Gabbi Stein was never the adventurous type. She certainly never could have imagined going camping in a forest all by herself. But there she was, lying in her sleeping bag out in the wilderness, freezing and wondering, “What did I get myself into?”
It was the first of over 20 nights of camping that Gabbi, 19, completed in her time in the Scouts BSA program. Now, after earning badges for soil conservation, robotics and pioneering, and creating a COVID-19 guide for her community, she’s made history, becoming the first Orthodox Jewish girl to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. Now, the Shalhevet graduate is on a gap year program in Israel, something she previously didn’t believe was possible.
“Before scouting, I didn’t think I’d do anything independently,” she said, in a phone interview with the Journal. “I found scouting is a great place for me to connect to people and make new friends. I also became really independent. I’m on a trip to Israel, which I never thought would happen. It’s crazy that I’m here. I’d go away on these scout trips and be alone, and I think it really pushed me to grow.”
At first, Gabbi was skeptical about joining in early 2019, right after Scouts BSA – formerly known as the Boy Scouts of America – started letting girls become part of their organization.
But with the encouragement of her parents, Kira and Michel Stein, and the scoutmaster, Noah Blumofe, she decided to give it a try. She ended up excelling, earning more than the minimum amount of badges she needed to become an Eagle Scout.
One time, she built a shelter in the forest out of leaves and branches in order to get her wilderness survival merit badge. Then, on a trip to Maui, she and her fellow scouts had to chop down bamboo to build a shelter they slept in for a week. For her Eagle project, she ended up creating a “Coping With COVID-19” handbook that circulated at her family’s synagogue, Congregation B’nai David-Judea in Pico-Robertson.
“I noticed that in my community, people were walking outside and not wearing masks and still getting COVID-19,” said Gabbi. “I thought maybe they just didn’t know the guidelines and what the actual rules are and that’s why they might have been getting sick. I thought I could make an online handbook that was easy to access.”
Kira said she noticed a big difference in her daughter once she joined Scouts BSA. “Gabbi tends to be quiet person until you get to know her. When she was younger she tended to be overlooked. [The scouts] inspired her and noticed her and gave her more opportunities to shine. That was what we liked about it. She lived up to her potential.”
According to Blumofe, Gabbi’s troop, Troop 360, was created the day that Scouts BSA opened up to girls. He said that scouting gives Jewish children the opportunities and skills to do tikkun olam, or heal the world. “Scouting is actually in line with what we have always been taught through the Tanach and the Talmud. We are taught to be moral, to be educated, to be healthy and fit, to be kind. To give back to others. Scouting is the opportunity to blend these ideas with fun for these young adults and participating leaders.”
“Scouting is actually in line with what we have always been taught through the Tanach and the Talmud.” — Scoutmaster Noah Blumofe
At the campouts, Gabbi said her troop would pray in the morning, say grace when they ate and give d’var Torahs. “We’re always thanking G-d and making sure we give back to others,” she said.
Plus, she felt more connected when she was on her camping trips. “I do think it’s easier to see G-d in nature,” she said.
When Gabbi’s gap year ends and she returns to the United States, she’s going to Muhlenberg College and may consider becoming a junior assistant scoutmaster. As for now, she’s embracing the new person she’s become thanks to her time as an Eagle Scout – and remembering the experiences that transformed her.
“When I got my wilderness survival merit badge, it was kind of scary because it was my first intense merit badge,” she said. “I was the only girl participating. I’m from LA so I don’t have forest near me and I didn’t grow up being super outdoorsy. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone by teaching me that being cold sucks in the moment, but afterwards you realize that yes, I’m super uncomfortable, but it’s a really good thing. After being uncomfortable for a really long time you realize how rewarding it is. If I could do that, I could do a whole lot of other things.”