By DAVID CRUMM
DETROIT, January 26—More than 100 Girl Scouts from across Michigan gathered at the internationally renowned Detroit Institute of Arts for a one-day challenge to explore the many religious themes in the DIA’s collection. This elaborately planned day of cross-cultural discovery was part of the 2020 redesign and relaunch of Brenda Rosenberg’s innovative Children of Abraham peacemaking project.
The special Girl Scout day began with high-tech, interactive fun. DIA staff members had adapted a popular “scavenger hunt” app for smartphones so that girls and adult mentors could quickly organize themselves into small teams that fanned out across the museum’s 100 galleries spanning 658,000 square feet.
Among the series of challenges that popped up on the girls’ phones in this sprawling adventure were these:
- Find the European galleries. Find the Peter Paul Rubins piece “David and Abigail.” Take a photo of your group posing as some of the subjects in the painting.
- Near the Contemporary galleries, find “Bookshop” by Ben Shahn. What clues indicate that this is a Jewish bookstore? Enter your answer.
- Go to the Medieval and Renaissance Gallery near the Ancient Greek and Roman balcony. Find the piece “Holy Family and St. John.” Can you identify the figures in this painting?
- Make your way to the Islamic gallery and find the Quran under the large arch. What country provided the paper for this text?
Note: In this article, we have provided links to three of these examples (above), so you can see some of the art enjoyed by the Girl Scouts. However, in their quest to explore the museum, the girls were not given such helpful links. Their teams had to share their own instincts, drawn from information on DIA brochures, signs and maps.
‘Share Your Experience’
After the scavenger hunt across the heights and breadth of the DIA, the girls and their adult mentors gathered in a DIA theater to view the documentary film Brenda produced about the growth—and the potential—of the Children of Abraham project.
She explained that Reuniting the Children of Abraham is a multimedia peace initiative created with Jewish, Christian and Muslim families to combat the fear, bigotry and bullying that fuels violence. The project, which is described in her new book, includes inspiring and educational materials that flow from the ancient story of Abraham, a patriarch in all three faiths. Just as Abraham’s own children were reunited at the time of the patriarch’s death, this project is a model for calling these widely separated families of faith back toward building peaceful relationships.
Brenda introduced the film from a podium at the front of the theater: “As a child, my parents brought me here almost every week. The galleries were my playground. I learned about the beauty, different cultures, religions and people across hundreds of years. I saw wood, metal and paper take on magical shapes. I watched movies in this very room that inspired me to make the documentary you are about to see. I hope today’s experience will inspire many more visits and you will take the lead in bringing friends, classmates and people from your church, mosque or synagogue to share your experience.”
Natural Collaboration: Girl Scouts, Arts and Faith
The collaboration of Brenda’s team, religious communities and the Detroit Institute of Arts reaches back to principles from the founding of Girl Scouts in 1912. At that time, international interest in the Boy Scout movement was spreading. In the U.S., Camp Fire Girls already had been organized as one option for young women. Other girls’ groups also were forming.
Juliette Gordon Low, an American living in the UK at the time, had a particular vision that led her to begin organizing first in the UK—then back in her American homeland. Juliette Gordon Low was an artist who specialized in painting, woodworking and metalworking. Part of her vision for Girl Scouts focused on her strong belief that girls should be trained in a wide range of arts and crafts so they could achieve self sufficiency.
“Girl Scouts is a secular organization but we have always recognized that the Girl Scout Law is rooted in principles that are shared by many religions,” said Suzanne Bante, Chair of the Interfaith Committee for Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan and one of the main on-site coordinators of the event at the DIA.
“If people want to learn more about this, simply Google ‘Girl Scouts My Promise’ and you’ll find all kinds of resources,” Suzanne said. Those include: an overview of this area of exploration within Girl Scouts; plus a printable, one-page flyer about My Promise, My Faith pins; as well as a 10-page, 5-week curriculum for My Promise, My Faith.
Modeling a Diverse Community
The organizers of the DIA event intentionally mixed girls into diverse teams for the scavenger hunt and later gatherings around long tables for snacks, conversations and the drafting of individual heart-shaped pledges to collaborate on peace.
“We also asked parents to be split up from their girls—and I was pleasantly surprised that the parents were quite happy to do that,” Suzanne Bante said to the group as the girls began writing on their heart-shaped pieces of construction paper.
The intentional mingling put Christian, Muslim and Jewish girls shoulder to shoulder throughout the day. As they drafted their personal pledges, the girls adeptly balanced their markers in their right hands—and their phones in their left hands. Even as they wrote their pledges, their left hands were showing off photos and short videos they had shot on those phones throughout the day.
In addition, Suzanne introduced two officially sponsored media professionals—a photographer and a videographer—and explained that “anyone who doesn’t want to be on video today—that’s OK—but I know most of you like to share in this.” In this media-rich environment, countless photos whizzed through social media. And, at the close of the day, girls were invited to step up in front of a microphone to produce a short video clip as they read aloud from their heart-shaped pledges.
‘I promise to respect other people’s beliefs.’
A steady stream of girls came to the microphone.
“My promise is to not judge others based on their religion or race—but on how they treat others.”
“My promise is to be a role model to understand everyone from different backgrounds and to educate others who might not know about the many social issues in the world.”
“My promise is to always do the best to welcome everyone despite differences we may have.”
“My promise is to be an active member of my community and encourage and educate everyone around me about the importance of working together.”
“I promise to respect other people’s beliefs.”
“My promise is to treat others in the way we all wish to be treated.”
“I promise to see everyone first as a friend, and not an enemy.”
“My promise is to be more welcoming to people from other backgrounds.”
“I promise to seek, first, to understand, before trying to be understood.”
The litany of promises was met with repeated rounds of applause and continued—and continued—until every girl who wished to share a message had an opportunity to come forward.
Suzanne Bante concluded the day—moments before the official Girl Scout closing circle—by telling the girls: “The reason our committee felt so strongly about doing this program is that we want you to be prepared for the world you live in. It’s a big world and it’s very small nowadays. It’s so easy to sink back into a little bubble and we don’t step out of it. As you girls move into the adult world and the business world, you will discover that you will be interacting with people from many different races and cultures, from all over the world. This kind of program gives you skills that no one else in your organization may have. This kind of program gets you ready to become our world’s leaders as you help us step into the future.”
Care to Learn More about the Book?
JOIN THIS SPIRITUAL ADVENTURE—Reuniting the Children of Abraham is a small book of timeless religious wisdom that invites readers everywhere to experience the unique program Brenda Rosenberg has been sharing with groups and conferences by special arrangement over the years. Now, Front Edge Publishing has collaborated with Brenda to produce a book-length overview of the many deep connections between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Now, readers across the U.S. and around the world are invited to explore these connections that can help to reunite our dangerously divided world.
LEARN MORE—This week’s Front Edge Publishing column is a more detailed overview of the book, including praise from early readers, a short biography of Brenda and our own columnist Suzy Farbman, who wrote the Foreword to the book.