Bergen County—Two fingers go up in the air and a room full of boys goes quiet. Together, the boys declare their duty to God and country, duty to other people, and their commitment to obey the law. Jonathan Schachter, Cubmaster of Pack 613—the only Orthodox Cub Scout Pack in Bergen County—starts each pack meeting by leading the boys in the Cub Scout Promise.
Schachter founded Pack 613 in January 2010 with just seven boys, grades 1-5. By the time the next school year had ended, the pack had grown to 19. The group holds its meetings at Congregation Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn, NJ, drawing boys from Fair Lawn, Teaneck and Bergenfield.
Schachter would have been happy to join another pack had one existed. “I wanted to create a place for Jewish scouts that would be comfortable and convenient,” he explained.
Scouting is actually a Schacter family tradition. “My father began a boy scout troop when I completed cub scouts and there was no Orthodox Boy Scout Troop where we lived in Queens.”
Schachter believes in what the program has to offer, rattling off a number of goals: to appreciate more about family, community, and religion; to learn about subjects you may not have known about; to help boys grow as people and become more mature. Schachter notes the program has been around for over 100 years. Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was founded in 1910. “Clearly, they know what they are doing,” says Schachter.
The thriving pack now has 28 scouts, and does indeed inspire the boys to many positive goals. Benjamin Greenbaum, a fifth grader at Yavneh Academy, said of his scouting experience, “It’s adventurous and you learn how to do a lot of things in your life.” Ben is especially proud of his badges, in particular, the Arrow of Light badge. He said, “I had to work up to it and use all the stuff I learned,” including outdoor skills, physical fitness and citizenship.
The pack takes fun and interesting trips in and around Bergen County. These trips include the Paramus Police Department, Fair Lawn EMT center, Paterson Great Falls, Edison Museum and the Franklin Mineral Museum.
A highlight of the year is the Pinewood Derby, which has been in existence since 1953. Cub Scouts are given a kit which includes a wooden block, wheels and axles. From this, they create and decorate a car. Upon completion (boys normally get the kits about two weeks in advance), the race is on. The event draws both family members and friends who cheer the boys on. Importantly, every boy is recognized for taking part—in scouting, it›s more important to do your best than to come in first.
One of the most memorable trips is the Kinus, a camping trip for Jewish Cub Scout members statewide, which marks the end of the Cub Scout year. The Kinus has been in existence for 39 years in New Jersey and has kosher meals and services for all denominations. There are sessions offered on many different topics including hiking, camping, chemistry, photography and citizenship. Ben says, “I like getting the opportunity to spend time with other troops and packs and participate in a lot of fun activities.”
In this day and age, when children’s schedules are burdened with multiple extracurricular activities, it is difficult to get boys to fully commit to the scouts. While Schachter believes it would be great if every boy could attend every event and meeting, he recognizes that is not going to happen. He hopes that the more a scout comes, the more he will want to come. Schachter likens the scouting experience to vitamins. “Like vitamins, even if you don’t take one every day but take them once a week, well, at least you take them once a week!”
Larry Bernstein is a free-lance writer, teacher, and tutor. He and his family live in Bergen County. You can find his website at larrydbernstein.com. Visit his blog atmemyselfandkids.com
By Larry Bernstein