The following account of the Eagle Court of Honor for Binyamin was posted on J-Scouts on the Internet. This is an ‘Internet community’ of people around the world (primarily in the U.S.) who are interested in Jewish Scouting. The account was posted by Mr. Jay Schnapp, a member of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, who received his information from Dr. Howard A. Spielman and Rabbi Avraham A. Witty.
A UNIQUE COURT OF HONOR
Rabbi Meshulam Emmanuel, the Executive Director of the Vaad Ha’Ir of Montréal, opened this event with the Invocation, and was followed by Jewish Scouts from two countries who formed the Color Guard. They carried the flag of the United States, and the flags of Canada and the Province of Québec. This was the beginning of a unique Eagle Scout Court of Honor, held at Congregation Oneg Shabbos – a Lubavitch Chassidic synagogue – in Montréal, Québec on Sunday, November 7, 1999.
The Scouts from the United States brought a special musical rendition of “O Canada!” the Canadian National Anthem, and included the text of the original four stanzas of that rousing song in the Court of Honor program folders. Citizens of both countries sang the anthem, which was followed by citizens of the United States saluting and saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
It is not often that one has to check with officers in the United States Consulate to clear the protocol of a Scout Opening Ceremony. It is also not often that the Welcome and Introduction of Honored Guests at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor are given in both English and French.
Among the honored guests were the representative of the United States Consul General in Montréal and a member of the Executive Committee of the City of Montréal. With two Scouting organizations in Québec, there were two sets of Scout guests. ‘Scouts Canada’ is primarily Anglophone, and was represented by both the President and the Commissioner of the Québec Provincial Council. The ‘Association des Scouts du Canada’ is Francophone, and was represented by the President of the ‘Scouts Israelites’ and the Scoutmaster of a recently formed French-speaking Jewish Scout Troop in Montréal. All those present had gathered to honor a young man from the Lubavitch Chassidic community who had come a long way since he first sought out the Scouting program in the spring of 1994.
Just over five years ago, a 13-year-old Binyamin had been looking for someone to run a camp in Québec. He knew nothing about Scouting. He certainly did not know that the vision he held, for the camp that he wished to start, was actually a vision of the Scout program. Through friends in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, he was referred to Dr. Howard A. Spielman, the Scoutmaster of Old Colony Council’s Troop 54, chartered to the Striar Jewish Community Center in Stoughton, Massachusetts. After making his request, Dr. Spielman told him: “The camp that you envision already exists; it is Camp Kunatah on the Ten Mile River Scout Reservation – the only Scout Camp in the world with a kosher dining hall.”
Binyamin learned about how Troop 54 operates: how they observe the Jewish dietary laws and Sabbath (kashrut and Shabbat), how they pause for prayer (tefila) every morning and evening, and how they offer opportunities for Scouts in Jewish learning (limudei kodesh). Binyamin and his family found that this program had no barrier to entry for them, because of their observance of Judaism. Thus, that spring he was registered in the B.S.A., bought a uniform, read the B.S.A. Scout Handbook from-cover-to-cover (twice), and showed up at Camp Kunatah ready for fun, adventure, and advancement.
Upon his return to Canada, Binyamin got involved with a Scouts Canada troop. Since they did not observe kashrut and Shabbat, he could not go on overnight camping trips with them, but he could show leadership at meetings and on day-hikes. His outdoor experiences with his Shomer Shabbat Troop 54 in the B.S.A. were able to count towards his Canadian advancement. Thus, over several years, Binyamin achieved the ‘Chief Scout’s Award’ the highest rank in Scouts Canada.
In the B.S.A., he camped with Troop 54 at Camp Kunatah for 11 weeks over four summers. He participated in a Junior Leadership Training Conference (JLTC) with Troop 54’s “Kosher Patrol,” and later was invited to serve on a JLTC Staff. He spent three summers backpacking and canoeing in the Adirondack Mountains with the kosher high-adventure programs run by Daniel Chazin, Scoutmaster of Troop 226 in Teaneck, NJ. He spent two winters at the weeklong Old Colony Council Traditional Jewish Scout Conclave. In addition, with The Shomer Shabbat Contingent to the 1997 National Scout Jamboree, at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, he served as Assistant Senior Patrol Leader.
Although he lived in Montréal, Québec, Binyamin, with dual citizenship in Canada and the United States, had been a very active Scout in both countries for over four years. Before turning 18, and leaving for the Rabbinical College of Australia, he handed in all of his materials to become an Eagle Scout – as well as completing all requirements in the Ner Tamid and Etz Chaim programs. Three days after his return to North America from Australia, he was back in Massachusetts for his Eagle Board of Review.
Luckily, he had a second B.S.A. Scout uniform at home, because the uniform he brought to Australia was lost with his luggage in Singapore. Two days before returning for his second year of rabbinical studies in Australia, he was being feted by his Massachusetts Troop with an Eagle Scout Court of Honor – and the presentation of his Ner Tamid and Etz Chaim medals – in his own community in Montréal.
Having Jews and non-Jews together at a Scouting event is very common, but having Scouts of two nations at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor is not. What made this event unique, was the great diversity within the Jewish community that was present. There were Jews whose mother tongue was English, French, Spanish, Hebrew or Yiddish. There were many members of the Lubavitch and Bressler Chassidic communities. There were many Sephardi Jews with recent roots in North Africa. There were citizens of the United States with membership in Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform congregations. Here was the whole spectrum of the North American Jewish community – gathered to honor the achievement of an Eagle Scout.
Scout Ari Winkleman of Providence, Rhode Island officially opened the Eagle Scout Court of Honor. Scout Allyn Raskind, of Malden, Massachusetts, then led the Scouts in the Scout Oath and Law.
To give the audience a picture of what it takes to become an Eagle, ‘The Trail of the Eagle’ was illustrated with a slide show narrated by Dr. Spielman. Many images were shown, including: Scouts at Camp Kunatah rappelling over a cliff 700 feet (213 meters) above the river valley below, whitewater canoeing down the pristine Delaware river, and ‘davening’ (praying) in the Kunatah synagogue. Scouts learning how to use a knife and axe, learning to tie knots, and putting on their ‘tefillin’ (phylacteries). Scouts camping in tents, cooking over fires, and ‘laining’ (reading the ancient script) from the Torah. Scouts doing ‘drownproofing’ at the lake, backpacking on a trail by a raging river, and singing songs with the Rabbi.
The last picture was the hot-air balloon ‘Boy Scouts of America’ flying free over the 1989 National Scout Jamboree. The message of that image was described by Dr. Spielman: “Scouting offers an infrastructure – an exciting program for youth. It is up to adult volunteers to step forward and galvanize other adults – the right role models for our youth. Together, these adults can lift the program and make it fly – to enrich the life of our youth, in full support of the goals of the Jewish home, school, and synagogue.”
Rabbi Chaim described ‘The Eagle Trail, a Parent’s View.’ As a Rabbi in the Lubavitch Chassidic community, his words carry more than just the weight of the words of an Eagle Scout parent. He spoke eloquently of how Scouting fits in with a traditional Jewish lifestyle. He made it clear that he felt it was very important that he allowed his son to participate in this program, and he spoke of what Binyamin had gained.
The Eagle medal was presented to Binyamin and his parents by his Scoutmaster, Dr. Howard A. Spielman. He introduced this by observing that the Eagle has been a symbol of political power and military might from the time of the Roman Legions through the monarchies of Europe. Dr. Spielman then asked the question: “What, then, does an Eagle have to do with a Jewish boy in North America?” His answer developed a theme from the closing chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy (The Fifth Book in the Torah),
where Moses uses the eagle as an example in his stirring speech to the Jewish people. In those words of Moses in the Torah we hear how G-d’s loving care for Israel is likened to the tender affection that is shown by the eagle towards its young when it teaches them to fly.
This image of the eagle in the Torah is thus quite different from the use of the eagle by other cultures throughout history. Dr. Spielman then pointed out that this Torah view is much like the meaning of the Eagle in Scouting. “Rather than having power or might, the Eagle Scout has a responsibility to gently awaken the younger Scouts to imitate his fluttering in flight. Our Eagle Scout hovers over them in solicitude, and has his wings in readiness to catch them should they become exhausted.”
“The use of the eagle by Moses, as a graphic model for a picture of the fostering care, and of the discipline and training to independence that Israel received at the Divine hands, is just as appropriate in our Scouting program today,” observed Dr. Spielman. “As an Eagle Scout returns to Scouting what Scouting has given to him,” he continued, “he now offers the younger Scouts the fostering care, and the discipline and training to independence, that he learned in years past.” Binyamin’s parents then stepped forward for the traditional presentation of the Eagle.
Following his Eagle medal, the Ner Tamid and Etz Chaim medals were presented to Binyamin by Rabbi Avraham A. Witty, the Chaplain at Camp Kunatah on the Ten Mile River Scout Reservation. It was very impressive to the audience to see, and hear, an Orthodox Rabbi in a Scout uniform. He spoke the language of Scouting, and he also spoke the language of the Jewish community around him. That is a powerful combination for communicating how Scouting serves the Jewish community.
The fact that Scouts from Binyamin’s Troop, his Scoutmaster, and Rabbi Witty, would travel over 12 hours round-trip to come to make such a presentation was not lost on the audience. They were further impressed by the 8-foot tall and 12-foot long Eagle Scout backdrop, and other special Scouting decorations that were brought, as well as the music, slide show, and embossed program folders. Some, in the audience, may have felt that this was due to the common bond of religion between Binyamin and his Scout friends. While there is some truth in that assessment, the audience would shortly learn more about Scouting.
Following citations and remarks delivered by Honored Guests, it was appropriate to give Binyamin the ‘Challenge and Charge to the Eagle’ as delivered by another Eagle. While Dr. Spielman is an Eagle Scout, he felt he needed a new Eagle voice. Unfortunately, each of the 13 previous Eagle Scouts in his Troop was committed elsewhere in the United States and Israel. Through the B.S.A. National Office in Irving, Texas and the Adirondack Council in Plattsburgh, New York, the nearest Eagle he could find was a college senior at St. Lawrence University – a 6-hour round trip away.
Mr. Cory L. Haynes, an Eagle from 1992, truly impressed his audience. He spoke beautifully as he delivered his challenge and charge, resplendent in his ‘Class A’ uniform. His demeanor, his words, and his delivery, further communicated the meaning of what it is to be an Eagle Scout. Beyond what he said once he came, his audience was even further impressed by the reason why he came. Cory is not Jewish and had no bond of religious affiliation with Binyamin. Cory had never met Binyamin, until half an hour before the Court of Honor, and had no bond of friendship with Binyamin. The fact that Cory made a 6-hour round-trip solely because of the bond of one Eagle Scout for another was a truly impressive message.
‘The Eagle’s Response’ is one of the last parts of a Court of Honor. Binyamin, too, spoke beautifully. He made a number of “thank you’s,” remembering all those who helped him along the way. However, Binyamin surprised many in his audience when he made a startling assertion.
He said that the reason he is now attending rabbinical school was because of Scouting. He said that over the past years he had been asked many questions about Judaism by his fellow Scouts. Many of these he could answer, but some he could not. These inspired him to do research and to have many discussions with his own Rabbis and teachers. He enjoyed the learning and he enjoyed communicating the answers to his fellow Scouts. He is now studying to ‘be prepared’ to work with Scout-age youth in the future, as a Rabbi and a teacher.
The ‘Scoutmaster’s Minute’ built to the crescendo of the closing anthem.
“Binyamin, while your grandparents were all born in North America, I know that most of your great-grandparents, and all of their forebears were born in what are now the countries of Poland, Russia, and Lithuania. Most of the relatives they left behind, fell victim to the Holocaust during World War II.”
“Those of us here, in North America at the close of the twentieth century, are very lucky. We are in a land of peace and prosperity. We have the leisure to learn how to “Be Prepared” in the voluntary and enjoyable, program known as Scouting. We have no fears of persecution, no fears of our property being confiscated, nor our family members being murdered – for who they are, or what religion they practice. As Jewish Scouts, in a Scout Troop chartered to a Jewish Community Center, we are particularly aware of the wonderful opportunities we have – both here in Canada, and in the United States of America.”
“Binyamin, as you begin your new trail – of returning to Scouting what it has given to you – and as you and the other Scouts continue to build skills, friendships and memories for the future, let us return for a moment to the summer of 1997. You were one of 24 members of Troop 54 to attend the 1997 National Scout Jamboree held by the Boy Scouts of America in Virginia. We were joined by 56 other Jewish Scouts and Scouters. We all came from 16 different States … and from Canada. And, those 80 Scouts and Scouters would not have been able to attend the spectacular Jamboree if it were not for joining our Shomer Shabbat Contingent – with its Jewish observance.”
“On the way to the Jamboree we stopped at Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, MD – the site of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner – the National Anthem of the United States of America. It was an impressive visit for all.”
“In 1814, Francis Scott Key had just finished negotiating for the release of a friend held captive on a British warship, but was required to stay behind the British lines until after the impending British bombardment of Ft. McHenry. After the night of horrendous cannon and rocket fire “by the dawn’s early light” the “broad stripes and bright stars” of the country he held so dear “were so gallantly streaming” in the breeze. He was so moved, seeing that 15 star flag, that he started to write the Star Spangled Banner on the back of an envelope and finished it later that night in Baltimore.”
“In grateful recognition of the country that has fostered the program of the Boy Scouts of America, and allowed us to reach this point of passage for Binyamin today, please stand and join me in our Troop 54 tradition of singing three stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner. Our Scouts will hold up our 15 Star – and 15 stripe – flag that has, itself, flown over Ft. McHenry in Baltimore.”
The Court of Honor program folders included the text of the original four stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner. To the accompaniment of the Marine Corps Band, three stanzas were sung by all of those in attendance in Montréal, Québec. The Court of Honor was officially closed by Scout Ari Shatz of Brookline, Massachusetts, and following a Closing Benediction by Rabbi Avraham A. Witty, brunch was served to all.
Many people in the audience commented on how glad they were that they had come to this event. Many in the audience began discussing issues in Jewish Scouting, and the meaning of Scouting to their community, and their family. Introductions were made between people who live in Montréal – yet who had not known of the opportunities in Jewish Scouting that existed within their own community.
Within two days of returning to the Boston area, Dr. Spielman began to receive telephone calls from members of the Montréal Jewish community. It now looks like this summer there will be a substantial contingent of Montréal Scouts – and adults – prepared to come to Camp Kunatah, operated by the Greater New York Councils on the Ten Mile River Scout Reservation. There is particular interest from Jewish Scouts in the French-speaking Sephardi community. Maybe, along with working towards their Ner Tamid, our Jewish Scouts in the United States should start practicing their French.