Will Boy Scout Policy Change Bring Jewish Scouting Back to the J? Former Leaders Hope So
By Tonyia Cone
For nearly 15 years, Jewish scouts had a presence on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. The boys of Troop 28 and Pack 36 were easy to spot in their uniforms, whether they were helping the community by picking up trash on campus or serving as ushers at events, or participating in scout functions like the annual Pinewood Derby.
About five years ago though, Cub Scout Pack 36’s membership dwindled, and in 2013, Boy Scout Troop 28 followed suit. A decline in parent participation was one reason; other families left in opposition to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) policy prohibiting gay adult leaders.
But BSA lifted the complete ban this summer, and now allows chartered organizations to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation. Religiously chartered Scouting units may continue to use religious beliefs as a criterion for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexual preference.
Since the JCC did not comply with the old policy and opposes discrimination based on sexual preference, some former Pack 36 and Troop 28 leaders are hoping the new policy will be enough to revive local Jewish scouting.
Fred Fox – who was Pack 36 Cubmaster for three years, founder of Troop 28 in 1993, and who closed Troop 28 out in 2013 – said, “When all this came down about five years ago, Barry Streusand [another adult heavily involved in Troop 28] said it’d take 10 years to get over this hump, and I think he’s probably right. There’ll be fewer things for people to object to in the next couple years than there was for the last five or six years. From that standpoint, it’s going to be more attractive.”
Every Cub Scout Pack and Boy Scout Troop has a chartered organization, which provides meeting space and leadership for the unit. Chartered organizations also appoint a chartered organization representative to coordinate unit operations within the organization.
The J was Pack 36’s chartered organization, while Congregation Agudas Achim served as the chartered organization for Troop 28.
According to BSA’s website, Jewish institutions have been involved in the scouting program since 1916. In 2013, synagogues and JCC’s chartered 146 scouting units in the United States.
Julie Van Keer, who was involved with Jewish scouting for about 10 years as cubmaster, committee chair and in other capacities, explained that unlike packs and troops made up of neighborhood kids, the units on the Dell Jewish Community Campus brought together a group of families who were socioeconomically diverse, from all over the Austin area.
“It was cool because people got to be just moms and dads. We didn’t worry how big our tent was or what kind of car we had. It was just people getting together, having fun. The focus was on the boys, which is what it should be,” said Van Keer.
Van Keer explained that scouting activities are age-appropriate. Cub Scouts is set up to teach boys how to work together as a team, while Boy Scouts learn to do things on their own, hopefully without too much adult intervention.
The purposes of Cub Scouts are character development, respectful relationships, spiritual growth, personal achievement, good citizenship, friendly service, sportsmanship and fitness, fun and adventure, family understanding, and preparation for Boy Scouts.
Boys in Pack 36 had the opportunity to learn by taking part in meetings, camping, events like the Rain Gutter Regatta, when boys built boats then raced them in rain gutters, and visiting places including the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi.
Van Keer explained that Cub Scouts at the J was very family-based. Parental involvement was necessary to make the program a success, and sisters were invited to participate in activities.
“We did it as a community, and we’re still community. It’s about a beautiful program we can put together,” Van Keer said.
Fox, who was Troop 28’s scoutmaster for a few years and was the chartered organization representative for the last three years of the troop’s existence, explained that Boy Scouts have meetings, campouts, and opportunities to travel to high adventure bases including Philmont Scout Ranch – 137,000 acres of rugged mountain wilderness in the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico.
Fox explained that Troop 28 adult leaders made sure scouting was a leaning opportunity unlike other troops where “adults step in and run things when they get slow or messy.”
“If boys run the troop, they learn to be leaders, learn to do camping and learn their skills,” Fox said.
Barry Streusand – who served as Troop 28 committee chair and has been an active leader at the council level and in Venture Scouts, a BSA youth development program for 14 to 21 year old boys and girls – said, “It is a long-time proven methodology in developing leadership when you’re in an environment where you’re allowed to fail.”
Boy Scouts is also set up to give scouts a taste of real-world planning and interviewing skills, explained Fox, who is now involved with Baden-Powel Service Association, a scouting program not affiliated with BSA.
Boards of review determine the quality of a scout’s experience and decide whether he has fulfilled the requirements to advance to the next rank, requiring boys to answer questions much like a job interview.
Fox – whose son, now an adult, still uses skills he learned as a scout – explained that having to plan meetings and meet advancement requirements teach skills most people do not learn until they are in their 20s.
While Pack 36 and Troop 28 had some non-Jewish members, there were major benefits for Jewish scouts.
Streusand said, “It allowed them to participate with Jewish youth in Austin in an activity that’s not Hebrew school, where people are Jewish but not doing something uniquely Jewish.”
Van Keer explained that unlike other units that have Christmas parties, Easter egg hunts and Sunday morning services at campouts, Pack 36’s camping trips included challah, grape juice and a Saturday morning Shabbat service, and meetings were not held on Shabbat.
When it was time to work on religious awards, Jewish scouts worked together on the Maccabee or Aleph Emblem for Cub Scouts, or the Ner Tamid or Etz Chaim Emblem for Boy Scouts. Troop 28 and Pack 36 welcomed Jewish scouts from other area packs and troops to fulfill the award requirements so they would not have to work alone on those awards.
Each February featured a Scout Shabbat where scouts were publicly acknowledged in their community. At a different congregation each year, scouts received their religious awards from a rabbi and their cubmaster or scoutmaster.
While Jewish unit leaders did not make a big deal out of it, the units also kept kosher so that all Jewish scouts would be able to fully participate, regardless of their level of religious observance.
In order to expose other Cub Scout packs to Jewish scouting and experiences, Pack 36 held Yachad, an annual campout. Any Texas unit with at least one Jewish scout was invited so they would see things that made Jewish unit campouts special, like Havdallah.
Streusand explained that if individuals in the Jewish community want to get a Cub Scout pack off the ground, it will take five adults and five boys to start a unit. A Cub Scout pack would be needed to be established first, in order to feed scouts into a Boy Scout pack.
Fox and Van Keer noted that new units on the Dell Jewish Community Campus would start with help from past leaders, a great location, and money and equipment already in place, left over from Pack 36 and Troop 28.
Streusand said, “Once someone makes it known they are interested in starting a unit, Boy Scouts will shower them with help to make it happen. The council is very interested in getting a new unit or multiple units in the Jewish community.”
“I also see great value in Jewish scouting,” Jay Rubin, Shalom Austin CEO, declared.“The JCC Youth and Teen Department is ready, willing and able to support parents and former scout leaders in reviving Jewish scouting in Austin.”
For more information on Jewish scouting, visit http://www.scouting.org/About/Fact- Sheets/operating_orgs/Jewish.aspx. For information and help starting a Jewish Cub Scout pack in Austin, contact Julie Van Keer at firstname.lastname@example.org.