Council aims to build inclusive, interfaith Scout groups

Members of Cub Scout Pack 613 bring in the colors at the opening of the Tucson Jewish Community’s Israel at 70 Festival on April 22, 2018. These Cubs moved up to become Boy Scouts in Troop 613 in May 2018. [Courtesy Herbert Cohn)

Herbert Cohn, chair of the Catalina Council Jewish Committee on Scouting, is attempting to create a more inclusive environment by reminding all in the local scouting community of the intention by Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world scouting movement, that it should embrace all faiths.

Cohn has been a passionate supporter of scouting since attending an overnight hike with his older brother’s Scout troop when he was 6 years old.

From a young age, Cohn saw how scouting was able to integrate different cultures.

“When I was a Scout, in the ’50s and ’60s, I was a member of a Reform synagogue and we had a Scout troop that included everyone you could think of,” he says.

Cohn’s Scout Troop 50 consisted of three African-Americans brothers, an Irish Catholic boy, and several Jewish boys, he remembers.

Attending a scouting camp with Catholic boys was another experience in diversity.

“Here are all these 12-year-olds having these great, deeply religious discussions and that said something to me,” he says, explaining that he received firsthand explanations of faith as opposed to learning from stereotypes.

When Cohn returned to scouting after a long hiatus, he set five goals during his Wood Badge Training. One of these included getting a Cub Scout unit chartered by a Jewish organization for the first time in 10 years.

He wanted this Cub Scout pack to be similar to Troop 50, which was chartered by Tremont Temple Congregation Gates of Mercy in New York.

With the support of Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, then senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, and the approval of the synagogue’s board of directors, Cohn spearheaded the all-inclusive community unit.

The unit, labeled Cub Scout Pack 613 (symbolic of the 613 commandments in the Torah), which started in 2016, has leaders and members from diverse backgrounds. Scout Troop 613, for boys ages 11+, soon followed. 

Now, inspired by attendance at a community vigil after the shootings at two mosques in New Zealand last month, Cohn decided forming an interfaith troop with the Muslim Community Center might be a good goal for the Jewish Committee on Scouting. In October, he notes, members of various faiths came together at the local Jewish community’s vigil after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; Cohn wants to see these relationships emulated in Boy Scouts of America Scout units. 

The members of the Catalina Council Jewish Committee on Scouting unanimously agreed to the idea of working with the Muslim community, and they have begun reaching out to Muslim community leaders.

“Interfaith is alive and well in Tucson and other parts of Arizona and we must continue to expand and grow these relations,” he says.