Wednesday, October 20th 2021   |

First Person: Boy Scout hike has Jewish touch

By ALAN SMASON

For the eleventh time in as many years, I was privileged to lead a contingent of 160 Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, adult leaders on what has become a tradition for many families, the Ten Commandments Hike.

IMG_2616The concept of the Ten Commandments Hike is simple. Host a G-d-centric, faith-based trek between three and six miles at ten different houses of worship or assembly halls with a member of the clergy or a lay leader speaking about each one of the Ten Commandments and, at the same time, promote hiking and physical fitness. Along the way, Scouts and other participants are taught the great lessons of tolerance and acceptance of different religions, but to emphasize the similarities they all share.

This year’s hike featured three Jewish highlights. First of all, through the courtesy of Brian Horowitz, registration and check-in occurred at the Tulane University Jewish Studies Department building at 7031 Freret Street. Pre-registered participants checked in and received their wristbands, event patches, water bottles, brochures and streetcar tokens for the return ride on an RTA St. Charles streetcar.

The doors to the nearby Btesh Family Chabad Center at 7037 Freret were opened to the group of 160 at 9:45 a.m. and the hike officially began shortly after the 10:00 a.m. scheduled start.

It has become an expected rite each year that I open the hike with a special shofar that in Scouting circles is known as a kudu horn. It is a likeness of the very same horn blown to gather the first adult Scouting leaders who were trained under Sir Robert Smythe Stevenson Baden-Powell in 1919 at the fabled Brownsea Island Scout Camp.

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Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Mendel Rivkin at the Btesh Family Chabad House. (Photo by Alan Smason)

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin called out the traditional blast of the Torah – tekiah, shevarim, teruah and tekiah gedolah – which I then blew through the shofar donated for the event from Congregation Beth Israel. Rivkin then spoke on the first two Commandents (” I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”)

Following his remarks and an opportunity for questions, participants later moved up Freret Street and onto Carrollton Avenue to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, St. Matthew’s Church, Mater Dolorosa Church and Holy Name of Jesus Church before arriving at the Jewish Community Center.

Knowing that he was addressing youngsters, Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Gabe Greenberg took care to address the crowd at the JCC with a very loose explanation of the Commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” at an appropriate level they could understand. As expected, he delivered a beautiful explanation before leaving to make preparations for Shabbat.

After a filling Subway meal, participants continued to four other houses of worship at Watston Memorial Teaching Ministries, Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church, Unity Temple and ended the trek at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

With so much diversity and, other than myself, only a few Jews who attend this event, some will question as to the hike’s intention. Why bother sponsoring a largely, non-Jewish affair?

Sanctioned by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, Ten Commandments Hikes  place the Jewish religion on the same level as much larger faith groups and emphasize four points of the Scouting Law of being friendly, courteous, kind and reverent. As a result, we do not mention Commandments by a specific number, since the Jewish, Protestant and Catholic numbering systems differ in their interpretations from the original Hebrew reference found in the Torah.

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Rabbi Gabe Greenberg at the JCC. (Phot by Alan Smason)

For example, neither the Protestant or Catholic faiths recognize the first Commandment Rivkin spoke, which is considered a cornerstone for the Jewish faith, wherein G-d established His presence.

But more to the point, two stops or 20% of what the Scouts and their families and friends saw on the hike reflected on what may be just 2% of the Greater New Orleans population. All of the participating faith groups, with the possible exception of the Islamic faith, give credit to the Jewish tradition in their worship and acknowledge Judaism as the original source from which their religion sprang.

Although a small event, this hike is intended to breed understanding and tolerance for all faiths and to share Scouting as the bridge of values which unites them all. It is the only activity throughout the year on which Girl Scouts of the USA and the Boy Scouts of America participate jointly. Many adults have confided to me that it is their favorite Scouting activity throughout the year.

Another hope I entertain is that an activity like this may make Scouting more attractive to Jewish parents, who have been told by some rabbinic leaders that it is a homophobic and out-of-step organization. As a member of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting and the local Jewish Committee Chair, I can attest to the fact that ours is the only national religious relationships group that has advocated for more change in present policies and acceptance of all leaders regardless of orientation.

Perhaps one day soon another Jewish Scouter will take up the cause and assist me in leading the Ten Commandments Hike so that others may come to know the beauty and tenets of the Jewish religion in all of its variances under the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox branches.

It is one of the things I do each year that brings me enormous stress and tremendous pleasure when it comes off. I appreciate all the rabbis, church leaders and participating houses of worship who annually make the Ten Commandments Hike so very special and I hope the 2015 event will be blessed with as beautiful a day as we shared this year.

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