Boy Scouts seek renewed ties with Jewish movements

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Attendees at the URJ Biennial request information on Jewish Scouting. Photo courtesy of Bruce Chudacoff
Attendees at the URJ Biennial request information on Jewish Scouting.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Chudacoff

Bruce Chudacoff has long advocated for Jewish young men to give Scouting a try.
With the reversal this summer by the Boy Scouts of America of a policy barring gay leaders, the leadership of the liberal streams of Judaism have given Chudacoff the go-ahead to bring the programs back to synagogues.

Last month, Chudacoff, chair of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, set up shop at the Reform and Conservative biennial conferences. From a booth decorated with posters touting the benefits of Scouting, Chudacoff spoke with hundreds of people about his vision for re-engagement.

“Just about everyone we talked to was happy the Boy Scouts were back with the Reform movement,” said Chudacoff. “A number of people thanked us for making membership and leadership policy changes so we could come back.”

The BSA had previously barred gay scouts and gay leaders from participation in troops. That policy led the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism to issue a memo in 2001 to the membership of the Union for Reform Judaism recommending that congregations sponsoring or housing troops or packs withdraw their support. According to Barbara Weinstein, director of the CSA, most congregations complied.

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The BSA voted in July to change the policy for adult leaders. The new policy reads, “No adult applicant for registration as an employee or non-unit-serving volunteer, who otherwise meets the requirements of the Boy Scouts of America, may be denied registration on the basis of sexual orientation.” This builds on a 2013 decision by the BSA to allow gay youths membership in its troops.

In light of those policy reversals, the CSA advised its 900 URJ member congregations that the 2001 recommendation was rescinded. However, there remain areas of concern.

First, the BSA leadership standard applies to only nonreligious chartered units.

This was done in deference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which uses Scouting as its youth organization. Approximately 71.5 percent of troops are chartered by faith-based organizations, which retain the right to discriminate against gay leaders. Second, the CSA is troubled by the lack of language regarding the participation of transgender individuals, especially in light of a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and nongender-conforming people adopted during the recent URJ biennial.

Weinstein confirmed that the CSA and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she serves as associate director, will press the BSA on those issues.

The positives of Scouting, namely skills and character development, have influenced generations, said Weinstein. “We know that many families and scouts find deep meaning in those values [and we hope they’ll] continue to expand to gay scouts, gay leaders, transgender scouts and transgender leaders as well.”

She said the Reform movement is “strongly supportive of any activities scouts have around social justice and repairing the world.”

Chudacoff brought his Jewish Scouting booth to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s biennial held last month in the Chicago area.

A spokesperson for USCJ wrote that although the group has “no formal partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, we are supportive of the organization now that they have changed their policy on LGBTQ. The USCJ writes many letters of congratulations to Eagle Scouts and encourages our congregations to welcome Scouting.”

In addition to working toward the rank of Eagle Scout, Jewish scouts can earn up to four religious emblems, which have recently gone through an overhaul in requirements, explained Chudacoff. Cub Scouts can earn the Maccabee and Aleph emblems; Boy Scouts and registered Venturers can earn the Ner Tamid and Etz Chaim emblems. The latter two awards emphasize leadership within and commitment to Jewish communal life.

Since attending the biennials, Chudacoff has been fielding inquiries about Jewish Scouting.

“This morning I had a call from someone in Tempe, Ariz., who said she was very interested in starting a Scouting unit at her temple because the regular troop wasn’t a good fit for her son,” said Chudacoff.

“There have been a number of others who have wanted to do a similar thing, so we’re following up on them and we’re hoping this will create an impetus to creating more units,” he said. “People are very excited to have Scouting back.”

The National Jewish Committee on Scouting was formed in 1926. By 1957, there were 1,367 troops chartered to Jewish religious and fraternal institutions with 100,000 Jewish Boy Scouts throughout the United States in Jewish and non-Jewish sponsored troops.

Because the Boy Scouts of America does not track religious affiliation, how many Jewish youths currently participate in its programs is unknown.

There are currently seven troops in the National Capital Area Council, BSA sponsored by Jewish institutions. Two more are slated to start up this spring in Washington.

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