March 8-14 is National Girl Scout Week, and we are finishing it off with Girl Scout Sabbath today! To celebrate, we’ve asked our own Manager of Camps and Outdoor Programs Lauren Reichstein to reflect on how Girl Scouts allowed her to experience the intersection of faith and service.
I am a lifelong Girl Scout, and as a Girl Scout in Houston, Texas, I had the benefit of being around many cultures and faiths different than my own.
One of my favorite things, as a child, was to go to Shabbat services at my synagogue. I loved the candles, the hymns and music, the familiar cadence of a Shabbat service… I loved that I got to see my friends from synagogue, we got to eat cookies after the service, and that I could practice reading the Hebrew I’d learned the week before in the siddur (prayer book). I grew, as an adult, to love Shabbat for different reasons. I love setting aside a time at the end of a busy week to rest, feel rejuvenated, and connect with my family and community.
As a child, one of my other favorite things was being a Girl Scout. I loved my uniform, learning camping skills, and perfecting my leadership skills. Yet, despite this, it took me a long time to reconcile these identities. I’ve come to realize, however, that Girl Scouts and Judaism complement each other. They teach the same things, advocate for the same ideals, and have the same high standards.
Girl Scouts is a secular organization but not a faith-free one. Serving something or someone higher than ourselves is part of the oath we take when we recite the Girl Scout Promise. Similarly, the core principles of Girl Scouts (being honest, serving your community, being kind to each other, being a steward or the environment) are found in many religious traditions including Judaism. As Jews, we always seek to perform mitzvot (commandments or good deeds), to give tzedakah (charity) in many forms and to perform acts which aid in tikkun olam (repairing the world). The Jewish community offers programs, acts of service and charitable funds to build up the neighborhoods and areas in which they live, assist others, and make the world a better place.
But these principles are certainly not exclusive to Judaism or any religious tradition. Many faiths have this same connection between Girl Scout ideals and their own traditions. The PRAY badges encourage girls to explore their own faith with a spiritual advisor or clergy person and connect what they’ve learned to their Girl Scout experience. Some awards focus on faith renewal, some on service to others, and some on looking outward to other faiths.
One of the things I love most about Girl Scouts is the ability and encouragement to serve with others different from yourself, learn from each other, and support each other in our own journeys. As the only Jewish Girl Scout in my troop (and for a long time, the only Jewish person in my school), I valued this environment that allowed me to grow within my religious convictions, share my faith journey with others, and still be a valued part of this organization. As an adult, this is all still true.
As we celebrate Girl Scout Week and Girl Scout Sunday, Girl Scout Jummah, Girl Scout Shabbat, and Girl Scout Sabbath, I hope that everyone explores new ideas, makes new friends, and grows deeper in their own spiritual journey.