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!


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