Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lehavah Award - Tips for Brownie Leaders

The Brownies in Troop #1674 (Arizona Cactus-Pine Council) are finishing the requirements to earn the Lehavah pin.  We have seven Brownies who have worked on the program, and we'll be celebrating our accomplishments in two weeks during Sukkot.

Our troop typically meets approximately every other week for one hour at a time, and between doing the regular Girl Scout activities and journeys and celebrating holidays, we found it difficult to find time to carve time to work consistently on the award.  We began two years ago with a visit to a Conservative synagogue, where the Cantor led a tour and unrolled a Torah scroll for the girls to see.  We then went to a Reform synagogue where the religious school director taught about the Shema.  We skipped around a bit, and in the end, we met several times at the tail end of our time together as Brownies to finish the workbook.  Technically, the girls are in 4th grade now that school has started up again, and they are ready to graduate from Brownies, but we were determined to earn our Lehavah pins before "flying up" to Juniors!

Because my girls are on the older side (for Brownies), we were able to have some really great interactive discussions.  My biggest take-aways for future leaders who want to work on the Lehavah Award with their troops:
  • Don't attempt to cover too much in any one session.
  • Mix it up with reading, lecture, discussion, independent work, music, dance, video, etc. to keep the sessions fresh and lively. 
  • Search online for web tools, apps, and music videos to tempt the girls who relate strongly to technology.,, and Chabad have great web resources.
  • Tie the learning to a holiday (e.g., teach the Creation story close to Simchat Torah, or discuss the 10 Commandments close to Shavuot).  
  • Tie the learning to other patches that the girls can earn at the same time (e.g., "My Family Story" or "Philanthropy" patches).  Our girls made havdalah sets (we rolled candles from beeswax sheets, decorated matchboxes with duct tape and sparkly gems, and filled sachets with spices) and earned Shabbat patches (available through our GS Council store).
  • Tie discussion about values to the 10 lines of the Girl Scout Law.
  • Don't be afraid to go off-topic.  Some of our favorite activities included discussion about lashon hara (gossip) and the "modeh ani" prayer (gratitude), which weren't in the workbook.

Our girls were great, and super motivated.  I'm looking forward to facilitating the award ceremony during Sukkot.  I'm going to ask each of the girls to share something that they learned and/or talk about a mitzvah that they did during the past month, and they will dedicate their learning to someone special!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chanukah - Needs vs. Wants

Daisies and Brownies from Troop #1674 (Arizona Cactus-Pine Council) had a highly-interactive Chanukah discussion that focused less on the how-to of the holiday and more on the Jewish values of education and tzedakah.  

In the first half of the program, Daisies and Brownies met together.

  •  We compared the root of the word "Chanukah" (meaning dedication) to that of "chinuch" (meaning education).  There's a tradition in Judaism to give kids gelt (real or chocolate coins) during Chanukah.  This stems from a much older tradition of giving tzedakah to yeshiva students so they could continue their Torah studies.  Education and charity are priorities!
  • We encouraged all of our girls to GIVE a gift on the 6th night of Chanukah to someone who is truly needy, rather than receiving one.  See, which describes a nationwide effort to mark the 6th night of Chanukah for charitable giving, particularly to Hurricane Sandy victims.  This is a great teaching moment!
  • Inspired by the Brownie "Philanthropist" badge requirements, we talked about how important it is to think about our needs vs. our wants, during this holiday season of abundance and presents.  We asked the girls to think about all the things that they had used/touched since waking up that morning and made a list (water, food, tooth paste, clothes, television, refrigerator, computer, electricity, hair accessories, car, backpack, pencils, etc.).  The girls then reviewed the list and discussed which items were truly necessary and which items they could live without. Some of the girls had a hard time thinking about giving up their TV time!
  • We talked about what it might be like to live without electricity and clean water, like the victims of Hurricane Sandy, many of whom had no power, TV, computer, phones, etc. for two weeks.
In the first second half of the program, Daisies attended a "Chanukah in the Hallway" story time sponsored by the PJ Library in another part of the JCC, where we meet.  Brownies met separately to begin working on their "Money Management" badge.
  • The Brownies turned to the back of their Brownie "Girl's Guide to Girl Scouting" and cut-out the "elf money" and shopping items.  They worked in teams of two-to-three on various budgeting tasks.
  • Using ad circulars from Walgreen's, Old Navy, and Fry's grocery, we asked the girls to to select wise purchases within their budget.  For example, could they purchase a healthy lunch for $5?  For $3?  For $1?!  If they had a limited amount of money, what might they like to purchase as a gift for a family member?  How much would they like to donate?  Some of the teams had an easier time deciding than others, which made for some interesting conversation!
  • We talked about how we can help others who might be needy, even though we don't have money of our own to donate.  The girls suggested making gifts, making cards, phoning people who might be lonely, cooking a meal for someone who is sick, and collecting/donating used books, toys, games and clothes.  I shared the example of a family I know that makes a point of calling at least one relative, elderly neighbor, or someone who's ill every Friday before Shabbat.  The girls loved that!
  • Finally, we asked the girls to think about sharing some of their good fortune with others, in particular ... collecting phonics books and light jackets to donate to a high-needs classroom.  One of our Brownie moms is a public school teacher for 1st-to-2nd graders learning English as a second language.  Many of the kids are refugees from Iraq, Burma, Somalia, and/or live below the poverty line.  Most don't have books in their homes and/or the parents don't understand the importance of reading.  Our Brownies are adopting this classroom as a tzedakah project through the holiday season. 

Friday, October 5, 2012


File under the category of High Holiday for next year...

Some of the Scouts in Troop #1674 (Arizona Cactus-Pine Council) attend services at the same synagogue, and this year we used them as guinea pigs to try several games and activities which might translate to a wider Scout program next year ...

1.  2nd grade to 5th grade:  we played the Hasbro board game of "Sorry" in teams.  When players landed on another player's pawn, they had to say "S'licha" (instead of "Sorry") and answer a question tied to the High Holidays.  If they (or their team) were able to answer correctly, they could claim the space and send the other player's pawn back to start.  If, however, they got the question wrong, the other player or team would have a chance to answer the question and claim the space.  The kids LOVED this game, but it took a awhile to complete a full round.  Recommend playing with two pawns per team (instead of four), for a quicker game next time.

2.  Kindergarten and up:  we read the story of Jonah, and when we got to the part about Jonah being inside the belly of the great fish for 3 days and 3 nights, we talked about what that might FEEL like (it feels a lot like when our parents put us in "time out").  We talked about the emotions one goes through when in "time out" ... anger, sadness, fear, boredom, frustration, loneliness, etc... eventually leading to the need for reconciliation, apology, and hugs of reassurance and compassion.  We tied all of this back into the fact that G-d gave Jonah a big TIME OUT in the belly of the fish, and Jonah eventually had to apologize to G-d before he could come out.  To further illustrate the concept, we hung a blue sheet/tarp and told the girls that this represented the fish.  The younger kids were asked to sit behind the sheet, think of something they did during the year for which they needed to teshuva, and then they could come out.  Common themes were fighting with siblings, mistreating pets, being messy/wasteful, and fibbing ... all sins which could have been perpetrated by the residents of Nineveh.

3.  For all ages:  we painted a big sheet like a giant Hasbro "Twister" board, with multiple High Holiday symbols (for instance, the etrog was the yellow circle, shofar was red, kiddush cup was blue, lulav was green, etc.).   An adult facilitator called out age-appropriate directions ... for instance, for older kids, "Put your right elbow on something we need for the conclusion of Yom Kippur," or for younger kids, "Put your knee on something that's made from a ram's horn" (answer in both cases, "shofar").

Hope some of this is helpful to our readers.  If you have thoughts or activities to share, please comment on this post, or be in touch directly.  Always looking for new ideas!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finding Nemo (and the High Holidays)

Daisies and Brownies from Troop #1674 (Arizona Cactus-Pine Council) saw Finding Nemo (in 3D) today.  Our "Meet-up at the Movies" event was originally meant to be a social activity, but we soon realized that the subject matter could be tied into a discussion about teshuva and the High Holidays.  

If you're not familiar with the film, Nemo is a young clown fish with an over-protective father who doesn't let him stray far from home.  Frustrated by his dad's strict rules, Nemo says, "I hate you" to his father, disobeys, explores too far off the Great Barrier Reef, and is captured by a diver.  He ends up in a dentist's office aquarium with a group of fish who work together to help him escape.  Meanwhile, his father searches for his son along with the help of a number of ocean creatures. Father and son are reunited at the end, with Nemo saying that he doesn't hate his Dad.

The story's themes include friendship, trust, loyalty, teamwork, honoring one's parents, safety, and disability (Nemo has one fin that is smaller than the other).  

We worked up a discussion guide ahead of time, and when the movie broke, we found a quiet  alcove in the theater to meet.  Because the movie was longer than expected (when accounting for previews), we discussed the movie for only 5-to-10 minutes, but I e-mailed a set of questions to the parents to stimulate dinner-table conversation.

Some conversation starters:

  • Which character was your favorite?  If you could have any of the characters in the movie as a friend, which would you choose?
  • How did Nemo get into so much trouble?  Did he listen to his parents?  Talk about what it means to “honor your parents” in Judaism (hint: it’s one of the 10 commandments!) 
  • Name some of the characters in the movie who worked together and were able to do something that they could not do alone. Have you ever been part of a team?
  • Why do you think Dory did so much for Marlin, a fish that she didn’t even know?  What are some adjectives you can use to describe Dory?  Can you give some examples of how you were helpful to a stranger, or of how you were a good friend?
  • Nemo was born with one fin that looks different from his other fin.  Some of the fish in the story tease Nemo, and his Dad is afraid that Nemo can't swim as fast as his friends.  Have you ever felt different than someone else?  How would you want to be treated if you had a disability? 
  • As we enter the High Holidays, we do our best to reach out to those who we may have hurt in the past year to apologize.  Maybe we said something mean to a friend or member of our family, maybe we lied, or stole, or teased someone at school, or left them out of our games on the playground.  Now is the time of year when we say that we’re sorry in the hopes that we are forgiven. Can you remember some times in “Finding Nemo” when a character said that he or she was sorry? 
  • At the end of the beginning of the movie, Nemo tells his Dad that he hates him, and at the end of the movie he tells his Dad that he doesn’t hate him.  Nemo never says that he is sorry for defying his Dad or for hurting him with his words.  Do you think that he should have apologized?  Or was it OK that he just gave his Dad a big hug? What are the steps to doing real teshuva?   
  • By the end of the movie, Marlin learns that he shouldn't be over-protective with his son.  Do you think Marlin should have apologized to Nemo?  If so, why? 
  • Look at the lines of the Girl Scout Law.  Do any of the lines remind you of any of the characters in the movie?  Who was "courageous and strong?"  Who was "friendly and helpful?"  Who was "considerate and caring?"
  • Would you recommend this movie?  Why or why not?
For those looking for a definition of teshuva, or "returning to G-d" (the concept of sin, repentance and forgiveness), there are lots of great web sites.  I particularly like this one from Torah Resource.  In sum, the five elements are: recognition of the fact that you've sinned, remorse, stopping the action, restitution where possible, and confession.  For kids, it generally means saying, "I'm sorry" - and meaning it.  Older kids can talk about what it means to "own up to their actions" and explore the far reaching effects of why it's wrong to sin.

There's a great movie patch available through the Girl Scout store.

PS  Like many G-rated cartoons these days, "Finding Nemo" has it's scary moments and can be frightening for younger children.  Nemo's mom and siblings are killed in the first five minutes of the movie, and there are many action sequences involving sharks, jellyfish and other predators.  I recommend that parents/caregivers attend the movie with their girls.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Derech Eretz - Manners Count

As I'm thinking about successful programs from last year, I almost forgot one of our favorites - an event built around the concept of "derech eretz" (consideration for others, or the "way of the world"). 

Troop #1674 (Arizona Cactus-Pine Council) visited a senior residence community.  First, our girls met in an auditorium where we discussed the Jewish value of "derech eretz." We role-played different scenarios using an American Girl book, Oops, The Manners Guide for Girls, as a starting point.  We broke the girls up into pairs and had each group study a few pages from the book, then report back to the troop with what they learned and had them perform a skit illustrating both poor manners and good manners.  After that, we mingled with the senior residents during their "happy hour," sang songs, asked them what it was like when they were kids (some of them were Girl Scouts!), and shared cookies and juice.  We practiced using good manners and making eye contact while honing our conversation skills. 

Here's a link at for more info on "derech eretz:"

The cost was nominal - just cookies, a few photocopies, and "Manners Count" patches for the girls, obtained at our local Girl Scout council shop.  The senior center provided the beverages and the meeting space.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Being a "sister to every scout" is also a Jewish value.

Note to readers ...

Originally I wrote a rambling essay about being a Girl Scout leader for an all-Jewish troop in Arizona and the sense of isolation our troop sometimes faced.  I was frustrated by the fact that our local council's activities take place predominantly on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, where non-kosher food is often served.  This creates a sense of exclusion for my girls, some of whom observe dietary laws or are unable (or unwilling) to participate in Friday evening or Saturday programs.  

You should know that not all of our members are Shomer Shabbat - in fact many are not.  We have Jewish girls of all different stripes in our troop, but we've made the collective decision to be fairly strict about our Shabbat and kashrut policy, so that the most observant among us does not feel excluded.  It's a sad feeling to be the only kid who can't attend the "teddy bear picnic" on a Saturday when everyone else is going.  So, to be fair, none of us go.  Being inclusive is paramount to us.  

Because, like most Girl Scout laws, being a "sister to every scout" is also a Jewish value

I was moved to blog about my concerns when I received a council calendar of events and saw that, once again, the council had scheduled most of it's programs on Saturdays.  Horseback riding, museum trips, art programs, sporting events, camping, picnics, World Thinking Day - you name it - with one of the programs scheduled for (gasp) Yom Kippur.  :-(

Well, I was uncomfortable blogging my concerns in such a public way, but I'm glad I did.  A conversation was created on two fronts ...

1.  I've now had several very productive conversations with staff in the council office who appreciate the issues and who have promised to share them with the powers-that-be.  I'm looking forward to seeing a spring calendar that will include weekday and Sunday programs that our girls can attend.  One staff person put me in touch with vendors who can create special Sunday programs for us, and another shared with me her desire to encourage more faith-based troops in the the area, including the launch of another all-Jewish troop in the East Valley.  So exciting!

2.  I've connected with Jewish troop leaders throughout the U.S. who have shared their own experiences and programming ideas.  In addition to those troop leaders I've already met through my Facebook page ("Jewish Girl Scouts" ... look for us!), I talked at length with a Chabad troop on the upper west side of Manhattan and a Jewish day school-based troop in Las Vegas.  I'm so inspired by the creative ways that other scout leaders are weaving Jewish heritage into their troop activities.  All of these conversations have re-energized me to keep advocating for more inclusive programming on the local level, and I'm also thinking about ways that my girls can connect with other Jewish scouts across the country. I'm now toying with the idea of creating a blog for our girls to connect with one another.  Stay tuned, and I'll post more on that when I have the detailed worked out.

Ultimately, I went back and re-read my original post, which seemed more like an emotional outburst than an appropriate way to open a discussion.  So, for the sake of history, I'll replace the old post with this new one.  Those who find it in the future will know that I sent my concerns out into the void, and good things came back in return.

There should really be a special bracha for the Internet!  It's brought me a number of new friends and contacts, some great new ideas, and a renewed sense of purpose.  Many people decry the Internet for being impersonal and lacking social graces.  Well, I can assure you of the opposite.  I'm really very grateful for the conversations I've had over the past week, which would have been impossible without the web.

Finally, in the spirit of Elul, my apologies to the Girl Scouts organization for thinking that my concerns would fall on deaf ears.

As always, I'd love to hear from other Jewish scouts!  Stay in touch!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Catching up - 2011-2012

Have not taken the time to blog in awhile.  Apologies.  Life and work get in the way! 

Just wanted to share some of the special programs that Girl Scout Troop #1674 (Arizona Cactus-Pine Council) completed last year.  I'm sharing the ones with a Jewish theme, since it's too difficult to reconstruct all of last year's programs from memory.  Reminder - our troop is a multi-level troop comprised of both Daisies and Brownies, and though we meet together, we frequently split into two groups at our meetings.  Also, I don't tend to post many photos online, because we try to protect the privacy of our families and always get permission before posting.  So, I apologize in advance for not being able to share visuals from these events.

A sample of the way that we try to weave Judaism into our programming ...

All year, we worked on a Jewish reading project designed to get the girls and their friends into Jewish libraries.  We created and promoted the "Jacob's Ladder" Reading program throughout the community, which rewarded kids in K-to-12 who read 10 books on a variety of Jewish subjects with small prizes.  To kick-off our reading program, we visited the Bureau of Jewish Education Library at the Valley of the Sun JCC and met with the librarian, who talked about different types of Jewish books, the parts of books, the Jewish value of returning property to its rightful owner, and taking care of library books.  Daisies earned a petal for being "Responsible for What I Say and Do."  Girls checked books from the library on subjects ranging from holidays to Israel to Bible stories.  We took great photos of them finding quiet corners to sit and read, alone and in groups.  So cute!
In October, we visited a synagogue sukkah and made take-home picture frames to be displayed in our homes/sukkahs during the holiday. Our theme was "ushpizin," which honors the tradition of welcoming Biblical visitors to the sukkah. The girls talked about who they would like to invite into their own sukkah (one of the Biblical matriarchs? Hannah Montana? Great Grandma Yetta?) and shared why that person was meaningful to them. We talked about the construction of the sukkah and what makes it "kosher," and everyone had a chance to wave the lulav and etrog and say the blessings.

Whenever possible, we weave mitzvot and tzedakah into discussions.  This year, our Brownies voted to contribute a percentage of prior-year cookie sales to Power Paws, an organization that raises, trains, and places service dogs with those who are wheel-chair bound or have limited mobility. This was a natural add-on to our previous year programming, when we held a disability program highlighting the different barriers and obstacles some people face.  Some of our girls visited with a new litter of puppies and participated in a "petting" session with just weeks-old pups, when the puppies are acclimated to human touch. So sweet!

On a beautiful sunny day in February 2012, we did a Tu B'Shevat Hike at the Gateway Trailhead in the Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ.  Parents and girls were given a scavenger hunt of things to find and learn about as they hiked on the "Bajada" educational nature trail.  At the conclusion of the hike, we gathered in an outdoor amphitheater to talk about Tu B'Shevat, say blessings, and sample traditional foods. The girls talked about how the Torah instructs the Jewish people to take care of the earth - to reuse and recycle - and to allow the ground to rest and trees to grow before we harvest fruit. We talked about different kinds of fruit - those with hard shells and soft, edible centers, those with soft pulp and pits in the middle, and those that we can pop in our mouths and eat whole. We also talked about Tu B'Shevat traditions in Israel and the meaning of holiday's name. 

This past spring, our Daisies earned their petal for "Make the World a Better Place" by learning about Heifer International, whose mission is to end world poverty and hunger. The Daisies voted to send a small portion of our cookie proceeds to Heifer International in order to purchase rabbits for a family."  "A trio of rabbits from Heifer International is a low-cost, high-yield gift that helps impoverished families increase their protein intake and income."  The Daisies also discussed ways in general we can make the world a better place (re-usable lunch boxes, recycling, trash clean-up) and how it is a Jewish value to repair the world and take care of the earth.

For World Thinking Day, we looked at a doll collection with dolls from around the world, and talked about what we can learn about a girl's heritage from the way she dresses, and how we shouldn't rush to judgment based on what we see.  In addition to looking at dolls from Africa, China, Alaska, Hawaii, etc., we talked about modesty, head coverings, and how Jewish people dress differently based on their religious observance and where they live, too.

For Passover, our Brownies made "bedikat chametz" (search for leavened bread) kits.  We painted wooden spoons with water color paints, selected feathers, and placed them in a bag with a candle and foil candle holder.  We practiced using our kits and talked about the concept of spring cleaning (the literal meaning, as well as the Jewish meaning).  We talked about character traits we'd like to sweep away as we're doing our "spring cleaning" (Sharing, Helping, Recycling, Being Kind to Animals, Being Responsible ... all Kosher for Passover.   Sneaking, Boasting, Being Wasteful ... not Kosher for Passover!).  We scattered pictures of different foods on the floor and practiced sweeping them up with our spoons and feathers, and then discussed which foods were kosher for Passover and which were not.  This was one of our best programs this year!  PS The least expensive wooden spoons we found were sold in packages of 5-to-10 spoons at Bed Bath and Beyond (bring your 20% coupon!).

One of our Brownies spent five months of the year in Israel with her family, while her father, an ASU professor, was on sabbatical there.  We corresponded with her while she was in Yerushalayim, and we enjoyed many photographs of Naomi's daily life, including school, shopping, interacting with Israeli Scouts (tzofim) and celebrating Pesach.  Our girls wrote questions and the Brownie Scout e-mailed responses.  She brought back postage stamps and coins for each Brownie Scout.  Our Brownies at home were most intrigued by how an English-speaking girl could get by in an all-Hebrew school.  The answer?  Some things were difficult to communicate, but "recess" is a universal language!

The Brownies earned their "Fair Play" badge this year.  For one of our badge requirements, we played games from around the world, including some traditional games from Israel.  One of the games involved throwing what would have been fruit pits through holes in a box, to earn points.  Because some of our girls have food allergies, we tossed corks from a parent's cork collection.

On June 14th, we celebrated Flag Day by learning about both the American and Israeli flags. We talked a lot about patriotism and respect and made flag jewelry with safety pins and beads. We touched on how we treat a flag much as we would a person, how we don't allow it to drag on the ground, and how we lay it to rest if it's been damaged or frayed. We paraded with the flags through the Valley of the Sun JCC and marched in formation. This program, a yearly favorite with our troop, is usually sparsely attended because the Arizona schools break in May, and many members of our troop are already in camp or on vacations.

Finally, our Brownies are working to earn their Lehava award.  We met several times over the year with different communal leaders and at different synagogues, to complete portions of the Lehava workbook.  For instace, a conservative cantor at one synagogue took out the Torah scroll and allowed the girls to get close and ask questions.  A religious director at a reform synagogue taught about the Shema.  This year we'll visit with an Orthodox family as we continue to learn about our heritage.

I'll post more as I think of it.  We're looking forward to another great year!