The first English-track Israeli Scouts group begins this fall after a year of work by Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center officials.
Beginning in September, Long Island boys and girls from second through sixth and eighth through 11th grades will begin a new program called Israeli Scouts Atid, based on a stronghold in Israel.
Mika Kaminsky, director of Israeli Scouts Atid, said the troops are the largest youth movement in Israel, giving important life skills to approximately 85,000 children in the country.
In the United States, 3,500 Scouts fill 24 Hebrew-based Tzabar chapters, including a chapter of about 120 Scouts founded at the community center three years ago.
“When Israelis started to come and form communities in the States, there were some parents saying, ‘I want my kids to grow up with the same experiences I had in Israel,’ and that is how these Tzabar chapters were created,” Kaminsky said.
Last year, Areivim Philanthropic Group was looking for new ways to engage children and teenagers with Israeli activities, Kaminsky said. The group discovered the Hebrew language organizations were showing progress, and Kaminsky and others began translating everything into English.
“The translation is not only of the language but cultural issues,” Kaminsky said. “It’s a challenge that we’re working on and we’re seeing how it works.”
The chapters are split into two groups, younger children from third to sixth grade and the teenagers from eighth to 12th grade. Unlike many youth organizations, the leaders are the teenagers, supervised by an adult, and the groups work together to create their own activities.
The Israeli Scouts are connected to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and incorporate typical scouting activities like hiking and camping with Jewish issues and experiences.
“As we know in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, it’s adults who are the troop leaders, and that’s not the case in the Israeli Scouts,” Lina Zerbarini, JCC director of Jewish life and learning, said. “The high school students are the group leaders, so in our first year we’re going to be training those teens since they haven’t grown up in the Scouts, but kids who grow up in the organization are trained from the moment they start. The impact of teenagers learning to take that kind of care and responsibility is just amazing.”
The goal of the Israeli Scouts is to teach children how to be leaders and develop teamwork skills for the future, but for the Scouts, it’s all about fun and friendship.
“The experience of the kids themselves is about friendship, community and fun,” Center for Israel director Ariel Magal said. “When we talk about the values and the skills, these are the things that adults are talking about implementing for kids. The experience of the kids is, they’re not thinking about leadership skills, they’re thinking about their friends.”
Zerbarini said registration is ongoing for the troop, and she is hoping for approximately 30 children for the younger group and 10 to 15 teenagers to be trained as Scout leaders.
“We encourage involvement and we have several platforms to allow it,” Kaminsky said. “For every holiday, if we do a festival, you’ll see the actual participants running the program instead of having adults doing the program for them. They are learning to do something for other people, and the main thing they’re learning is to do it together.”