As people around North America celebrate the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary this year, I find myself reflecting on how Girl Scouting affected my life. Found Juliette Gordon Low’s vision of empowering young women has been fulfilled tremendously, and yet not enough.
There are parts of the country where “Jewish Girl Scout” is an oxymoron. Luckily for me, in Houston, Texas, my mother, Lisa Stone, and others started a Girl Scout troop in 1997 at my synagogue. When asked what motivated her, my mother responded, “When I was a Girl Scout, I was never quite comfortable attending meetings in churches, so I wanted my daughter to be able to enjoy her troop more fully. I also believed combining Scouting and being Jewish would enrich both.”
Judaism and feminism have always been in similar categories in my head; both are criticl facets of my personality, helping define my moral code. Scouting and Judaism both promote ethics, education, and community service. Everyone in my troop was encouraged to earn Jewish Girl Scout Awards, created by the Jewish Committee on Girl Scouting. You can win awards as you move from grade to grade. At each level, Scouts are required to consider questions about their own Jewish idenitites, speak with Jewish community leaders, and study Jewish and Israeli history. I always enjoyed researching famous Jewish women, Golda Meir and Gloria Steinem among them. I earned my first awards reluctantly, at the insistence of my mother, but eventually it became my own decision.
It was only when my original troop disbanded that I began to realize Judaism and Scouting weren’t necessarily connected. In my new troop, I was the only Jewish member. When something Jewish conflicted with meetings, more often than not Judaism was my priority.
I found I liked being the only Jew in the troop; I felt like a goodwill ambassador. I wa always happy to answer questions the other girls had about kosher laws or the holidays I was observing, like Passoever or Hanukkah. However, I no longer had companions with whom to earn the Jewish awards. As a teenager, it was crucial for me to consider whether o not this was a “cool” way to spend my time, but in my rational heart of hearts, I found I didn’t really care! I was always very proud to receive the awards.
My parents are still involved in Scouting, even after their children graduated from high school four years ago. My mother chairs the Houston Jewish Scouting Committee, so when there’s a Jewish Scouting Ceremony while I’m home from college, I find myself in the audience, wearing my dear old Girl Scout sash. At one recent reception, I was suddenly surrounded by little girls, between 5 and 10 years old, admiring my sash. Some were also Girl Scouts, but most of them were siblings of Boy Scouts or children of Scout leaders. I was peppered with questions. I described each badge I had earned, explained the significance or various pins, and related the special importance of my Jewish awards. My hope is they left my side with the inspiration to become or continue being Jewish Girl Scouts.