What’s a Girl Scout troop that doesn’t sell Girl Scout cookies — even Thin Mints with the OU seal of kosher approval?
A frum troop run by Chabad.
Girl Scout Troop 3131, on the Upper West Side, is the first-ever Chabad-sponsored Girl Scout troop, as far as its leaders are aware.
And while the young girls in the troop can’t sell the iconic cookies (they don’t have Chalav Yisrael certification observed by Chabad leaders), they’ll be doing kayaking and camping just like other Girl Scouts — and earning merit badges.
The troop officially formed in September, under the joint leadership of Sarah Alevsky, youth director at Chabad of the Upper West Side, and Keren Blum, Chabad emissary to Columbia University. In addition to Alevsky and Blum’s daughters, nearly 25 girls have joined the troop, and they hail from a mix of public and Jewish day schools.
“We’re doing it all through a Jewish lens, but we’re getting the badges,” Alevsky said.
For Tzipora Cohen, whose 9-year-old daughter Orli is a troop member, joining the Girl Scouts wasn’t an obvious choice.
“The truth is at first, I wasn’t sure about it,” she said. “My past connection to Girl Scouts was just the clichéd representation of it in cookies. But we’ve had really good experiences with all programs of Chabad of the Upper West Side. I was intrigued that they were taking on this mainstream USA idea.”
And the troop leaders were able to prove to her that Jewish and Girl Scout ideals could perfectly intertwine.
“Nurturing girls into strong women, pillars of the community, is a core tenet in Judaism,” Blum said. “Girl Groups are not uncommon in Jewish communities; they exist to foster learning, skill-building, and camaraderie, not to mention allowing girls to have fun.
“The benefit of joining the international movement of Girl Scouts is their successful structure and uniformity,” Blum continued, noting that the girls come from all types of Jewish backgrounds.
Like any other Girl Scout troop, the girls of 3131 promise “to serve God and [their] country, to help people at all times, and to live by the Girl Scout Law,” a law that promotes honesty, respect and responsibility, and is completely in line with Jewish laws of observance, according to the leaders.
There is no way to calculate exactly how many Jewish troops exist in the country, however, because Girl Scouts of America doesn’t ask members their religions, according to spokesperson Michelle Tompkins. But two other Jewish troops, led by mothers Amy Jonas, Abby Pitkowsky and Denise Bander, are thriving in Riverdale. And high school senior Amanda Lev leads a group of Jewish girls from various troops throughout Nassau County.
“In the past five years I’ve helped over 130 girls earn their respective Judaic badges,” said Lev, who this year has 17 Brownies and 19 Juniors; she uses workbooks from The National Jewish Girl Scout Committee, which provides girls with religious badges. (The Chabad troop will issue religious badges if girls want them.) One of Lev’s main goals is to give unaffiliated girls in particular a sense of Jewish identity that is relevant to their scouting experience.
Back at 3131, the girls are about to take to the outdoors, with plans to go both kayaking and camping next month. One of Alevsky’s favorite activities was a Central Park twilight scavenger hunt.
“We went to Central Park at night with flashlights and gave them a list of things they had to collect,” she said. “It was freezing but they had fun.”
For the Cohens, the troop’s commitments to social action, environmental awareness and learning First Aid are perhaps most important because many of these ideals are also found in Judaism — taking care of the ill, the Tu b’Shvat holiday and Hatzalah (the Jewish ambulance corps).
“It gives my daughter a stress-free place without the rigors of school to learn about herself, to be creative and think about important life issues that can even be self-defining,” Cohen said.
Another mom, Aliza Herzberg Brodie, said that while her daughter Shainie got involved because of “adventure,” she enjoys watching Shainie and the other girls grow as they earn their badges.
“She appreciates that the troop keeps all the mitzvot while on their adventures,” Herzberg Brodie said.
“It’s about self-empowerment,” Cohen said. “The principles I’ve seen them working on are so synergistic with the Jewish principles that we want to instill in our 9-year-old as she heads out on her path to grown-up-hood.”
And as for those cookies, well, Alevsky says the girls might start selling gift wrap or magazines as a fundraising alternative. “We had a couple parents saying, ‘I want my Thin Mints.’”
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