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Jewish Scouting History

On February 8, 1910, William Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America.  The BSA was later chartered by the United States Congress in 1916.  During the early years of the movement, Boyce looked for financing to sustain the organization.  Later in 1910, Boyce met with Mortimer Schiff, a prominent Jewish financier, and William Mitchell, the national president of the YMWHA (Young Mens and Womens Hebrew Association).  Both men thought that Jews and Jewish institutions should be involved in the movement based on a similar program run by Lord Baden-Powell in England.

In 1911, Schiff donated $4,800, joining Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller as the first major contributors to the BSA.  Schiff was a Vice President of the BSA from 1910 until 1931 when he was elected President.  He died later that year and his family recognized his passion for the Scouting movement by donating the Schiff Scout Reservation and National Training Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

In 1913, the first Jewish troop was formed at the 92nd Street YM-WHA in New York City.  With the support of William Mitchell, the National Council of YMHAs created a “Scouting Committee”.  Jewish Scouting continued to find support nationwide.

In 1926, the National Jewish Committee was formed and later chartered by the BSA National Council.  That same year the first Silver Buffalo Awards (the highest recognition that the National Council can bestow on its volunteers) were presented to Schiff, Baden-Powell, and several other early stalwarts of the movement.

Membership in the Scouting movement continued to grow and by 1957, 1,367 troops were chartered to Jewish religious and fraternal institutions throughout the United States.  There were an estimated 100,000 Jewish Scouts registered in both Jewish and non-Jewish sponsored Scout troops.

Later, the Committee recognized the substantial contributions of Schiff and Frank L. Weil, a co-founder who served as its chairman from 1935 to 1957, by naming two awards in their honor.  The first is the “Mortimer Schiff Award” (for Jewish Committees) and the second is the “Frank L. Weil Award” for Jewish Scouting Units.  A scholarship in Weil’s name for Eagle Scouts who have achieved their religious emblems is also administered by the Committee.

Historical posterThis poster portrays Jewish emblems and Scouting paraphernalia from the 1920s to today. Thanks to Mark Kaye for his work on putting this poster together.