Think of Boy Scouts, and images of youth camping, hiking, sailing, and building fires from scratch come to mind.
But these activities are teaching more than just survival skills — they are also teaching the young men and women who participate critical skills on the meaning of teamwork, leadership development, and confidence building.
On a recent nature trail hike behind the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, Ben Globus, scoutmaster for Troop 18, which is chartered by the Owings Mills JCC, spoke about the impact that camping, building a fire in the midst of winter, sailing, or hiking have on the young participants. “Boys — and girls — are not only learning various skills, they are also gaining confidence in themselves. They can say ‘I was able to survive’ — particularly if they have been able to learn how to light a fire to stay warm if camping in the winter.”
“When they face any kind of difficult times in their lives, they can pull back on this experience to get them through,” he added.
Nathan Rubenstein, a senior at Pikesville High School and a member of Troop 97, joined the Boy Scouts of America as a Cub Scout, and his growth, said Scoutmaster Dan Dinkin, has been remarkable. Nathan became an Eagle Scout in 2019. “I’ve learned responsibility, respect, and valuable skills that I will use in all aspects of my life, for the rest of my life. Teaching back the skills learned, sharing your knowledge is a requirement for ‘rank advancement.’ It is documented in the scouts’ record book who, what, and when they taught a skill. This is important to strengthen the groups you lead and to provide unity through learning for years to come,” said Nathan.
Nathan’s mother, Vickie Rubenstein, shared that Nathan, “decided to join Troop 97 as a Boy Scout in order to expand his Jewish youth group service with his Scouting service efforts.
“His volunteering and sense of community service through Yom Kippur food drives, backpacks for the homeless program, highway cleanups of Park Heights Avenue, and leadership roles within the troop (two-term senior patrol leader, assistant senior patrol leader, patrol leader, bugler for six years) have provided him with a consistent journey in self-discovery, personal growth, and the genuine spirit of making the community a better place to live. Nate and I are always willing to teach skills within the troop and Venture Crew of 97 and to the Cub Scouts of Pack 971, Beth Israel Congregation.”
Dinkin, scoutmaster for Troop 97 and committee chair for the Arrowhead District — which encompasses all BSA units (Packs, Troops, and Crews) in Northwest and Southwest Baltimore County — said that scouting is important because it allows him, and other adults, to have a positive influence on growing teens.
“Being a scout leader is important to me because in today’s world, with sounds bites and phone apps, there is little avenue for youth to learn these important life skills,” he said. “Scouting ideals still apply and will serve them well throughout their lives.”
The Big Picture
While the national organization, Boy Scouts of America, recently declared bankruptcy, local councils and units are not affected. In fact, according to the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, local units in the Jewish community can be chartered through local JCCs, synagogues, temples, Chabad houses, and Jewish War Veterans posts.
In a statement regarding the Chapter 11 filing, the BSA apologized to anyone “who was harmed during their time in Scouting.” As a precaution, and for the safety of all involved, all scouting activities must have two adults present, and no youth is to be alone with an adult at any time.
The Boy Scouts have broad appeal and have also included girls in its program for nearly 50 years, according to the BSA. The Boy Scout troops (now known as Scouts BSA troops) for boys and girls are not to be confused with the Girl Scouts of America, which is a separate organization.
According to the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, by 1917, seven years after the BSA was first founded, the number of Boy Scout troops chartered by Jewish organizations had grown to 58.
The NJCOS’ mission, “to prepare young Jews to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of Judaism as expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law,” further highlights Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”), and offers, on its website, commentaries on Judaism from “all diverse Jewish Scouting Sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.” The NJCOS further recognizes “all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal important and worthy of inclusion.”
It is not surprising then that participation of Jewish youth is not new to the Boy Scouts. Participants can start as Cub Scouts, geared for children from kindergarten to fifth grade, advance to the Troops, geared for youth from sixth to 12th grade, and move up to the Crews, for youth up to 21 years old.
The Baltimore metropolitan area alone enjoys no less than eight Boy Scout groups that are affiliated with Jewish organizations — including a troop for girls.
A Family of Scouts
“We are a scout family,” Rachel Vaks said. “In addition to me being a scoutmaster and my husband helping with all of the behind-the-scenes for Troop 97G, my husband is also a den leader for Pack 435. I have five children — two girls in my Troop 97G, a son who is working towards his Eagle rank in Troop 611 (chartered by Shearith Israel Congregation), and then a son and a daughter in Pack 435.”
Key to the activities undertaken by all the troops is that they are youth led. “This gives the girls leadership experience and allows them to pick topics that they are interested in,” Vaks said. “We generally do a rotation between rank requirements (such as first-aid, swimming, hiking, camping), merit badges (we’ve done amazing ones like Nuclear Science and Aviation), NOVA science themed activities, and service projects.”
Robert Bauserman is assistant scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 18, which meets on Sundays at the Owings Mills JCC. His son, Alex, who is 17, has been in the Scouts since he was 8 years old. “I had been in the Scouts,” Bauserman said, “and it was a really good experience. I felt it would be good for him as well. Sure enough, he really enjoyed it and benefited from it. He has been able to develop all the outdoor skills like outdoor archery, hiking, and camping. At the personal level, he has earned citizenship merit badges and recognition for our space exploration, modern rockets, riflery, academic leadership, becoming a patrol leader, and teaching other kids.”
Mentoring Eagle Scouts
Charlie Hauss, who wears many hats — Arrowhead District dean of merit badges, Arrowhead District advancement and awards chairperson, founder and advisor to Troop 42 and Baltimore Area Council Advancement Committee member — joined the Scouts as a Cub when he was in fourth grade. Scouting became important to him, Hauss said, particularly so because his father traveled for a living.
Hauss is the founder of Troop 42, which is chartered by Congregation Beth Abraham – Hertzberg’s.
Hauss’ twin sons joined the Cub Scouts in second grade, giving him the opportunity to “rejoin” as a Scouter. Soon after, he would become den leader and assistant cubmaster. Hauss’ son David would eventually become an Eagle Scout, an honor that “has represented a milestone of accomplishment — perhaps without equal — that is recognized across the country and even the world” since 1912.
Famous Eagle Scouts include film director and producer Steven Spielberg, astronaut Neil Armstrong, and actor James Stewart, among other notable figures. While many presidents of the United States have been involved in Boy Scouts, Gerald Ford was the only one who earned the Eagle rank. “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe is also an Eagle Scout. It is an award that has come to symbolize a steady commitment to the task at hand as well as an ability to lead others.
Robin “Robby” Cohen, who also wears many hats — to include committee member of Troop 97, Vice-Chair District Advancement Committee and merit badge counselor — shared that Troop 97 currently has about 15 members, with 10 in Crew 97, which serves older youth. “It is ever more important in this day and age to produce young people with good ethics and character,” Cohen said. He shared a story of a young man who has grown from an 11-year-old boy to a teenager who fully understands the responsibilities that come with being a team leader of younger members.
An Enduring Tradition
Akiva Kent, a member of Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim, is a retired high school teacher and owner of a media company. He joined the scouts when he was 11 years old in the 1960s. “I and my twin brother, Gavin,” Kent shared, “were once honored to represent the BSA of New York state for the Charter Renewal to Governor Rockefeller.”
Kent, a Merit Badge counselor, said that the Boy Scouts are still very much relevant for many reasons, which include providing “values and guidance from positive mentors; skills for future academics or workforce development; family involvement; character development; appreciation of our environment; and tolerance of diversity.”
Asked whether there has been a decline in youth participating in Scouts, Col. Charles Jay, the Northern Lights Service Area commissioner within the Baltimore Area Council, whose job is to serve as a resource for the adult volunteers, said he has seen the opposite. “Recently I have noticed a slight increase in youth participating for a variety of reasons such as improved recruiting by offering great outdoor programs, as well as providing focused activities to meet the interests of as many youth as possible.”
And what does first grader Drew Unger think of his experience as a Cub Scout?
“It’s fun,” he said. “My favorite activity is hiking.”