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  • Jewish Scouting and the Reform Movement

    This may not be the right place for this question, but I am a Cub Scout parent so this is where I look for posts... I notice there are some Jewish scouters on this forum. Have you ever experienced issues with scouts who are Reform Jews and their congregations not supporting BSA? Where I am, the Reform synagogue will have nothing to do with BSA - no Scout Shabbat, no presentation of religious emblems, no Eagle Scout projects can be done, etc. Has that been an issue where you are? Do you have any Reform scouts in your pack?

  • #2
    I'm not Jewish but I AM interested in learning why the synagogue doesn't have anything to do with BSA. Could you expand on that a bit?

    We had Jewish boys in the pack and the troop but I don't know enough about the various 'flavors' of Judaism to know if they were Reform or some other 'flavor'. Help me out with that, if you can, as well.


    • jasper18
      jasper18 commented
      Editing a comment
      Here is a link that does a pretty good job explaining the position of the Reform movement on BSA:

      This is an excerpt from the letter that was sent out by the Commission on Social Action of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 2000 after the Supreme Court ruling on inclusion of Gay Scouts and leaders:
      "In its new policy, which was mailed out to congregations this week, the CSA reached the painful decision to recommend that congregations sponsoring or housing troops/packs withdraw sponsorship and/or stop housing those troops/pack s effective immediately and that families remove their children from other scout troops. However, we understand that many are not ready or able to make that decision and prefer to continue to work from change from within. Therefore, the memo also details a number of protest actions congregations can take, while retaining a working relationship with the Boy Scouts of America."

      As for the different types of Jewish beliefs, I don't want to set myself up as any kind of expert, but in a nutshell, it is like the various denominations within Christianity. Jewish congregations in our area are part of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstruction or Humanist movements. They all have slightly different interpretations of Jewish law and its requirements as well as liturgical differences. Some would tell you that the Orthodox represent the most observant and it is true that they have beliefs that most greatly affect visible decisions around keeping the Sabbath, keeping kosher, appearance, etc.

      Hope that helps...

  • #3
    I'll keep this short for now but may expand upon it later. If Private Messages worked,, jasper18, I'd send you my contact information as I'm glad to commiserate and share advice. I'm chairman of my council's recently restarted Jewish Committee on Scouting (they suckered me into it).

    Jasper18: I've pretty much seen everything you say and more. The reform movement's been quite hostile to us over the past decade plus. I'm ex-Reform myself, switching over once the condemnation policy came out during my college days (just switched which room at Hillel I sat in).

    With few exceptions, Reform and Conservative* synagogues will not touch scouting with a ten foot pole. Any units chartered are either the result of a long standing relationship between the unit and the synagogue or, in rare cases, senior synagogue leadership were proponents of scouting. In nearly all cases, expect a little "dig" on the bottom of the units webpage expressing opposition to the BSA membership policy.

    While there is little support for scouting in the institutions, Jewish kids are still in scouting. if their families are non-observant, they tend to fit in well in community units. We do still have friends in the community. I'm finding there are rabbis with kids in scouting, still.

    If I have time, I'll come back and share more details later.

    *=Conservative has no official statement as Reform, but are mostly expressing the same sentiment. I've had luck in holding Scout Shabbat and religious emblems workshops in conservative synagogues and might have two that might host a unit if i can find a leader.


    • #4
      I think that there are large cultural issues with the demographics within the Reform movement and scouting, that have nothing to do with gay issues. Between family expectations, the outdoors component, saluting flags and national service, etc., I don't see the Reform movement showing any interest in a gender based organization built around traditional American values. Like 00Eagle, I grew up Reform, and its just not the direction of them.

      I mean, the membership policy is a reason not to charter units. However, refusing to acknowledge the religious accomplishments of the children within your congregation because you don't share values with a supporting organization... their priorities are simply not built around family and youth anymore.


      • 00Eagle
        00Eagle commented
        Editing a comment
        1.) I love your policies and accommodation of all levels of observance. As a JCoS chairman, I try to accommodate all levels as well: I won't email the committee on Shabbat, I won't hold a mandatory event on Shabbat, and if we have a lunch meeting, it'll be at a Kosher restaurant (except there are none with in my council's territory, we duck into a "border city"). On an individual basis, I will email/call particular committee members on Shabbat, put out a table at a Council event on Saturday, and have a planning meeting with a vice chairman or my council's Membership VP and staff advisor at a treif restaurant.

        On the other hand I've seen units that say "if you're wearing our pack numbers on your sleeve, don't violate Shabbat or eat treif." Not a policy I can support, since district and council events are open to all scouts, regardless of unit affiliation. What are they supposed to do? Go in civvies or tape over their unit numbers?

        2.) I'll be glad to help you and pass on what I've learned in setting up a religious emblems program. I have a great rabbi-mentor in the next council over who is a strong supporter of scouting. When the day school kicked out his sons' unit, he got the synagogue board to allow him to charter a new pack. When he arrived in town, he started emblem workshops at his shul.

        A key thing I've learned is you need to go where the scouts are: I hold classes after Hebrew school on Sundays with enough time for parents to get the kids fed and bring them to the event. My council covers 4 counties and I'm trying to expand beyond two locations, as sometimes they're not willing to travel far.

        One plus to our programs is that it's increased the visibility of the religious emblems programs to the point where two scouts who heard about the program but didn't attend the workshops pursued and completed the awards on their own.

        3.) Qwazse: it was more an attempt to give them a recognized award system (Religious Life or Arts and Hobbies Bronze/Gold/Silver and the Etz Chaim and TRUST) that the denominational youth program (USY) didn't offer.

      • qwazse
        qwazse commented
        Editing a comment
        How significant are awards in your communities? I've known some Christians in whose faith tradition they are a really big deal. In mine, folks view them as quirky, if not a little arrogant. So, I never felt comfortable using the religious awards program as a selling point for scouting.

      • Pack18Alex
        Pack18Alex commented
        Editing a comment
        [QUOTE author="00Eagle"]On the other hand I've seen units that say "if you're wearing our pack numbers on your sleeve, don't violate Shabbat or eat treif." Not a policy I can support, since district and council events are open to all scouts, regardless of unit affiliation. What are they supposed to do? Go in civvies or tape over their unit numbers?[/QUOTE]

        Well, how do you think Council would respond if they saw me at a public event, in Class A Uniform, smoking a cigar and drinking a bourbon? They would throw me out for engaging in conduct not becoming of BSA while representing BSA. If I'm in civilian attire, go into a bar, and smoke and drink, nobody from BSA will care, because I'm not representing BSA.

        We have made it pretty clear that we are happy to be active and involved in our District/Council, making a "Do Your Best" level of effort for participation, and they have been great at involving us in stuff, including scheduling around Jewish holidays major and minor. That said, I won't dispatch my non-observant leadership to meetings on Yom Tov (Roundtable overlapped with the 7th day of Passover last year, we did not attend), I will not send representatives from our Unit on Shabbat. In fact, when we needed to straighten out our registration at a Camporee, one of my non-observant leaders offered to go and correct the paperwork, I declined, walked down myself, and got help from one of the leaders that knew the drill and wrote down my verbal instructions.

        So I'd consider a leader in my Unit in uniform attending a district/council event with our numbers on, violating Shabbat or eating Treif, similarly to how other units would respond to such a leader drinking, doing drugs, or otherwise acting in an unsavory manner.

    • #5
      View from the goyim side: many decades ago, I began to get my head around Jewish culture once I left my small town to attend Pitt. I met folks who identified as conservatives, orthodox, reformed, etc... . One day, at lunch, I introduced a reformed young lady to a Christian Jew . I didn't bring up religion, but the last names kinda gave it away, so she asked about his story (which was mixed marriage parents, pretty devoted but never pushing their kids one way or the other, so in high school he came to the conclusion that he could be both). As soon as she found out, she lit into him (not in a mean way, but very sincerely): "You can be Buddhist and Jewish, you can be atheist and Jewish, but you're not allowed to be Christian and Jewish!" I nearly laughed myself off the cafeteria chair!

      So, the notion of a body of reformed Jews making sweeping recommendations against an organization that was veering too much into the conservative Christian camp is not too far fetched based on my encounters with some of the sect's more outspoken adherents. Although, to be honest, I never asked my friend what she thought of scouting. And have since met enough folks from each of the major sects to know that one size does not fit all!

      Anyway, it's the "boots on the ground" who will change anything. If there are enough adults and youth in your congregation who experienced Scouting and your Rabbi agrees,.you'll be able to charter a unit. If not, you'll bump into walls like these.


      • #6
        Originally posted by qwazse View Post

        Anyway, it's the "boots on the ground" who will change anything. If there are enough adults and youth in your congregation who experienced Scouting and your Rabbi agrees,.you'll be able to charter a unit. If not, you'll bump into walls like these.
        That's very true. Going at it from the outside (council coming in and asking a congregation to host a unit) is not going to work. We're not the UMC where the United Methodist Men love scouts and will willingly host a unit that doesn't even include members of the congregation.

        However, there do seem to be synagogues, where if a parent comes forward and says, "I want a pack here for my son and his friends and I am willing to lead it." gets results.

        This happened in my council, we had a Jewish pack come online at a Conservative synagogue in January 2012 because a dad wanted it. However he stepped down at the end of the program year and the pack crumpled before my committee could rescue it. We came online in May '12 and when I finally was ready to go with the rescue plan, the synagogue youth director nixed it as no parents were ready to step up.

        If I can find a way to get Jewish parents involved, I will try to get another unit going. Until then, emblems workshops and Scout Shabbat are the order of the day.


        • #7
          Just by way of FYI... I grew up in the North where there were lots of synagogues, temples, shuls, etc. from which to choose. I now live in the South where there is only one Reform and one Conservative choice within driving distance. I would love to do a religious emblems class for both GSUSA and BSA. I know they would never go for it at my synagogue and I don't think the Conservative one would, but I have never asked. I also would love to get a Scout Shabbat going for both scouts.

          I did lead my son through the Macabee emblem and he is working on Aleph. My daughter just started Lehavah for Girl Scouts. I just wish there were more options for integrating our religious life with scouts.


          • #8
            I think I have all of the Jewish (and Chinese American!) scouts from my city in my troop. Chinese moms are easier to deal with only because they struggle so much with English they give up before giving me an earful.

            I'm in a small congregation (50 families). They claim to be reform but it seems to be a fuzzy distinction. It's a mix of a lot and everyone likes it. We have a range of political views from middle of the road Republican to hard core Democrat. Then there's the mom that teaches the youth, will step in for the rabbi if needed, will sing for the cantor if needed, and she's also a girl scout troop leader. If she had sons, she'd be a den leader. As for boy scouts, people in my congregation think that what I do as SM is a mtizvah. When they find out all the service and adventure we do, they really like it. They would like all kids, before bar and bat mitzvah, to do a "tikkun olam project." So they asked me if I'd help organize that. They'd sign me up for helping run a youth program if they thought they could squeeze the time out of me. I'm the one that makes sure the U.S. flag is on the correct side. So in my congregation being a SM is accepted, but we do have a very warm congregation.

            That said, a few members have come up to me and said something along the lines of "I really like what you do for the children, but ... <ensuing discussion about gays>." One of them came up to me and started talking about it and when she started she just had this view that all we did was make gay pinatas and beat them and she wanted to know how I could possibly be part of it. I told her what we really did and by the end her tone was much more accepting. Qwazse's point that the BSA is also viewed as Christian doesn't help either. Again, people have preconceived ideas.

            The problem comes from those that have no idea what scouting is about. I see the Boy Scout ideas of service and adventure compare to yetzer tov (selfless) and yetzer ra (selfish). I think it's a great match. The fact that reform Jews might not like scouts baffles me.


            • packsaddle
              packsaddle commented
              Editing a comment
              MattR, while I sympathize with your 'bafflement', you're still way ahead of me. Organized religion, in general, baffles me. It is one of the behaviors for which my (normally trustworthy) explanation for humans fails (which is, simply, we are monkeys). Monkeys (as far as I know) don't even have organized religions. And that leaves me in perpetual bafflement. H'mmm....on reflection, perhaps 'baffled' isn't the best description for what I feel....horrified fascination..........

            • King Ding Dong
              King Ding Dong commented
              Editing a comment
              Unfortunately we have been given religous texts that are so confounding that we need teams of religous scholars to interpret them for us and tell us each week what they really mean. I so much would prefer a one or two page memo in language I could understand. I pray for such a document regularly, but my prayers have gone unanswered. A pamphlet would even do. I would settle for a updated revision in English every 10 years or so. I am sure God could find some volunteers to help out.

            • qwazse
              qwazse commented
              Editing a comment
              KDD, it started out as a one page memo ...

              "Be fruitful and multiply.
              You're in charge now, here are the keys to the planet.
              Have all the fruit you want ... except that one."

              Well, two out of three ain't bad.

          • #9
            KDD, here's one cliffnotes version, presumably written around the 4th century. It's well known and, naturally, comes with a story: "Hillel, when asked by a prospective convert to Judaism to teach him the whole Torah while he stood on one leg, replied: 'That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, The rest is commentary. Go forth and study.'" So, start with the Golden Rule and once you have that figured out go study the Bible to learn more. And never stop. i.e., it's a journey. What can I say, people are complex.

            Pack, I hear you. Organized religion has a bad side. There's also a good part that I find incredibly wonderful. To me, it gets down to the Golden Rule, which is really about love. But love is hard to define. It's kind of like gravity, we know it when we see it, but we can't define it or reason about it. Anyway, it would be nice if everyone lived this ideal. It will never happen but maybe we can get closer. So, like anything in scouts, you can't talk about love, you have to do it. Gotta feel the love. When I pray, I do feel the love. I have no idea why it works. It just does, much like gravity. We just need to work on the bad side. It's improving, just slowly.


            • packsaddle
              packsaddle commented
              Editing a comment
              MattR, What you just described as the good part isn't organized religion. It's your personal view and your personal way and that's great. I completely appreciate the personal aspect of faith.

            • MattR
              MattR commented
              Editing a comment
              I can't quite see that. I got to the point where I am at least partially because of a lot of people before me. The prayers, the stories, and the ceremonies are all things I never would have figured out on my own. So, the organized part of my religious beliefs are a necessary part of my personal beliefs. Sufficient? No, I'll give you that.

          • #10
            I'm not Jewish. I don't know the requirements for the Religious award within the Jewish faith. But I keep seeing posts about the Syn not allow this or that. Can you not hold the program somewhere outside the Syn?


            • #11
              I'm coming at this as a Methodist, and first of all, I'd like to say it's not always that easy to get the Methodist Men to help out with scouting. Some of those guys are more bullheaded than you would expect.

              One of the suggestions that I saw above was that what was really needed was a family inside the congregation that will champion Scouting. They need to be able to step into a leadership role, and find other families both inside and outside the congregation that may be interested in it.

              You may also need to decide if you are going to be focusing on serving your own congregation, or serving the community. My own troop has a number of different religious traditions represented. I'd say about 15-20% of the pack are members of the church, and maybe 10% of the Troop.

              As for the Religious Emblems Programs, we offered them to all of our church youth + any of the scouts who would like to participate. We focused on them as primarily Christian Education in our case, as the PRAY program is very non-denominational, and works with just about all mainline Christian Denominations. It's a good program, regardless of whether or not a kid is involved in scouting.

              I do not know if the Jewish Religious emblems could be used in that way. But if they can be, I would recommend asking the church to offer them for all the kids, not just the scouts... and make it available to scouts of your faith in other troops and packs throughout the community. It might be you signing up to help run things though.

              However, if you cannot find a critical mass within your own synagogue, I hope you can find a good home in some other location, in a multi-faith pack or troop.