Founded in 2010 at the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, Boy Scout Troop 613 is an active member of mid-Westchester’s Mohican Lodge of the regional Boy Scouts Council. Troop Leader Evan Gilder explained, “My son wanted to do scouting, but there were no opportunities for a religious kid to be involved, as local troops meet on Saturdays.” Gilder’s son became this Jewish troop’s first eagle scout.
Cub Master Rob Weber added, “Growing up in San Diego, I have been involved with the scouts since I was 5 years old. I rose to be an Eagle Scout. I founded this troop over eight years ago when my son was 6 and I wanted him to be in a Jewish troop.”
According to Gilder, over 40 youths participate annually. “The Westchester scouts bring together kids from all different denominations and backgrounds. These are kids who would have never met each other if it wasn’t for the scouts. They range in religious observance. The program works to simply brings kids together,” described Gilder. “The goal is to teach kids skills that they can use for a lifetime!”
Weber added, “It is about working in teams and building partnerships and relationships towards the goal of leadership,”
Trying to reinvigorate its Jewish legacy, the Boy Scouts of America has declared, “for 100 years, Scouting has developed strong values in each of its youth members and adult volunteers. scouting honors the synagogue, Jewish community center or other Jewish organizations, as well as the home and school, as launching pads for our young people’s values. With time-tested programs, scouting provides your organization with a foundation upon which you can help your members become better American citizens and better Jews.”
While Troop 613 started at the Hebrew Institute, Gilder explained that “all local synagogues are happy to host us, including Beth El and Anshe Shalom.”
At meetings, boys with different skill sets run their own events while adults sit in the background to supervise. Weber continued, “Older kids teach the younger kids,” adding, “It is not just about earning badges; it is about creating leaders. The merit badges these youth earn have leadership as its end goal.”
Gilder described, “Over any long weekend, there is a scouting event; it is just a matter of where. BSA accommodates Troop 613’s religious needs, making it easy to keep Shabbat when camping. The organizers make arrangements for the scouts to stay until Sunday and not have to travel on Shabbat.” The Jewish troops go camping with two sets of pots for cooking, they learn how to erect an eruv and learn how to tell the time of sunrise and sunset without watches. They even learn how to prepare a cholent for Shabbat in a cast-iron Dutch oven on the campfire. Once it begins to burn down, they bury the pot under hot coals, which will stay warm for at least 30 hours.
This coming President’s Day weekend, Troop 613 will gather in Loysville, Pennsylvania, alongside other East Coast troops for a Klondike Derby. Derbies are fun competitions for Scouts to use teamwork and communication skills in the various events. The “Klondike” focuses on winter skills.
Recently, one Troop 613 Cub Scout thought they should do more for tikkun olam. They joined with the Bronx Jewish Community Council to help deliver packages of dry soup to the elderly. On March 10, the BJCC will present these Cubs with an award. It is not just the boys who are involved with tikkun olam. This past MLK day, the girls’ group cooked and prepared food for Masbia’s soup kitchen.
Tenderfoot Scout Zachary, age 11, has been a scout for six years. He said, “I have learned wilderness survival, first aid, camping, knot tying, knife safety, cooking, teamwork, map/compass and fitness skills.”
Teenager Sammy Weber, now a life scout and senior patrol leader explained, “I have been involved in scouting since I was a Tiger Scout at the age of 7. I enjoy participating because it gives me a chance to interact and teach younger scouts. In scouting, I have learned several skills such as first aid, communication, camping, cooking, leadership, emergency preparedness and so much more. One thing I have learned from the Boy Scouts is there is always an opportunity to help someone, and there is never an excuse not to take it.”