Over the past two weeks, I was privileged to be able to attend the 2005 National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, an Army base in Virginia.
The tragic deaths of the four Alaskan scout leaders and the 300 boys suffering from heat exhaustion while waiting for President George W. Bush dominated the news media. Unfortunately, most people never got to hear about all the good times we were having.
However, every day, thousands of scouts like me were able to enjoy scuba diving, biking, archery, learning about the military, patch trading, and meeting other scouts from across the country and around the world.
The 12th point of the Scout Law is that a scout is reverent, and that did not change while at the 10-day jamboree. There were many ways for the approximately 1,000 Jewish scouts and staff members to practice Judaism there. In fact, the jamboree’s head chaplain was Rabbi Peter Hyman.
We could attend prayer services, receive kosher food, and participate in a Jewish Traditions program on Sunday, when most of the 44,000 scouts and staff attended church services.
I am thankful for all the Jewish programming, because I sometimes felt a little weird being the only Jewish person from the Milwaukee County contingent of 144 boys.
Another local Jewish scout attended the jamboree but he was part of a shomer Shabbat (Shabbat observant) contingent out of New York City, which sent two all-Jewish troops to the Jamboree. That group set up a special synagogue tent in their campsite to house their daily services.
There were also regular Friday night, Saturday morning, and Havdalah services at the Chaplain’s Tent near the Merit Badge Midway, about a 90-minute walk from my campsite.
According to Cheryl Baraty, a pack leader for the Harry & Rose Samson Family JCC Venture Scout Post, Boy Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack 392, some 300 people took part in the kosher meal program. Participants carried insulated lunch bags instead of the bagged lunches that most scouts picked up at kiosks.
At the jamboree, I worked toward the Jewish Achievement Award that was available to Jewish scouts. For it, we had to do four required tasks and four out of eight electives.
The four tasks were: visiting the National Jewish Committee on Scouting exhibit; meeting with a Jewish chaplain; going to Saturday morning services; and attending the Jewish Traditions program, which included making a Jewish craft, such as a shofar, a Havdalah kit or a mezuzah case.
Some of the electives were keeping kosher, putting on tefillin, going to Havdalah services, and attending a workshop to work on our religious emblems. The Jewish Achievement Award was a great way for me to keep practicing Judaism while at the jamboree.
The jamboree was lots of fun for me and I hope to be able to go back to the 2010 Jamboree as a staff member.
A sophomore at Whitefish Bay High School, Martin Steren is a member of Troop 400 of Whitefish Bay and the Order of the Arrow.