Sholom Cubs leaders Laura Tuan and Isaac Kool with their troops. (photo from Temple Sholom)
Sholom Scouts celebrated their first milestone when they conducted their first investiture ceremony earlier this month at Temple Sholom.
The ceremony is a central part of Scouts Canada, when new members become invested as scouts. New scouts make the Scout Promise to the Scouts leader and, in response, the Scouts troop leader pledges to help the scout do their best to uphold the promise, setting up a bond between them.
It’s the first time since the 1940s that a Jewish Scouts troop has existed in Western Canada. The rise of Sholom Scouts can be attributed to the vision of Temple Sholom Rabbi Dan Moskovitz.
“I moved here to Vancouver 18 months ago and was blown away by the nature beauty and resources of our surroundings,” he told the Independent. “I wanted to experience them with my children but didn’t want to head out camping or hiking on my own. I was a scout briefly as a child and thought it would be a good organization to explore the outdoors with my children.”
So, approximately a year ago, he went to the Scouts Canada house on Broadway and spoke with one of their representatives about how to start a troop. “I explained my desire and also that I was a rabbi and had access to a building to meet in and a network of other Jewish parents that might want the same experience for their children. He said they had been trying to start a Jewish Scouts group in Vancouver for more than 15 years but didn’t know where to begin, so it was bashert. They started helping right away with open house meetings for parents and kids and we got the word out through social media,” he said.
The boy troop now consists of eight beavers (5- to 7-year-olds) and eight cubs (8- to 10-year-olds) with members from across the Jewish religious spectrum. The children meet biweekly, even though, according to Moskovitz, they will be shifting to a traditional weekly program next year. The children have a bimonthly outdoor event, hiking, camping or another such activity. In May, Sholom Scouts will participate in an area-wide family campout with other Scouts groups from the Lower Mainland.
All Sholom Scouts activities are in line with kashrut observance, with a kosher kitchen on site, and are shomer Shabbat, including services as part of the campground experience.
Before the March 5 investiture ceremony, Moskovitz gave a tour of the synagogue to help another troop, Ryerson, obtain their religion and spirituality badge. There was a falafel dinner, at which the rabbi received an appreciation award from Scouts Canada, followed by Cub Car and Beaver Cubby Racing. The investiture concluded the evening.
In his remarks, Moskovitz explained the symbolism of having the first investiture ceremony in the sanctuary. “Though we have members of our Beavers and Cubs from many different synagogues and parts of the larger Jewish community, the synagogue sanctuary is the sacred place in all of Judaism where the Torah is kept and read, where the community gathers, where the eternal light is kept burning. It’s a place where children celebrate through bar and bat mitzvah their entry into adulthood and, tonight, where we celebrate their preparation for adulthood.”
The ceremony was important for other reasons, as well.
Raphy Tischler, Sholom Scouts Beaver leader, linked it to Jewish holidays such as Sukkot and the Zionist value of “Ahavat Haaretz.” “Living on the West Coast, it is only a natural connection to combine scouting and Judaism. I want the Jewish community to recognize the potential of outdoor programming as part of a well-rounded Jewish experience,” he said.
And scouting is a great way to reinforce the values of tikkun olam, according to Isaac Kool, Sholom Scouts Cub leader. “We need to start with our own community, including with the natural world.”
Brandon Ma, Pacific Coast Council commissioner for Scouts Canada, pointed out the parent volunteer aspect. “It is one of the only programs that I know of that parents are involved in the programming with their children at the same time, living, working, growing, having fun….”
Sholom Scouts are currently in need of more volunteers. Becoming a volunteer is a multi-step process that includes a personal interview, provision of three personal references and a police record check. Afterward, there is an online training session and mentoring with a local scout leader, where you learn about programming for youth.
Moskovitz believes it is a great way to bring Jewish parents together with their children. “Ninety percent of your Jewish life is lived outside of the synagogue. Scouts helps raise you in the world as a Jew and in the surroundings. It uses the quote, ‘Don’t separate yourself from the community’ … be a part [of it] but be a Jew,” he said.
“I think it will be amazing for our kids and for the hundreds of non-Jewish scouters and families who will join us and perhaps be exposed to outwardly Jewish kids for the first time,” said Moskovitz. “Our people camped in the desert for 40 years, I think we should be able to handle a weekend.”
Gil Lavie is a freelance correspondent, with articles published in the Jerusalem Post, Shalom Toronto and Tazpit News Agency. He has a master’s of global affairs from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.