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Jewish Girl Scout Troop Blazes New Path

Jewish Girl Scout Troop Blazes New Path

Members of Girl Scouts Troop 3131, the first Jewish troop in the national organization’s almost 100-year history, hold their meetings at Chabad-Lubavitch of the West Side in New York City.
Members of Girl Scouts Troop 3131, the first Jewish troop in the national organization’s almost 100-year history, hold their meetings at Chabad-Lubavitch of the West Side in New York City.

The girls of Troop 3131 are just like those at any of the hundreds of thousands such groups around the world: They wear uniforms, earn merit badges, and at last Sunday’s troop meeting over an art project devoted to a recent holiday, told each other about powerful women in their families.

But since the beginning of the current school year, these preteens have been forging history. Sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch of the West Side in New York City, theirs is believed to be a rarity in the almost 100-year history of the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.: A completely Jewish troop that focuses on its members’ Jewish heritage.

Along with the standard fare of outings and discussions about leadership – the troop is planning a camping trip to a regional Girl Scouts facility in upstate New York – the girls get a healthy dose, parents and organizers say, of Jewish values and history.

Shaina Davis, a second-grader at Manhattan Day School, most enjoys making friends, working together and thinking creatively at the twice-monthly troop meetings.

“I’m learning about Jewish good deeds,” says the seven-year-old. “They are important to me as a Jewish girl.”

At the most recent troop meeting, held on the second floor of the Chabad House, young scouts detailed their personal reasons for being proud of their heritage on paper cutouts. Natalie Kahn, also 8, wrote “I love Shabbat,” while Aderet Brenner, 10, wrote about kosher food and the Land of Israel.

As part of an effort toward earning their “Our Heritage” badge from the national organization, they also discussed the minor holiday of Tu B’Shevat – popularly known as the New Year for trees – and made bouquets out of different types of fruit.

In a discussion about their family histories, the girls recounted pivotal stories about their ancestors. Leah Nerenberg, 10, told of how her great aunt broke through a picket line in order to buy a chicken for her hungry family. Davis, meanwhile, told of her grandfather’s narrow escape from the Holocaust and eventual reunion with a long lost brother in America.

Group co-leader Sarah Alevsky, a youth director at the Chabad House, presided over the discussion, telling the charges seated cross-legged in a large circle around her that theirs were “all stories of strength and survival.”

“We are lucky,” she emphasized, “to live in America today where we have the freedom to celebrate our religion easily.”

A troop member displays her sash.
A troop member displays her sash.

Life Skills

It’s a common theme in conversations with parents. Many have fond memories of their days as girl scouts, but point out that they felt like outsiders as the only or one of the few Jews in troops made up primarily of churchgoing girls.

“When I was a little girl,” says Jayn Levy, “there was a strong [non-Jewish] influence in my troop, even when it was supposedly open to children of all religions.”

Back then, as today, troop meetings in churches were common. So were non-Jewish prayers.

The Girl Scouts’ bylaws provide for practically any organization to sponsor a troop, so long as the leaders attend training sessions. So Keren Blum, co-director of Chabad at Columbia University and a former girl scout herself, last year embarked on a mission to establish a Jewish troop.

“When I was a young girl,” the mother of five recalls, “the powerful influence of my fellow girl scouts, the group activities, and working to earn badges instilled and reinforced in me good character traits, values, social responsibility, and important life skills.”

Blum and Alevsky approached the national organization for an endorsement, which was quickly granted.

“I am so happy that Chabad has embraced the Girl Scouts,” remarks Dina Rabiner, special project specialist of the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York. “These two leaders, who are a pleasure to work with, have embraced the resources that Girl Scouts provides and are making it adaptable to what their group is interested in. Although Jewish girls have participated in other troops since the outset of the movement, this is the first Chabad troop and they have made it their own.”

Alevsky, who has experience running youth programs and summer camps, calls the partnership a perfect fit.

“We are lucky that Girl Scouts is such a flexible system with a broad enough framework that we can infuse with Judaism,” she says. “Girl Scouts fits our objective and what we are trying to achieve at Chabad, because we share some of the same principles,” namely, that the girls grow up to be upright, responsible, caring adults.

“Every activity we do,” she continues, “from taking a night walk in Central Park to looking for signs of life in the winter, is with this goal in mind: to educate and inspire the girls to help change the world for the better.”

Jane Gail Kahn is ecstatic her daughter Natalie is learning to care for others through activities such as baking cupcakes for a fellow member’s family’s celebration.

“There is a perfect mixture of Judaic and general wholesome activities,” says Kahn, “to turn our girls into strong women.”

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Anonymous March 2, 2016

girl scout cookies I think that the standard Girl Scout cookie varieties are basically kosher from what I've read online, although I'm not positive, maybe you know. However, here's an idea: wouldn't it be neat if there were special Jewish brands of cookies that were definitely made sure 2 be kosher, plus they could be new designs/imprints/shapes of cool, beloved Jewish symbols that families are fond of, maybe even with particularly Jewish style of flavor combos? Just an idea, and I'm not Jewish myself so I don't have much of a say or know-how in the culture/community...but maybe this could help build appreciation/understanding among your neighbors? Have a team of Jewish bakers, moms, girl scouts, etc., work on the cookies and present them to the girl scout cookie company to be included and added to their cookie brands, or, maybe you could even bake your own special batches to support your troops, which is what I read that the original Girl Scouts used to do before the factories made them for them in bulk? Reply

Michelle Thornhill, Canada September 24, 2012

Even in Raleigh, NC There is a Jewish Brownies and Girl Scouts troop that has met for the last 4 years in Raleigh,NC! My daughter loved it so much, that when we moved to Toronto, ON we discovered there was no Jewish Girl Guides Unit (same as Girl Scouts in the States). I started the unit with my friend and we have a very successful Guides Unit and this year we added Brownies! Reply

David Wolin Las Vegas, NV February 27, 2010

Jewish Scouts Both Jewish Girl Scouting and Boy Scouting are growing in Las Vegas.
We recently held a Kinus and an activity for Tu bishat. Scouting exists in Reconstructionist, Conservative and Chabbad Synagogues in Las Vegas.
They are supported by an active Jewish Committee on Scouting. Reply

Sarah Alevsky New York City, NY February 9, 2010

Girl Scouts Troop Hi, I am the co-troop leader of this troop. We are happy to discover so many other Jewish troops! At our troop meetings, every badge we work on is connected to our Jewish traditions and heritage. If you lead a Jewish troop, I'd like to be in touch with you. You can contact me on our website, Looking forward to sharing ideas on how to connect the badges to Judaism and possibly planning a get-together with nearby Jewish troops. Reply

Debra N. Wallin Kapnick Passaic, New Jersey via February 7, 2010

Jewish Girl Scouts I would like to add yet another inspiring story of Jewish Girl Scouts to your reader responses. Back when I was a student at Yeshivas Achei T'mimim Lubavitch-the New Haven Hebrew Day School of New Haven Connecticut- we traveled after school to the Young Israel of New Haven where Troop 298 met weekly.
We sold the first kosher Girl Scout cookies, went out into the community to spread awareness of Jewish holidays, and earned merit badges for our newly discovered talents. It was a haven where many of us developed friendships and afforded us opportunities to learn new skills. Under the superb troop leadership of Mrs.Judi Aronson and Mrs. Mickey Pauker we flourished as a Shomer Shabbos Girl Scout Troop. I will always be grateful to these dedicated ladies (and busy mothers of my former classmates) for the devotion and time they invested in us. I still cherish my Girl Scout memories and trust that these new scouts will share and enjoy the same wonderful experiences in a Jewish setting. Reply

Anonymous Irvington, ny via February 5, 2010

Thanks for this article when my son was a cub scout I was shocked that all the meetings took place in churches and furthermore that other cub scouts ostracized the Jewish scouts in subtle ways. Many Jewish families left as did other families who were not Jewish who were not comfortable with this sort of atmosphere. Your article has made me think seriously that when my daughter is old enough to become a girl scout I will try to start a troop in our synagogue (and maybe try to start a boy scout troop too) Thanks . Reply

Randi Lilburn, GA February 4, 2010

Atlanta's had Jewish Girl Scout troops for years! I am the former Service Unit Director of Haverim Service Unit that's provided Girl Scout programming to the metro Atlanta area for over 15 years. We've had troops in Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform day schools as well as numerous synagogues in Roswell, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Atlanta, and Norcross, Georgia, including troops at the JCC and a Chabad shul. Someone should have done their research before laying claim to being the first Jewish Girl Scout troop. Reply

Sherri Las Vegas, NV February 4, 2010

Not Even the 1st Chabad Troop I do not know where your writer and Girl Scout official got their facts, but we had an all-Jewish, kosher & shomer Shabbos Girl Scout Troop (#497, I believe) back in the mid-1990s, sponsored by Chabad of Southern Nevada. We started with Brownies and ran through Cadettes. The girls (now young women) still talk about the fun they had! We stopped only because the leader (me) became too ill to continue. At the beginning of this school year we started a new troop, #108, sponsored by Desert Torah Academy (the school is also associated with Chabad of Southern Nevada). We currently have 15 Brownies and Juniors, and hope to continue growing.

Much success to the girls in New York from those here in Las Vegas! Reply

Sara Baltimore, MD February 3, 2010

Not the 1st In Baltimore there was an all religious jewish girl scout troop! We sold the cookies and slept in the Girl scout camp grounds. We even had the green, brown and blue sashes, filled with pins and badges. Maybe this is the first Chabad jewish girl scout troop but not the first ever religious jewish one. Reply

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