You can’t think of the Girl Scouts without picturing their mouthwatering signature cookies. But you also wouldn’t have those cookies without the women who started the organization in the first place — and they were Jewish.
Founder Juliette Gordon Low recruited some of her friends as troop leaders, who were members of Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Ga., the country’s third-oldest synagogue.
The first cookies were made in Savannah, too, at the kosher Gottlieb’s Bakery.
Girl Scouts is an all-inclusive organization, but Jill Tanney, chair of the National Jewish Committee on Girl Scouting, emphasized they support Jewish scouts.
The committee supplies guidelines for troops that may only have one Jewish girl on how to approach holidays, food or other practices.
“Without thinking, councils and troops will schedule things on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and Passover,” she chuckled. “So we try to give them the information that will clear the misconceptions and allow them to do things that are equitable for all.”
There’s no way of knowing how many Jewish troops are active across the country, or Jewish Girl Scouts, since religion is not questioned in registration.
Tanney hopes the Girl Scouts’ emphasis on community service filters throughout their lives as they grow up.
And as they fulfill requirements for the Jewish Award, which Tanney said may be “for the child who doesn’t have classic support or who may have one parent who’s Jewish or may have no traditional background, they’ll get the basics.”
With the basics, the hope is that they’ll go to college, see Jewish organizations like Hillel, and say, “Oh, I saw that when I was a Girl Scout. That has something to do with other Jews. Let me go see.” With that, Tanney sees a continuation of Judaism in the future, rooted in scouting.
Scouting is significant to Sarah Weinstein, who was a Girl Scout until her preteen years.
She runs a Jewish troop out of Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley. The group of 14 girls is comprised of multiple Girl Scout levels, varying between third- through fifth-graders and one eighth-grader, Weinstein’s eldest daughter.
When the troop started at Abrams, she jumped at the chance to enroll her daughter, then in kindergarten. Eventually, she started co-leading, which inevitably became leading by herself. Word got around school, and more younger girls became interested.
“The girls really do enjoy it,” she said. “They come up to me when they see me in the school … and they say, ‘Do we have Girl Scouts today?’”
She admits she runs pretty strict meetings, but even when a little talkative chatter breaks out, she notices older girls stepping up and shushing them, adding, “We have a lot to do, and I really want to listen.”
“I love hearing that enthusiasm from them,” Weinstein said. The next goal is to plan their first shomer Shabbat camping trip. Since some of the girls are still young — and maybe have never experienced a sleepover outside of their home — they’ll do a trial run in Weinstein’s backyard.
She noted the morals and life lessons of Judaism go hand in hand with Girl Scouts, from respecting authority and environment to being kind and courageous.
“It’s beneficial for girls to have a place where they are comfortable being just them without the extra … [way] society makes us think,” she said, like competing against boys.
She’s also aware of — and disheartened by — the way preteen girls can form cliques, so she hopes being involved in scouting will diminish that.
“If I can have 10 girls rally behind one other girl and say, ‘That’s not OK,’ because one girl is getting picked on or one girl is bullied,” she said. “There are plenty of times in life where you’re going to find people breaking other people down. School should not be that place.”
As they get older, hopefully those ideals will cement in their lives.
“There’s no limit to what you can do and how you can affect change,” she said.
Freida Atkins, 11, creates change overseas: Each year, she sends Chanukah cards to U.S. soldiers, a service project she began for her Bronze Award.
This year, she mailed 800.
“Other Girl Scouts send from all over the country,” added her mother, Sara Atkins, “and Freida often makes some with her siblings.”
Atkins is the leader for Freida and her younger sister, Mimi, 6, who participate as Juliettes — the title given to independent girls, named after its founder.
“She is a Juliette in part because it’s hard to find a troop her age that doesn’t meet on Saturdays or right after school at the school,” Atkins explained, as her daughter is home-schooled and in and out of doctor’s appointments for an autoimmune disorder. “Being a Juliette gives her the flexibility to work around her medical stuff.”
Both girls recently earned their Jewish Award, and Freida, a cadette, submitted her project for her Silver Award.
Atkins said they apply their own Jewish spin to certain badges. For a cooking badge, they talked about how to adapt to special culinary needs.
They cooked chicken for dinner and chocolate chip cookies for dessert — made with the liquid from a can of chickpeas, since Freida is allergic to eggs. (All kosher, too.)
Atkins applauded their service unit for being accommodating to their Jewish needs, which she said is a core value of the organization — “to be a sister to your fellow Girl Scout.”
“In our service unit, we have Muslim girls, we have Jewish girls, we have Christian girls, we have atheist girls, we have girls who religion isn’t a part of their lives. And we all come together,” she said. “When you see these girls hand in hand, having fun, laughing, you just have hope for the world. … Girl Scouts is very service-oriented. It teaches girls how to be a leader, and this provides my girls a chance to do lots of mitzvahs.”
Within all her Girl Scouts accomplishments, Freida admitted she’s most proud to be a Jew — and make new friends. “And being able to help around the world.”
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