Local Girl Scouts Rebel For Israel


They may not be eligible for a merit badge, but a group of Jewish Westchester Girl Scouts is earning Brownie points for guts.

The grade-schoolers, told they could not march in uniform at Sundayís Salute to Israel Parade because the national Girl Scouts of the USA had declared the event too political, were ready to break camp with the Scouts.

But the girls won’t have to toss their cookies.

On Tuesday, a day after The Jewish Week Web site broke the story on the ban, the organization declared that the decision "to participate, in uniform or not, is best left to the girl and her family."

"These are young women who said that principle comes first, and they were ready to pay the price," said the activist Rabbi Avi Weiss. "God should bless them."

Judith Lederman, founder of Sabbath-observant Troop 2077 in Scarsdale, who had lined up 22 Junior Scouts to march in defiance of the directive, said Tuesday that her charges were "thrilled and delighted that they can march proudly for Israel as Girl Scouts and as Jews."

The controversy began when Erica Belkin, 16, of Croton-on-Hudson, inquired about building toward a Gold Award for community service by trying to increase participation in the march.

Although the initial response was positive, Belkin later received an e-mail from Girl Scout officials saying "it would not be appropriate for girls to be in uniform at this event, since it would be seen as advocating the Israeli side of the current conflict" with the Palestinians.

"Girl Scouting is not an advocacy organization, and according to Safety-Wise standard #35, and our Blue Book of Basic Documents, pg. 22, we are prohibited from any political activity as Girl Scouts," the e-mail said.

It also noted "safety concerns" and that "there are both Jewish and Arab Girl Scouts."

Safety-Wise standards and the Blue Book notwithstanding, Lederman informed Girl Scout leaders that she and her charges would march anyway and quit the Scouts if they continued to "turn their backs" on Israel.

Belkin, a scout for 10 years, said the organization "always seem to have a lot of respect for everybody, encouraging Irish people to march in the St. Patrickís Day Parade or Christians to march in a Christmas parade. But when I have a cultural parade they are not letting me march."

The Girl Scouts’ position on the parade prompted a letter from Joel Levy, New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, to Sharon Woods Hussey, national director of membership, program and diversity for Girl Scouts USA.

"It is inconceivable that an organization that encourages its participants to wear uniforms at similar events would deny the right to a troop seeking to participate in an Israel-related event," said Levy.

Late Tuesday afternoon, amid a flood of media inquiries, Girl Scouts spokeswoman Ellen Christie released a statement saying: "We know that this parade is akin to the sort girls attend and/or participate in all across the country."

She said the organization "does not prohibit marching in parades. The way in which a Girl Scout fulfills her religious beliefs and political affiliations is a private matter for her to decide with her family."

Gloria Kaufman, the parade’s creative and educational director, said Girl Scouts have marched in past parades, alongside Boy Scouts and Israel Scouts, as part of a color guard contingent. The Boy Scouts’ participation was never in doubt.

Kaufman had said Monday she was "very surprised and disappointed by the decision. This is not a rally, not a protest, not a walkathon but a parade with an added dimension of messages of solidarity and patriotism."

But a group that advocates Jewish participation in the scouts supported the ban. In an e-mail Sunday to Lederman, Adele Wasko, chair of the National Jewish Girl Scouts Council, had noted that this year’s march is being billed as an Israel Solidarity Day.

"There is a political connotation," said Wasko, citing the consensus of her council’s executive committee.

Lederman, an author and freelance writer, produced articles from the Girl Scouts’ Web site encouraging members to participate in events honoring St. Patrick’s Day, the Chinese New Year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Cinco de Mayo, the festival honoring the victory of Mexican revolutionaries over the French army in 1862.

"We see it as an unequal way of treating people," said Belkinís mother, Patty, who plans to march with her daughter. "They march in a lot of parades. Israel shouldn’t be excluded."

Lederman said now that the organization has changed course, a larger than usual contingent of scouts was likely to grace Fifth Avenue Sunday. But no word on whether Belkin will get credit for her Gold Award.