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May 23, 2013 - Image 152

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-05-23

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Torah service at the Boy

Scouts of America's 2010

National Jamboree in Virginia

Defining Moment

Jewish Scouting leaders vocal on gay inclusion proposal.

Gil Shefler



ewish Scouting leaders are tak-
ing a vocal role in efforts to pass
a historic resolution that would
partially lift a ban on gays in the Boy
Scouts of America.
In a meeting of the National Jewish
Committee on Scouting earlier this year,
members voted overwhelmingly in favor
of a resolution lifting the BSAs longstand-
ing ban on gay members. Now the Jewish
Scouting group is working to shore up sup-
port for a resolution to be voted on at the
Boy Scouts of America's annual convention
in Dallas this week that would prevent the
Scouts from denying membership to any-
one younger than 18 on the basis of sexual
The resolution would not change the
BSAs ban on gay adult leaders.
"I am advocating for complete change
and inclusiveness:' NJCOS Chairman A.J.
Kreimer told JTA this week. "I'm speaking
with other people and as an area president,
one of 26 in the country, I have advocated
for fellow Scouters to do the same:'
The struggle over the BSAs position on
gays has divided the national youth orga-
nization at a time when public opinion has


May 23 • 2013

grown markedly more accepting of homo-
sexuality. Most recent public opinion polls
show a majority of Americans supporting
the right of gays to marry — a right the
U.S. Supreme Court could grant as early as
this summer. Meanwhile, the number of
states recognizing such unions has grown
to 11 — Delaware became the most recent
on May 14 along with the District of
As in the wider debate, BSA religious
groups, which make up about 70 percent
of Scouting units, are bitterly divided.
Southern Baptist and evangelical churches
are adamantly opposed to changing the
organization's policy, while Presbyterian,
Lutheran and Jewish Scouting leaders have
come out in support of gay inclusion.
The Mormon and Catholic churches
both officially denounce homosexuality,
yet their Scouting branches — the largest
and third largest within the BSA, respec-
tively — have signaled a willingness to
endorse the current proposal lifting the
ban on gay youths only.
Kreimer said the proposed compro-
mise is a deeply flawed one. The notion
that a gay Scout would be expelled upon
turning 18, or that a gay rabbi might be
barred from hosting a Scouting unit at his
synagogue, is "untenable he said. Still,

Kreimer said most Jewish delegates will
back the resolution as a temporary com-
"We are going to hold our nose and vote
for it because it's the best we can do today:'
said John Lenrow, BSAs Northeast Region
executive vice president and a former
chairman of the NJCOS. "But it doesn't
mean the fighting is over:'
Allen Olender of West Bloomfield, a
NJCOS member, agreed. "I was hoping the
resolution would be broader and include
adults as well as youth, but it is a step in
the right direction.
"My personal hope is that it passes over-
whelmingly to make a needed change to
serve all youth, regardless of sexual prefer-
ence Olender said. "Once it is implement-
ed, I fully expect in the next few years it
will extencd to adults:'

Jews And Scouting
Jews have a long history in American
Scouting, and several Jewish troops are
active in Detroit. One of the group's first
vice presidents was Mortimer Schiff, a
German-Jewish financier who joined with
Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller to
help found the BSA in 1910.
With 7,000 teen Scouts meeting at
synagogues, Jewish community centers

and B'nai B'rith lodges across the country,
NJCOS is tiny compared to other religious
Scouting groups. The Church of Latter-
Day Saints, the BSAs largest chartered
organization, counts 420,000 Scouts under
its aegis. NJCOS does not even represent a
majority of Jewish Scouts.
"Most are not registered with Jewish
organizations and belong to units that are
public, nonreligious or are organized by
churches:' Kreimer said.
Still, as one of the oldest BSA charters
and the sole representative of a major
religion, the NJCOS, which was founded in
1926, has been forced to rebuff opponents
of gay inclusion who try to sway the Jewish
Scouts by quoting biblical passages.
"I respond by saying until you tell me
you keep kosher, don't try to tell me you
read the Bible in its entirety and do every-
thing it says:' Lenrow said.
Kreimer said the vote on gay inclu-
sion was too tight to call. But, whichever
way it goes, he said it will certainly have
a long-term impact on the Boy Scouts of
"It's a defining moment for Scouting;
Kreimer said, "and a test for the character
and future of the movement:'

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