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Jewish Scouting struggles to attract new members

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Jewish Scouting struggles to attract new members





BY: ALAN SMASON, Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 23, 2006


When Boy Scout Troop 96, chartered to Bnai Jeshurun Congregations Mens Club, folded last fall after nearly 50 years of continuous operation, many felt it may have signaled the end of all Jewish scouting units in Cleveland.


Through nine decades, nearly a dozen different Jewish scouting units Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Explorer posts have closed.


Yet, hot on the heels of Troop 96 closing comes news from Temple Israel Ner Tamid (TINT) they are chartering a new Boy Scout Troop (see related story on page 21). Insiders say factors may now be favorable for future expansion within the regional Jewish community.


I see a resurgence in Jewish scouting in Cleveland, says Judy Caine, vice president of relationships with the Greater Cleveland Council. Were really excited to start up the new troop at Temple Israel Ner Tamid that will be open to the general public.


She is heading a team that is currently meeting with a major Jewish youth group in Cleveland for a program that will run concurrently with TINTs.


Despite these seemingly positive events, most adult leaders, called scouters, agree that the loss of Jewish units tied to Jewish institutions has been troubling. My take is that we just dont have the parent involvement, says local Jewish committee on Scouting chairman Paul Wolf. Theyre putting their kids into other activities, and the parents arent involved with running the program. The program was at its strongest when parents were most involved.


Randy Korach, a member of the Greater Cleveland Council executive board agrees. I dont think its a new problem that we face in the Jewish community, but weve missed a generation of leadership.


Korach also cites what he calls the hip factor as being a deterrent to attracting greater numbers of Jewish youth to scouting. There is also increased competition with alternative activities, such as sports or other Jewish extracurricular activities, he explains.


Kids are overprogrammed now in general, says Wolf. But, in this case, they are leaving out the program that has the most parent involvement and the one that requires more effort on their parts.


Wolf also cited inherent problems with housing scouting units in the Orthodox and Conservative communities, especially when it comes to keeping the commandments against lighting fires, carrying items, or traveling on Shabbat.


More of the problems are associated with camping, he explains. He notes, however, that several shomre Shabbos (Sabbath-observant) Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops and Venturing crews (the high adventure, co-ed branch of scouting for older teenagers and college students) are fully functional elsewhere.


Former National Jewish Committee chairman Jerrold Lockshin, a resident of Canton, attributes the loss of Jewish parental support to assimilation of former immigrant families into mainstream society.


When I was active as a scout in 1938, immigrant American Jews were just coming into American society, he says. When my two sons were active in scouting, it was still very, very popular. There was a feeling that every Jewish kid should be a part of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). It was apple pie and the American dream.


The problem, admits Lockshin, is in the generations that followed. Getting those next generations interested in scouting has been very difficult. They certainly are less willing to participate than they were years ago.


Statistics kept by the National Council of the BSA back up those feelings. For example, Jewish chartering organizations have fallen from a high of 926 units in 1963 (the earliest year that records were kept) to an all-time low of 214 units in 2005. Numbers of Jewish youth in these units have dropped precipitously from a high of 13,808 in 1975 to an all-time low of 4,375 in 2005.


Those figures dont tell the whole story, insist Korach and Caine. Just because there arent Jewish troops and packs sponsored by temples doesnt mean that there arent any Jewish Scouts, says Korach.


Both believe that many Jewish scouts and their parents are simply joining traditional units not sponsored by Jewish institutions.


Greater Cleveland Council scout executive Kenn Miller confirms that assessment. If a boy wants to get into scouting, well have a unit available to him, he says.


While Wolf, associated with the Bnai Jeshurun troop since 1982, thinks the numbers of Jewish Scouts are down, other factors suggest that Jewish scouts are still very active within scouting ranks. According to Lockshin, There are more Jewish Eagle Scouts today, and more Jewish religious emblems are being presented to Jewish scouts.


Age-specific religious emblems, such as the Ner Tamid and Etz Chaim for Boy Scouts, and Jewish Eagle Scout certificates are presented by local Jewish committees in ceremonies at synagogues and temples. These presentations are on behalf of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting and the Relationships Division of the Boy Scouts of America.


The Greater Cleveland Councils Jewish Committee on Scouting has also suffered from the ongoing problem of adult leadership. In the past, its formerly large, energetic staff held various Scout Shabbats and camping events such as kinussim (gatherings) throughout the year. However, in recent years, the committees ranks have thinned to fewer than 20, with only six active members, according to Wolf. Program offerings have been severely limited, as the committee has struggled to keep itself solvent.


Nationally, the BSA has found itself the target of more than 30 lawsuits that have sought to attack what it calls its core values. Most lawsuits have been aimed at challenging membership requirements.


The most controversial of these is the fallout from the 2000 Supreme Court decision in the case The Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. The case revolved around assistant Scoutmaster James Dale, who openly declared himself a homosexual while attending Rutgers University, the State University of New Jersey.


During the course of several interviews with the news media as co-president of the Gay Students Union there, Dale confirmed that he was both an Eagle Scout and a scouter. He was removed as an adult leader by his council, who cited the national standard of barring avowed homosexuals.


Dale won several cases on state and regional levels before BSA challenged him and won the decision in the Supreme Court.


BSA considered the case an affirmation of its right to determine its policies for adult leadership and free speech. Outspoken gay rights groups, and the American Civil Liberties Union in particular, considered the policies to be highly discriminatory and created a groundswell of controversy decrying the National Councils policies.


The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) drafted a list of recommended actions through their Reform Action Committees Commission on Social Action. They pledged to fight what they termed Scoutings discriminatory policies.


Recommendations included pulling charters from existing units, refusing to house units on Reform temple sites, blocking any financial support for scouting from Reform temples and families, and removing scouts from existing non-Reform units. The North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods (NFTB) drafted a similar resolution a year earlier in December 1999.


This followed a similar 1992 resolution from the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).


Despite this juggernaut of opposition to scouting policy from the Reform movements leadership, the rank and file of Reform member scouters has not necessarily chosen to follow all of their leaders recommendations. About 20% of Reform temple scouting units have shut down permanently, but many have been re-chartered to Conservative or Orthodox synagogues, Jewish day schools or JCCs.


The Jewish War Veterans and several other social and fraternal groups have also volunteered to become charter partners with formerly Reform congregation-housed units.


According to figures from the BSAs Relationships Division, 80% of the Reform movements acouting units continue to operate as they had prior to the 2000 resolutions.


Lockshin, who was the National Jewish Committee chairman at the time, discounts the role the gay issue had played in the loss of Jewish units and numbers of Jewish scouts.


Prior to the Reform movement coming out against scouting, there was a lessening of interest, he admits.


The National Jewish Committee on Scouting has stated they will take no position on the gay scout leaders issue. According to Lockshin and others, this was done to prevent the issue from fractionalizing the effectiveness of the committee and to maintain a solid presence on the national scene.


In addition to court challenges on the gay Scout leader ban, recent suits have challenged the BSAs barring of avowed atheists and agnostics as scouts and scouters (Randall v. Orange Council, BSA and Seabourn v. Coronado Area Council, BSA). Also, the BSAs use of public facilities and government forums that support scouting units and events has been challenged.


A recent Department of Defense memo prevents military bases from chartering existing or new scouting units, and the ACLU and others have sought to quash the BSAs use of the federal fort A.P. Hill in Virginia where scouts have held their massive gatherings, called Jamborees, since 1937 (Winkler v. Rumsfeld).


Meanwhile, Wolf and others look to re-charter Troop 96 at Bnai Jeshurun Congregation. The congregation is fully behind us, he states. Its just finding kids and parents that want to be involved. I think its cyclical. The programs been around for almost 100 years, and its had Jewish kids involved in it since it began. Were just in a downward turn right now.



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We have a number of Jewish boys in our non-Jewish pack/troop. So I can anecdotally confirm that part of the story.


Scoutldr, I doubt that many of the other groups you mention have suffered a 75% reduction in membership. In fact, I'd be very curious to see the numbers for conservative Protestant religious groups, or for LDS units. Maybe even Catholic units. All units suffer from the overprogramming effect, but I'm sure if affects some much more than others.


Oak Tree

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I don't know that this is a big deal.


Nowadays, you have fewer predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. Due to travel restrictions on the Sabbath, Orthodox Jewish families strive to live within walking distance of their synagogue. However, Reform and Conservative Jewish families live all over the place, and not necessarily close to the synagogue they attend. So, many Reform and Conservative Jewish scouts end up joining their neighborhood pack/troop, along with all their schoolmates and fellow kids on the block. And chances are that the neighborhood unit isn't chartered by a synagogue.


For example, the CO for my oldest son's troop is a Presbyterian Church & the CO for my youngest's pack is a Methodist Church. Our synagogue doesn't have a pack or troop, but does do something special with the scouts in our congregation on Scout Shabbat. And about the same percentage of scouts in our congregation have earned their religious emblem as scouts in my sons' units.


So, unless all the COs in your area restrict their membership by denomination - all God's children are happy.



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At one point in time the leadership of my pack (not chartered by a Jewish organization), was 75% Jewish. Although the percentage is lower today, much of the Packs work gets done by the Jewish families.


Across our districts, many district scouter's are Jewish, fewer, but still some at the council level. The interesting thing here is that we are not in Jewish community, and the number of Jewish Scouts are far outnumbered by the non-Jewish Scouts.


So when Mr. Korach asserts the the Jewish parents are not stepping up to take leadership positions, I would suggest that he take the same look at the non-Jewish community, and mixed community's. this is an across the board problem, not a problem that can be tagged to one particular group.

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"If we substitute any other adjective for the word "Jewish", such as "Methodist", "Catholic", "Baptist" or even "American", would the article be any less accurate? "


This is probably true but I agree with Oak Tree's comment on the 75% reduction.


Ironically I a few months ago I posted an article from the Boston Globe about how Islamic scouting was growing. One reason given in the article was that scouting's "traditional values" were very much in line with the values of Islam.


Consider that many Jewish organizations and Temples accept gay members and that many Christian denominations and Church's openly accept gay members and also clergy. I am unaware of any Islamic congregation accepting gay members. (Not that I go out of my way to keep track of such information though.) Consider also that many male scouters and some CO's limit the role of female leadership, also an aspect of Islam.



However, traditional Bar-be-que is generally not accepted by Moslems or Jews for that matter.





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No they don't. Although, if you are a true fan of southern style, pork bar-be-que, there are a handful, and I mean only a handful, of joints scattered throughout New England that do a passable job.


There are parts of Alabama I've been to you can find the same number on a 1 mile stretch of state road. Love the smell of hickory smoke in the mornin'.


On the other hand, in midsummer, I can run down to the local lobster pound and pick up a handful of chicken lobsters for $3-$4/lb, and

add a couple of pounds of clams for another few bucks.


Lobster as far as I know is accepted fair by all the major faiths, although I don't know how drawn butter fits in if one is trying to keep kosher.


The CO for the unit I serve is a Methodist Church, that as I've mentioned, doubles as a Jewish Temple on Saturdays. Nearly all the members of our unit are Catholic. We enjoy both bar-be-que and lobsters.



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Ah you folks from the southeast thinking pigs is good bbq. Now even this RC boy knows that ain't Kosher. But brisket is and that is the BBQ there is - us Texas folks know reall BBQ is BEEF! :)


Course here in Missouri they put the bbq sauce in a bottle on the table, what's up with that? KC does have some passable Q but nothing like Demeris' down in Houston!




(This message has been edited by campcrafter)

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