Girl Scouting through a Jewish lens


Girl Scout Week is celebrated each year during the week surrounding the birthday of the Girl Scouts’ on March 12. On that day in 1912, the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, organized the first Girl Scout troop meeting in Savannah, Georgia.

That original group probably never dreamed that the organization would grow to millions of members earning badges in categories like STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), robotics and computer programming.

They probably also never envisioned a National Jewish Committee on Girl Scouting (jcgs.org) that enables troops of Jewish girls to learn concepts about Judaism in age-appropriate ways and earn awards pertaining to their grade level. The awards consist of a badge and a pin, and girls in both Jewish and all-religion troops can work towards these awards together or on their own.

In 2017, Nichole Chorny, who is the cantorial soloist at Congregation Anshei Israel, started Girl Scout Troop 613 in Tucson. The troop currently has six members who are in second through fourth grade. Nichole picked the troop’s number because of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

“A lot of troops will do things on Shabbat, or related holidays that we don’t participate in, so I wanted to make sure that it was something that my daughter would be able to fully participate in,” Nichole say about her reasons for starting the troop. “I also have the experience of having my mother be my troop leader, and that was really special. I wanted to have that for my daughter also.”

The troop gets together for various holidays like Sukkot and Hanukkah, and they’ll do different activities and even earn a patch to commemorate the holiday.

Girl Scout Troop 3818’s cookie booth at Temple Emanuel.

Jewish Girl Scouts-Temple Emanuel Girls Scout Troop 3818 in Tempe also celebrates holidays together, and this year they are doing something extra special for Passover.

“The girls are getting together to perform a play that tells the story – briefly – for an audience of their peers,” says troop leader Jennifer Zak. “The play is written and directed by parents of one of the girls, and the whole troop is taking on roles to tell the story.”

Both troops will be celebrating Shabbat with other scouts across the country on March 13 and 14. Girl Scouts has longstanding traditions of celebrating with faith communities during the week of the organization’s birthday.

Nichole had to go through a rigorous screening process to become a troop leader, and the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona have been very supportive of her troop.

“I’ve spoken with them about not always having regional events on Saturdays but also trying to have them on a weeknight evening or Sunday so that we can participate,” says Nichole. “There was a Saturday evening program and they were fine with us doing a little Havdalah off to the side, and we brought our kosher marshmallows so we could make s’mores.”

Nichole says the neat thing about Girl Scouts is that it’s girl lead – the girls get to decide what types of badges they want to earn and what kind of activities they wish to participate in. And they get to do it all with other Jewish girls.

Every year the girls also do several tzedakah projects, and they use some of the money from their cookie sales for those. “We have a really nice discussion about the different organizations or different types of projects they could do, and then they will vote on it and decide together what they want to do as a troop for their tzedakah project,” says Nichole.

Troop 3818 is also using the funds raised from cookie season for tzedakah. The girls sold more than 1,200 boxes and will donate a portion of their proceeds to PJ Library.

“It is a charity near and dear to our hearts, and this year we even joined them for a Tu B’Shevat event where we planted flowers and vegetables, decorating our pots and now watching our plants grow,” says troop leader, Jennifer Zak.

Troop 3818 started in January 2019, and they currently have 16 members that range from Daisy to Senior level.

“The girls really came together around cookie sales, and we talked about the specialness of our community,” says Jennifer. “As leaders, we’re working to make them feel that they are builders of their community – as opposed to just passive members.”

Nichole has also noticed the positive impact her girls are making in the community. “I’ve watched my daughter, and all of the girls in our troop, just blossom in their confidence levels as they are working together and out in the community,” she says. “It’s really nice to see, and it’s a way for them to take ownership of this program.”

The best thing about being part of a Jewish Girl Scout troop is that the bond is twofold. The girls can share both their common bond of being Jewish and their love of scouting.

For more information on Troop 613 in Tucson, contact Nichole Chorny at cantorialsoloist@caiaz.org; for details on Troop 3818 in Tempe, contact TEGS3818@gmail.com.

Girl Scouts also offers many day and overnight camp opportunities for girls in Arizona. Camp Maripai, Shadow Rim Ranch, Will Springs, Parsons Leadership Center, Hacienda and Camp Whispering Pines each offer its own experience created by the specific location, facilities, activities and camp staff. For more information, visit girlscoutsaz.org.

 

 

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