How the Jerusalem Skater Girls went from two to 33 members
In 2010, Paola Ruiloba and Maayan Levi had no opportunities to compete in Jerusalem's skate competitions because they were segregated by gender.
Still, they skated every day after school, the only girls on the ramps in the city's largest public park, Gan Sacher, a sprawling expanse of green usually overrun with teenagers blaring Hebrew rap as they practiced their kickflips, ollies and backside 180s.
Ruiloba believes that local officials didn't think there would be sufficient interest in a girls skating competition.
In fact, the municipality did not hold one until May 2018, according to Action Sports for Development and Peace.
When Levi suggested that they form an organization to advocate for female skaters and recruit more to their ranks, Ruiloba thought she was joking.
"What kind of a skater group has only two members?" Ruiloba, 25, recalls asking. "But when you have a crazy idea like that, you have to go with it."
In a city rife with tension between religious sects, where some communities are bound by ritual laws that limit women's dress, work and social lives, Levi, 26, wanted to encourage women to pursue a sport that instills confidence and resilience. The two made a logo (a heel on a skateboard), stickers and a social media account for Jerusalem Skater Girls, and they began to advertise the group to friends and family.
Girls in the neighborhood came out to watch the spunky duo in their vintage jeans, tube socks and Gili's Skateshop T-shirts as they glided over ramps and flipped their boards 360 degrees in the air in almost gravity-defying motion. Sometimes they tumbled to the ground, scraping knees and twisting ankles on the concrete, but seconds later, they'd leap up for another attempt.
Jerusalem Skater Girls began to grow steadily, from a membership of two to 33. Five years in, they organized a self-funded competition with 2,000 Israeli shekel, which is around $550 in American currency.
"At the beginning, everyone was like, 'Oh, a group of skater girls, how cute,'" Ruiloba says. "None of us thought it would be this big, but it's just snowballed."
Levi and Ruiloba say JSG's membership encompasses every cross-section of Israeli society: Jewish, Muslim and Christian; Latina and Russian-born girls; straight girls and LGBTQ; ultra-Orthodox girls and atheists.
While some members of the group live in neighborhoods such as Har Nof and Mea Shearim that are segregated by religious sect, through JSG they meet girls from Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities across Jerusalem.
Ruiloba says being part of JSG has given her the chance to learn about lifestyles and communities radically different from her own. She learned, for example, that the Muslim girls don't skate during Ramadan because they fast during the day.
She now knows that ultra-Orthodox girls can't film their tricks on Saturdays because religious law prohibits use of technology on the Sabbath, the Jewish ritual day of rest, which lasts from sundown on Friday to Saturday night.
Ruiloba sees skating as a sport that teaches girls to focus, face their fears and find pride in their accomplishments. In fact, skating has taught her to overcome her insecurities from being bullied as a teenager.
"JSG made [skating] approachable. They made it seem like every girl can do it, and it doesn't matter what us guys think," says David Rosen, an Israeli skater of more than 10 years.
For example, Mako Minola's daughter, Elizabeth, joined JSG when she was 6 years old. Minola says the group has given her daughter a sense of self-confidence.
"Bigger, older boys look at the skate tricks my daughter does, and they say, 'Wow, she's amazing. I'm bigger than her, and I can't do that!'" Minola says.
Levi and Ruiloba have been featured in local Israeli news, such as Telavivian and Times of Israel, as well as international magazines such as Vogue and Elle. Prague-based filmmaker David Suchar is making a documentary about the group.
In August 2018, JSG received its first major international sponsorship when Vans agreed to sponsor the group's September countrywide tour.
"Vans takes pride in supporting such a great cause," says Stefanie Singer of VF Corporation, the global conglomerate that owns Vans. "JSG marks an impressive development in the feminist movement of Israel's skateboarding scene, which is small and consists mostly of men."
For girls, there's extra pressure in skate competitions, Ruiloba says: the pressure of representation. It doesn't matter that the girls do their kickflips or pop shove-its successfully, so long as they show that they're brave enough to attempt them. She saw a girl at a competition attempt a 10-stair jump -- a single leap over 10 steps.
"She didn't land it, but she tried it," Ruiloba says. "That was crazy! She just put the level up. Now other girls are gonna try that."
Levi hopes that through JSG, she'll expose girls across Jerusalem to the sport that now defines her.
"What do people do with their life if they aren't skating?" she says. "Like, yeah, you can party, go to the beach, have fun with your friends. But when I don't skate, I just feel like, what's the point?"