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Scouting adapts to religion

Sun-Sentinel, USA
July 18, 2004
Mary Thurman Yuhas, Special Correspondent • Tuesday July 20, 2004

Chaya Phillips was a Girl Scout and the Boca Raton mom wanted her girls to enjoy the scouting experience, too.

But 10 years ago, when her oldest daughter Danielle, now 15, became a Scout, she missed most of the activities because they were held on Saturday afternoons.

The Phillipses are Orthodox Jews, and according to the laws of their faith, many activities are forbidden from sundown on Fridays until sundown on Saturdays.

When younger daughter, Elisheva, reached scouting age, her mother decided to do something about it. Two years ago, she started an Orthodox Daisy Troop, the youngest branch of Girl Scouts for kindergarteners through first-graders. Brownies are first through third grades, and Juniors are fourth through sixth grades.

All girls are welcome to join, but right now all the members of Troop 597 are Orthodox Jews. They meet after school at Torah Academy in Boca Raton.

The concept was popular with others. “I’ve had as many as 25 girls,” Phillips said.

It wasn’t that the Girl Scouts were discriminating against Orthodox girls.

“They’ve gone out of their way for us many, many times,” said Helaine Hoffman, formerly a co-leader with Phillips. “It was just not an issue that was brought up to them before, and as soon as it was, it was addressed.”

Holly Policy, communications manager for the Girl Scouts of Palm Glades Council, based in Jupiter, said some troops are faith based. “We try to accommodate for these troops and don’t have it set that we have to do things on Saturday,” she said.

There will be more Orthodox troops starting in the fall, and there is a Catholic scouting program that girls can follow. “It is called, `I live by my Faith,’ and one girl won an award through it for collecting school supplies for children in Iraq,” Policy said.

Her Orthodox troop has learned how to accommodate their religious laws to Girl Scouts, Phillips said.

For instance, the girls have to dress modestly. No slacks or shorts are allowed, and skirts must be long enough to cover their knees when seated. Sleeves must extend to their elbows. They wear their school uniforms and put their Girl Scout sashes over them, because the Girl Scout uniforms don’t meet those requirements, Phillips said.

Events frequently require planning ahead because the girls can only eat kosher food, and they pack food to take with them when they’re going on field trips or to events.

“When you live a certain lifestyle, we learn to make do. It doesn’t stop us from participating,” Hoffman said.

Ann Berman, 11, doesn’t seem to mind. A Girl Scout for three years, she loves being with her friends.

“We had a project where we made letters [Hanukkah cards] for the soldiers who are fighting for us, and that was a lot of fun,” said Ann, who lives in Boca Raton.

The limits on her scouting activities don’t faze her.

“It’s a little hard, but I feel special that I have to eat kosher and I’m Jewish,” she said.

This fall, Hoffman will lead another troop of slightly older girls. So far, about nine girls have registered.

“Most parents would not have their children in the troop if it weren’t Orthodox,” she said.

Read the Florida Sun-Sentinel online

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