“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” asked Rabbi Shmuly Gutnick, a Chabad emissary to the World Scouting Jamboree in Rinkaby, Sweden.
“Yes I am, how can I help you?” answered the scout in his fully emblazoned scout uniform behind the Jamboree registration desk. “Would you like to put on tefillin?” within a few minutes a loud ‘Mazal Tov’ is heard, as a crowd of bystanders join in to celebrate this young man’s Bar Mitzva.
The World Scouting Jamboree takes place every four years and brings together tens of thousands of scouts from every country in the world – among them hundreds of Jews.
Chabad Shluchim are not new to Scouting. The Scouting movement identifies with many of the core values which Judaism holds dear. It is no coincidence therefore, that for the last 23 years, Chabad shluchim have successfully participated in these venues, bringing excitement and inspiration to Jews and non-Jews alike. Furthermore, this year, many of the Jewish European scouts who journeyed to the world Jamboree received welcome and accommodation at Chabad houses en route – in Amsterdam, Berlin, Hanover, Brussels, and Copenhagen.
Rabbis Shmuly Gutnick and Rabbi Menachem Nagar were requisitioned by Rabbi Yitzi Loewenthal of ChabaDenmark, along with the invaluable aid and experience of Rabbi Michoel Albukerk of ‘Tzivos Hashem’, to assist him in providing Jewish programs for the Jamboree This was all done in coordination with the local Shliach in Malmo, Rabbi Shneur and Raizel Kesselman, and Rabbi Alexander Namdar, Director of Chabad Sweden.
Rabbi Shmuly is better known as the ‘Rockin’ Rabbi’ by both Jewish and non-Jewish scouts for his affable manner, cheerful smile and inextinguishable enthusiasm – all hallmarks of Scouting spirit. He is the director of the Chabad Youth Network of Florida where he conducts year-round programs that reach thousands of Jewish boys and girls in South Florida and beyond. His colleague, Rabbi Menachem Nagar is the creative director of Chabad.org and a medical student. Like Rabbi Shmuly, he has been a certified Scout chaplain for nearly a decade.
Rabbis Shmuly and Menachem hiked indefatigably through the 40,000 strong Jamboree site – which featured scouts from 168 countries – looking for Jewish scouts to invite for Shabbat. En route they had occasion to offer many Jewish scouts a great Jewish scouting experience by offering candies for a blessing, candle sticks, Tefillin, etc. The official Jamboree Bulletin amplified the Rabbis’ call by publishing a formal invitation to Jewish scouts to attend the Friday night Shabbat program at the Jamboree Synagogue tent.
During Shmuly’s and Mennachem’s travels, many scouts celebrated an impromptu Bar Mitzvah at the Jamboree. Having put Tefillin on a scout and recited ‘Shma’ with him for the first time, the Rabbis encouraged his fellow scouts, Jewish and non-Jewish, in a joyous celebration of song and dance – punctuated with shouts of good wishes and chants of “Mazal Tov and Siman Tov!”
On Friday, Rabbi Yitzy Lowenthal and a team from Chabad Copenhagen arrived with Shabbat meals for the Jewish Scouts. A massive tent was used to accommodate the anticipated large crowd.
Rabbi Loewenthal recounts: “As my car pulled into camp and I was getting out, a young boy of 14 approached me and asked if I could teach him how to put on Tefillin, as he had never done it before. We put Tefillin on him and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Afterwards, he said that being at the Jamboree, and especially meeting us, made him want to get a pair of Tefillin. However, he was concerned that his parents would not like it. He thought they would worry that ‘laying Tefillin’ was ‘not modern’. I suggested that he explain, that ‘being modern’ could mean ‘being able to do your thing’ – and Tefillin has become ‘his thing’.”
The evening got off to a flying start with a large number of scouts enthusiastically singing and dancing throughout the ‘Maariv’ prayer. For many it was their very first experience of Shabbat. Rabbi Loewenthal distributed specially prepared Jewish songbooks to the hundreds of international scouts who assembled for the Friday night Kiddush. A delicious meal ensued, replete with inspiring discussions, singing, dancing, and above all an uplifting spirit of joy and Jewish fellowship. This was followed by a songfest which lasted deep into the night.
The next day, the large tent that served as a makeshift synagogue, hosted a lively Shacharit complete with a Torah reading. The Shabbat meal that followed attracted scores of scouts and leaders with plenty of Jewish Jamboree spirit. The Chabad Rabbis spoke about Scouting values, Shabbat Chazon, the rebuilding of the third Temple in Jerusalem and the coming of Moshiach. The Shabbat finished with an impressive Havdallah service, accompanied by singing and dancing far into the night.
The Shabbat program was the highlight of Jewish programming at the Jamboree and inspired the hearts of those present. Jewish Scouts hailing from France, England, Germany, Sweden, Greece, America, Israel, Brazil, Australia, Mexico and Italy, found they had one place on Earth where they were all home – the Shabbat table! During the evening, a special presentation was made to Chabad by the head of the Israeli delegation in gratitude for bringing the Jewish and Shabbat experience to the Jamboree.
One Jewish scout from Brazil stated this was the most meaningful and beautiful Shabbat of her life! One hundred other girls lit candles with her, and she was sure they must all feel the same way! An adult Israeli counselor vowed it was all so beautiful, he must get his own children more involved with Judaism. It was ironic, he said, that he had to come to faraway Sweden to discover the beauty of Shabbat.
Peter Hyman, Chief Chaplain of the American Scouting contingent, lauded: “It was wonderful to be able to welcome Shabbat with participants from the whole world over. Even non-Jews committed to their own value systems experienced and enjoyed ‘Jewish Unity’ in a dynamic, creative and unusual setting! It was very important that Jews of all affiliations shared one common link – their Jewishness as expressed through the Shabbat and its delight, the ‘oneg’! I truly appreciate what Chabad did to make Shabbat nice for the Jewish and world community. They made a very important contribution to Jewish awareness, world unity, and contributed powerfully to a Jewish sense of unity.”
Moreover, the Chief Chaplain had this to say about Chabad’s representatives: “Rabbi Yitzy Loewenthal was gracious, helpful, supportive and outstanding, especially regarding the Shabbat and the Faiths and Beliefs area. Rabbis Shmuly and Menachem bring a youthful enthusiasm and Jewish Scout spirit to every scout regardless of background or affiliation! Chabad involvement has grown along with the Jamboree. Its main unsung architect is Rabbi Michoel Albukerk of ‘Tzivos hashem’, who does crucial work finding and developing Jewish identities. He puts great effort into the wonderful ‘Crafts Workshops’, in fact my own children – all ‘Eagle Scouts’ and now, grown professionals – still have the shofars they made at his shofar workshop when they were small. Not everyone can be a chassid – but if one makes an experience memorable, one never knows when it will become transformative!”
Scouts who attended the Shabbat program and participated in other Jewish activities earned a specially designed achievement award in the form of a beautiful embroidered ‘JamboJew’ patch, and everyone could participate in the dedicated ‘JamboJew’ Facebook page.
Both, Scouts and Scouters, expressed appreciation of the warmth and feeling of genuine caring they got from the Rabbis at the Jamboree, and that it was just good to know ‘Chabad is there’. But, over and above everything else, everybody said that it felt good to be – a Jew!
It can be no accident that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared!” The Lubavitcher Rebbe, too always encouraged the Jewish people to ‘be prepared’ – to prepare for the imminent arrival of Moshiach when all nations will serve G-d together as one.