Jewish Jamboree: Three Scouts celebrate bar mitzvahs among friends

(August 1, 2023 / Alan Smason/Crescent City Jewish News)

The 2023 National Jamboree of the Boy Scouts of America ended on July 28 after 10 activity-packed days at the high adventure Summit Brechtel Family Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.V.

Contingents of more than 12,500 Scouts took off in dozens of early-morning buses headed back to their respective councils. Scouts relished zip-lining, white-river rafting, climbing, all manner of shooting sports, biking and the opportunity to work on dozens of Merit Badges as they each advanced on their individual trails to Eagle Scout.

But for three Scouts—two brothers, Joshua Greengas, 17, and Gabriel Greengas, 14; and Coulton Perrmann, 15—this Jamboree, in particular, resonated for them as Jews. On the morning of July 24 at regular Shomer Shabbat contingent services, they were each called to the Torah for the first time, enjoying what essentially were their bar mitzvahs.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the three Scouts had been talking to some of their fellow Jewish Scouts at an activity sponsored by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting (NJCOS) in the Shomer Shabbat Contingent’s Synagogue Tent.

Rabbi Avi Hoffman, one of two Jewish rabbis at the National Jamboree, recalled how it happened. “They came in and they were just talking not to me, but to Scouts of mine. It came out that they were Jewish and that they had never had a bar mitzvah.” The other observant Jewish Scouts sent the three Scouts to talk with Hoffman.

The rabbi pointed out that regular worship services for Monday would be held the next day and that if they were interested, he could make certain they would be given an aliyah during the Torah service. Surprised at the prospect, the three responded positively. 

Joshua had been studying for his bar mitzvah in 2012 when his family synagogue shut down suddenly. The family never did find another synagogue with which to affiliate. A Life Scout, he has completed his Eagle Scout Project and is currently awaiting his Eagle Scout Board of Review.

He texted his father about the opportunity, saying “he texted me back that he thought we should do it.”

The Synagogue Tent, site of services and a bar mitzvah ceremony for three Jewish Scouts, at the 2023 National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V. Photo by Alan Smason.

The 17-year-old described some anxiety about the service. “I really didn’t want to disappoint the religious people in my life, like the rabbi and the other older men,” he announced. “I wanted it to be like I am truly part of this religion. I didn’t want to mess up the Hebrew. I didn’t want to mess up the prayer. I wanted to follow the traditions as they should be.”

He said he regretted that his parents and his grandmother were unable to see the service and that his grandfather had passed away several years ago. “But I think my grandfather—my zayde—would be proud of me,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gabriel has already achieved the rank of First Class Scout and is on his way towards achieving Star Scout, two ranks below Eagle Scout. “I was kind of nervous when I first was called up,” he said. “But after I finished, I felt proud and I was really glad I did it.”

Gabriel Greengas, 14, celebrates his bar mitzvah at the 2023 National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V., July 24, 2023. Photo by the National Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

Coulton, the third Scout, hails from a mostly non-observant family. Although he had not been raised as a Jew initially, he had found out that his mother’s family was Jewish and has moved towards becoming more Jewishly observant in recent years.

The rabbi said the Scout’s deportment has changed since the Torah service. “His Scoutmaster came to me and said to me that at the beginning of the Jamboree, he had been a little bit shy and quiet,” the rabbi noted. “But since that morning, he’s had a different spring in his step and he’s been, I think, to every service we’ve had since then … on his own … and he’s brought friends every time.”

The teen also just sat on his Eagle Board of Review a week later, on July 30, wearing the Shomer Shabbat Contingent patch gifted to him for his bar mitzvah.

Jewish Scout Coulton Perrmann, 15, is called to the Torah at the 2023 National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V., on July 24, 2023. Photo by the National Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

After the three Scouts were called to the Torah, the contingent sang “Siman Tov, Mazel Tov” to them. Hoffman called up the brothers by their full Hebrew names—Joshua Aaron and Gabriel Jacob—and gave Coulton Eric a Hebrew name that the teen chose himself: Chaim Aharon.

Each boy received special large Shomer Shabbat Contingent patches as souvenirs of their achievement. Afterwards, the Scouts were invited to enjoy a sample of cookies provided by the other Jewish rabbi on staff at the Jamboree, Rabbi Art Vernon, the National Chaplain of the NJCOS.

Laws of kashrut and modesty

Daniel Chazin, an attorney and the National Secretary of the NJCOS, is a bal korah who read the Torah scroll on Monday morning. He learned how to lein (“read”) the scroll when he was a Jewish camper at a sleepaway camp. He said he’s seen these kinds of aliyahs at previous Jamborees, “but I’ve never seen it in a synagogue.”

The Shomer Shabbat Contingent is composed of 43 Jewish observant Scouts, including for the first time this year, girl members of Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts), who were attending the first National Jamboree open to them. Also enjoying the Jamboree was a group of Scouts and adult leaders from Israel who are registered members of the Boy Scouts of America.

Traditionally led by Dr. Howard Spielman of Boston, the contingent was organized out of Maryland to promote a safe space for Jewish Scouts and to ensure that the laws of kashrut and modesty be enforced during the Jamboree.  

In addition to Shabbat services on Friday and Saturday, and a Havdalah service on Saturday night, Jewish worship services were held every non-Shabbat morning and evening in Camp C2, the camp the Shomer Shabbat Contingent considered as their home. Contingent members, and other Jewish Scouts and Scout leaders in other camps or on staff, also enjoyed kosher meals provided through an offsite kosher caterer.

The NJCOS worked with the Shomer Shabbat Contingent to hold a Sunday-morning activity during the same time that worship services were taking place for other faith groups. Scouts who attended services and were present at that activity were given achievement award patches.

Singing “Siman Tov, Mazel Tov” after the bar mitzvahs of three fellow Jewish Scouts in the Synagogue Tent at the 2023 National Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V., on July 24, 2023. Photo by the National Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

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