Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan are interested in more than just cookies; Jewish liaison Brenda Rosenberg helps them combat hate.

By Stefani Chudnow

Photos courtesy of the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan

For the past several years, society has felt more divided than ever. It’s been an “us” versus “them” mentality for a while now, but politics has made everyday society increasingly hateful. Working to combat this is native Detroiter and interfaith activist Brenda Rosenberg.

Rosenberg is the Jewish liaison to the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. This group not only works to combat hatred among independent cultural groups starting at young ages, but also aims to develop myriad events meant to bring young girls with different backgrounds together.

“Several years ago, Suzanne Bante, who chairs the Interfaith Girl Scouts of Southeast Michigan, contacted the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and wanted to speak to Jewish women who were interested in interfaith work,” Rosenberg said. “I was one of those women.”

Said Bante, “I believe that Girl Scouts offers young women (and sometimes their families) the opportunity to learn about individuals who have different backgrounds and faith traditions in a non-threatening way. Understanding of religious diversity is required to prepare our young women for the future.”

My Promise My Faith

“When 9-11 happened, my heart spoke to me and said, ‘Brenda, you’re really good at coordinating big projects. You need to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together,’” Rosenberg said. “That was the day I started creating projects and relationships to bring Christians, Jews and Muslims together.”

One such project is “My Promise My Faith,” which Rosenberg is working on with Bante. The goal of this project is to share elements of the Jewish faith with Girl Scouts from a Catholic school in order to further develop their understanding of Judaism.

“On May 15, we presented the My Promise My Faith program to the Girl Scouts at Holy Family Regional School in Rochester,” Bante said. “The program is designed to allow girls to learn about other faith traditions and how all faith traditions are the foundation for the Girl Scout Promise and the Girl Scout Law.”

A part of that Girl Scout Law reads: “I will do my best to […] make the world a better place.”

If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it is almost identical to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam or repairing the world.

Rosenberg talked to the Girl Scouts about what she’s done to make the world a better place through creating better levels of understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Then, the girls were given a selection of quotes from notable Jewish women throughout history and chose their favorites to put on a mug.

The girls learned “Henei Ma Tov” in both Hebrew and English as well as all about Shabbat symbols and wrote down how they plan to make the world a better place this year.

Hannah Richard of Troy High School, who won the Girl Scout Gold Award for Relax, Respect, Respond with Brenda Rosenberg

Relax, Respect, Respond

A few years ago, Troy High School student and Girl Scout Hannah Richard approached Rosenberg about working on Rosenberg’s Hate2Hope initiative for her gold award project. Because of a recent spike in violence by and against police, Hate2Hope’s goal is to bring police and communities together and save lives as a result.

“Hannah was very taken with the project because at the time she was 15 and getting her driver’s license,” Rosenberg said. “Nowhere in driver’s education do they teach you what to do if you’re stopped by a police car.”

For the past two years, Rosenberg has been working with Hannah directly on making this initiative completely actionable. Hannah came up with a slogan they’re currently using to promote positive police and community interactions.

“Her three words are: Relax, Respect, Respond,” Rosenberg said. “That’s what we’re missing today, not just in police encounters, but in almost all encounters. People just spew whatever they’re feeling and they’re not taking the time to relax, respect and then respond. It’s simple, but incredibly effective.”

Women’s Social Justice Seder

This past Passover, Temple Israel hosted a women’s seder. Rosenberg invited the Religious Relationships Committee of Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan.

Committee member Lisa Pelzer attended the seder. Though Pelzer isn’t Jewish, she thought it was a particularly enlightening experience.

“The seder was absolutely awesome,” Pelzer said. “It was really meaningful for me because it discussed mental health, which is key. The thing I loved the most was ‘Enough, Dayenu.’ That was wonderful to me.”

Not Just Cookie Sales

When people think of the Girl Scouts, they think of cookies. After just one conversation with Rosenberg, Pelzer and Bante, it’s clear that Girl Scouts mean so much more. They are the generation who will be future world leaders, and their track record isn’t too shabby.

“All three of our female secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have been Girl Scouts,” Pelzer said. “Sandra Day O’Connor was also a Girl Scout.”

Rosenberg and Bante plan to continue their interfaith work. Rosenberg is currently planning an intercultural scavenger hunt at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

She credits her childhood exposure to art with her lifelong interfaith understanding.

“I think so much more has to be done at an entry level, at that young level, because no one is born hating,” Rosenberg said. “If no one’s born hating, we need to have these very important interactions at younger ages than we are currently engaged in.”

When asked about what she sees as the future for the Girl Scouts, Rosenberg is quite confident that they will be “a powerful force for creating and understanding across America and across the world. Yay, girl power!”

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