Jewish Scouts: Catching the Ruach

Scouting has been in the news lately as the Boy Scouts of America reconsider a longtime ban on gay scouts and leaders. A recent New York Times article describes in detail the discussions and opinions on this decision from various national leadership, and the Huffington Post reports that Boys Scouts of America is delaying a decision on the ban. This issue and its negative press aside, scouting has had a positive effect on the youth of my congregation, as evidenced by an event that took place just this month.

In early February, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from Nassau County were invited to the Temple B’nai Torah Scout Shabbat. In addition to Scout Shabbat, our temple also hosts the National Jewish Committee on Scouting’s annual breakfast. Originally only Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts were honored, but thanks to a Girl Scout leader, the event was expanded. (The first year Girl Scouts were included, adult representatives from the Girl Scouts of Nassau County attended and brought everything from Thin Mints to Trefoils to Samoas. Best oneg ever!)

During our recent Scout Shabbat service, the clergy asked the scouts and their leaders to stand and receive a special blessing for their hard work and dedication. More than two thirds of attendees rose, including Gold and Eagle Award recipients, families with two generations of scouts, and some attendees who were not Jewish. The camaraderie spilled over to the oneg at the conclusion of the service.

Clearly, scouts are an integral part of our temple. Our temple brotherhood sponsors Cub/Boy Scout Troop 189 of Wantagh, of which my son is the Chaplain Aide. The scouts of this nonsectarian troop, which meets once a week in our youth lounge, are active in the temple as well as in the broader community. After Hurricane Sandy, our scout troop volunteered with the Red Cross in some of the devastated areas of Long Island. The weekend prior to Super Bowl Sunday, the troop collected food for Island Harvest. Separate Eagle Scout projects have included upgrading the lighting in portions of the synagogue’s school wing, creating of a children’s library in the temple, repairing a public school playground, and cleaning a local preserve. Until recently, our temple sisterhood sponsored a Girl Scout troop, too. Though they no longer sponsor a particular troop, girls from troops from all over the south shore of Long Island are members of our congregation. With their local troops, they participate in community service projects throughout the year.

Scouting and religion share ways of enriching the lives of scouts through teaching. Representatives from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts recently spoke to the congregation about the programs that link Judaism and scouting. There are even four age-appropriate religious badges for both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to acquire. Years ago, in classrooms provided by our temple, a teen Girl Scout named Amanda first created a curriculum and conducted classes for Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts from Nassau County to earn their respective badges from the National Jewish Committee on Girl Scouting. Amanda, now a college student, and a member of the NJGS committee, continues to help Girl Scouts earn their religious badges at our temple. Thanks to Adam, a temple teen Boy Scout, in partnership with adult leaders and our cantor, our temple now runs classes in which boys can also earn their respective badges from the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. In these classes, the scouts learn about Israel, heritage, Torah, holidays, morals, history, tikkun olam, and more. For some, these badges are their introduction to Judaism, with families joining our temple as a result of this positive experience.

A requirement of the Boy Scouts is to take an oath acknowledging that the boys have a duty to God and country and to help other people at all times. The Girl Scout Promise talks about serving God and country, while the Girl Scout Law asks the girls to be considerate, caring, and be respectful. In our religious school, the reoccurring theme is “Catch the ruach” (spirit). In our temple, the scouts have caught the ruach as well.