From Ramadan, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, to Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, May marks a time of celebration and commemoration for many communities across the country. These thirty-one days are also designated as Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM) when we pay tribute to the achievements and contributions made by American Jews throughout our nation’s history.
As Ivy Barsky, CEO of the National Museum of American Jewish History states, “By celebrating Jewish American History Month, we honor the values of inclusion, acceptance, and religious liberty cherished by this country.” As Girl Scouts, we have also held these values as tenets that guide everything we do. Read on for a few activities you can do with your troop to learn about and bear witness to the more than 360 years of American Jewish history.
The theme of this year’s JAHM is “American Jewish illustrators.” Where the Wild Things Are, The Snowy Day, X-Men, the Incredible Hulk—do they ring a bell for you? These titles, along with many other beloved superheroes, cartoons, and children’s books, were created by American Jews. Pick an American Jewish cartoonist or illustrator and draw a cartoon or picture in that artist’s style. My two personal favorites are Brooke Barker (of Sad Animal Facts fame) and Roz Chast (If you’re a fan of irreverent humor, you’ll get a kick out of her too!). For Junior and Cadette troop leaders, this would be a great tie-in for those earning their Drawing or Comic Artist badge.
Make a Machine
If you’ve ever delighted in seeing a complicated contraption performing a simple task (like this one that serves you cake), you can thank Rube Goldberg for that. Born in 1883, Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and is best known for his illustrations of convoluted inventions. There’s even a national contest named after him—the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest—that challenges high school and college students to think outside the box to make their own wacky inventions.
Have your girls brainstorm a simple task, then challenge them to build their own Rube Goldberg Machine to carry it out. See if you can use this activity to complete some steps for a STEM badge!
This Jewish American Heritage Month is especially poignant in light of recent horrific events in Poway, CA and Pittsburgh, PA. We can’t talk about the history of Jews in America without also talking about antisemitism—the two are inextricably linked. Antisemitism has been on the rise worldwide, and the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US alone reached historic levels in 2017. What can we do to push back? UNESCO (a specialized agency of the United Nations whose mission is to contribute to peace and security in the world) asserts that education is the best tool we have to prevent all forms of racism and discrimination.
For Junior and older troops, check out the Anti-Defamation League’s many comprehensive lesson plans on teaching and challenging antisemitism. For younger troops, a good place to start is literature, which can be an easy (but powerful) way to build empathy for and fostering understanding of people who are different than they are. The Association of Jewish Libraries compiled a list of picture and chapter books centered on Jewish protagonists. All troops can also dive into the history of Jews in Minnesota.
Learn About Jewish Girl Scouts
Did you know that three of the first Girl Scout troop leaders were Jewish? When Juliette Gordon Low (JGL) founded Girl Scouts in 1912, she enlisted her closest friends to help as troop leaders (Look at those recruiting skills!). Leonora Amram, Mildred Guckenheimer, and Henrietta Falk led a troop made up of girls from their synagogue, Mickve Israel, which is located just a few blocks from the Girl Scouts First Headquarters in Savannah, GA. This was pretty groundbreaking because at that point, Jews were barred from most other organizations—and it further serves as a testament to JGL’s commitment to making sure Girl Scouts was for every girl.
In 1972, the National Jewish Committee on Girl Scouting was formed. The committee collaborated with Girl Scouts of the USA to create recognition awards for Jewish girls to connect with their religion. While girls must be Jewish to be eligible to earn these awards, all girls can work on their My Promise, My Faith pin to deepen their understanding of their own and others’ spiritual beliefs.
Need some more ideas? Add some Yiddish words to your vocabulary (Chances are you, already know a few—schlep, schmooze, and klutz are all Yiddish words!). Cook and enjoy a Jewish dish or read all about 100 of the “most Jewish” ones. Watch a documentary about the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish American woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
As you can see, there is no shortage of ways you and your girls can explore and dive deep into Jewish American history and heritage. By lifting up these stories and building connections between communities, we can all do our part to make the world a better place.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Daisy troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (and rescue dog, Neil!).