Local Girl Scout creating Holocaust education patch
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Holocaust education‘Writing women and girls back into history’

Local Girl Scout creating Holocaust education patch

The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh is helping chart the way; the Jewish Women's Foundation is funding the project

Lily Sassani (Photo courtesy of Lily Sassani)
Lily Sassani (Photo courtesy of Lily Sassani)

After being a Girl Scout for a decade, Lily Sassani is now aiming for the Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can receive.

Lily, 16, was deliberating what to do for her Gold Award project when her mother and troop leader, Rachel Sassani, gave her a book about the Girl Guides, the Girl Scouts in Europe. The book explained how the Girl Guides helped during World War II by keeping morale high, feeding and healing soldiers, and contributing to the war effort.

As she read, a particular story stood out to Lily: The Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, notorious for Nazi medical experimentation on its female prisoners, had a troop of Girl Guides who cared for and lifted the spirits of the people in the camp. As women were taken to be experimented on, the Girl Guides would make note of who was taken and what happened to them so the atrocities didn’t go undocumented.

After doing some additional research, Lily decided that for her Gold Award project, she would create a patch for the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania to educate Girl Scouts about the Holocaust and the role the Girl Guides played in World War II.

Lily will be designing the curriculum for the patch, something she referred to as “daunting,” but she isn’t alone. She is collaborating with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.

The Holocaust Center is helping to craft the process that Girl Scouts will undertake to earn the patch. The curriculum is not set, but Lily believes it will involve group discussions and, potentially, visits to Holocaust Center exhibits. After Girl Scouts learn about the Girl Guides, they will use that information to complete a project, anything from a poem to an interview with a Holocaust survivor.

Emily Loeb, the Holocaust Center’s director of programs and education, hopes this project will establish a partnership between the Holocaust Center and Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania that will extend beyond the patch so that Girl Scouts can continue to learn more about the Holocaust.

“We’re always looking for ways to reach different groups of people,” Loeb said. “This is a way that we can introduce Holocaust education to a group of young women and young girls who don’t necessarily have access to this information, so it’s a great way that we can reach a new community.”

While the patch creation is in its early stages, Lily hopes it will be ready by year’s end. Lily and the team at the Holocaust Center hope that the patch may be replicated in other places in the United States, potentially even becoming a national patch.

The project was funded by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Greater Pittsburgh’s grant program. JWF pools money from its trustees to fund grants, and at least half of the funds go specifically to Jewish community organizations.

It was a competitive year for Jewish community grants at JWF, but Executive Director Judy Cohen said the Holocaust education patch appealed to JWF’s goal of facilitating social change.

The patch is about “writing women and girls back into history,” Cohen said, and provides an opportunity for Girl Scouts to learn to be upstanders like the Girl Guides were during World War II.

“Young girls are getting so many messages today, and it’s a very difficult time to be an adolescent girl in our society,” Cohen said. “Any opportunity to raise girls up for positive images, confidence, empowerment, is going to make a difference, and that’s why I think it’s really important to do this work.”

Lily is no stranger to those difficulties. A student at Burrell High School in the New Kensington area, she’s the only Jewish kid she knows.

“Ever since I’ve been little, I’ve always been aware that I’m Jewish and aware that I celebrate these things with my mom and my mom’s parents,” Lily said. “But I never actually processed that, to be blunt, never actually processed that other people weren’t Jewish as well.”

But in middle school, when Lily’s class was reading a book on Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, she realized she had a perspective other kids did not have.

“It was a pivotal time for me because reading the stories in that book, reading his perspective on what he had to experience was horrific,” she said. “This would have been me if I was born 80 years ago in that area. This would have been me, this would have been my family.”

As she looked around the class, Lily noticed that the other students didn’t seem to engage with the material. She realized that her experience as a Jewish girl meant that she approached the book differently.

“It really dawned on me that being a member of this community, this marginalized community, makes you really understand the pain these people are going through more than people who have not been taught to empathize,” she said.

That moment, and the many times she heard jabs or jokes made at the expense of the Jewish community, fueled her desire to create the patch to inspire empathy in others and show other Jewish Girl Scouts that they are not alone.

“Being the only Jewish kid that I know, being in touch with my Jewish identity has always been important to me,” she said. “I have always felt it was important to not belittle that part of me and to respect it and respect the culture that I am from.”

For Lily, the patch is a way to unite the two communities she cherishes: her Girl Scout community and the Jewish community.

“It’s made me very excited about being able to spread more awareness not just about Jewish history but being able to tie the Girl Scout history with it as well,” Lily said. “I’m really just proud and honored to be able to be someone who can bring this kind of information to people and bring people together.” PJC

Abigail Hakas is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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