Morality and Ethics at Boy Scouts Jamboree

by Allie Vered for the Richmond Jewish News - RICHMOND, VA

August 11, 2005

More than 1,000 Jewish Boy Scouts attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree held July 25 to August 3, 2005 at Fort A.P. Hill near Bowling Green, Virginia. Every four years, the Jamboree brings together more than 42,000 Scouts from across the United States for a week of adventure and fellowship.

Chabad Lubavitch has been actively working with the Jamboree for many years says Rabbi Yossel Kranz, director of Chabad Lubavitch of the Virginias in Richmond. He credits Chabad’s international children's organization, Tzivos Hashem, for their “incredible efforts on behalf of the Jewish scouts before, after and during the Jamboree.”

At this year’s event, three Scout rabbis from Tzivos Hashem arrived a week in advance to conduct a massive outreach to the Jewish Scouts arriving from every corner of the country. A synagogue tent was constructed on-site, kosher food was bussed in, and over 500 young Jewish Scouts gathered together for Friday night services.

“It was incredible to see” said Rabbi Shmuly Gutnick, one of the Chabad rabbis assigned to the Jamboree. “We sang, we prayed and we ate together. Some of the scouts had never had a Shabbat experience before. We even did four Bar Mitzvahs for boys who had never had one.” A local Virginia newspaper, the Free Lance-Star, featured a full page of pictures from the mini bar mitzvah ceremonies in its July 29th edition.

Many non-Jews also crowded around the tent to see what all the fuss was about. “One guy from the South told me that he had never met a Jew in his life, ‘but if this is what it’s all about, sign me up,’” laughed Rabbi Pinny Gniwisch, who traveled from Montreal to help staff the Jamboree.

On a more somber note, the Chabad rabbis also served as chaplains and had their work cut out for them when four Scout leaders were killed in a tragic accident on the first day of the Jamboree.

On Sunday morning, when the vast majority of Scouts were attending church services, close to 1000 Jewish Scouts gathered in the Chabad tent where they donned tefillin , crafted their own shofars, braided their own Havdalah candles, decorated kippot, had their pictures taken in front of a panorama display of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and wrote letters to G-d that would be mailed to Israel to be placed in the Wall.

Participating in these activities allowed many of the Scouts to complete the requirements for the Jewish Boy Scout award, the Ner Tamid.

Over the past 20 years, the American Boy Scout movement has opened a whole new world to Jewish youth aged six to eighteen.

Conceived of in the early 1900s by lord Robert Baden-Powell, a British war hero who sought to train young boys as army scouts while instilling in them values of patriotism and bravery, today’s scouts learn leadership skills while participating in high-adventure activities. Boy Scouts profess a non-sectarian duty to G-d, to country, to community and to self.

When Scout leader Howard Spielman, himself an Eagle Scout (scouting’s highest rank), attended the National Boy Scout Jamboree in 1989, he was joined by just five Jewish Scouts. Spielman recognized the value of scouting as a community-building activity for Jewish youth and sought to remove barriers to participation for Torah-observant Jewish boys. In 1999, he presented a proposal to the Jamboree committee outlining their needs, and the Shomer Shabbes contingent of the American Boy Scouts was born. Spielman says that Jewish Scouting has come a long way in recent years. Six exclusively Jewish Scout patrols (of eight boys each) attended this Jamboree.

On the last day of the Jamboree, representatives from The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, Chabad representatives and leaders from the American Boy Scout movement met to discuss how to promote scouting among Jewish youth.

“We stand ready to support any organization that shares Scout values,” said David Richardson, National Director of Religious Relationships. Those values include loyalty, kindness, bravery and reverence.”

The Boy Scout movement has come under attack in recent years for promoting belief in G-d. The American Civil Liberties Union recently won a lawsuit that claimed the Defense Department's sponsorship of the Scouts violates the First Amendment because the group requires its members to swear an oath to God. The Scouts were only allowed to use Fort A.P. Hill for their Jamboree because of a last-minute bill passed by Congress.

Despite this setback, the Boy Scouts forge on. “Religion is like bookends in scouting,” said Jay Schnapp, a Jewish Boy Scout leader. Tzivos Hashem representative and Eagle Scout, Michoel Albukerk told Boy Scout leaders that “a boy scout abides by norms of morality and ethics premised on a firm belief in G-d. This is a fundamental principle in the education of a child, Jewish or gentile. It is certainly appropriate for anyone who believes in one G-d to defend scouting from attacks against its oath to be ‘reverent and G-d fearing.’”

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