later, in 1984.
Envisioning herself to be a modern-day Golda Meir — draining swamps and reclaiming the land —Sidikman quickly realized there were no swamps to drain in modern Israel. Instead, she set her sights on other pioneering endeavors.
She acknowledged she suffered from low self-esteem, the result of being abused as a child “by someone who took advantage of their position in my life.”
That all changed when she went to her first judo class as a favor to a neighbor. She “fell in love” with judo, eventually becoming a third-degree black belt when she was seven months pregnant with her fifth child.
She cited a line from “Eishet Chayil,” the “Woman of Valor” blessing: “She girds her loins with strength and makes powerful use of her arms.”
“This is a Jewish concept, and where did we lose it?” asked Sidikman. “Was it lost in translation?”
In the morning workshop, which drew 40 teens with no prior self-defense experience, she taught basic martial arts. Many were able to break boards with their hands by the session’s end.
Later that afternoon, Sidikman conducted a sparsely attended adult workshop on establishing personal boundaries.
“No one thinks this is important, and they are absolutely wrong,” she said. “Do you know I wrote to every synagogue, Hadassah chapter, women’s group, college group within 50 miles of New Brunswick and offered to conduct a free program — and only Anshe Emeth accepted?”
Yet, Sidikman noted, one in three women will be the victim of a sexual assault in her lifetime.
“If you haven’t been a victim look to your right and to your left,” she instructed. “Believe me it’s one of you.”