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Troop 185 Celebrates 80 Years of 'Wild Life'
These include "accepting responsibility, teaching others, being self-reliant and taking a leadership role," relayed Schatz, a 50-year-old who ran a group of radio stations, and now is the executive director of a Harrisburg synagogue.
Like many Scouts, Schatz and his troop learned the finer points of setting up a camp site -- like pitching tents and cooking outdoors -- but they always made it their first priority to keep kosher and keep Shabbat.
Last month, Schatz and others celebrated the 80th anniversary of Troop 185. Chartered in 1926, it has held meetings and events at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park -- its sponsor -- ever since. The troop is only 16 years younger than the Boy Scouts of America, which began in 1910.
The troop did not always eat kosher, according to assistant Scoutmaster Barry Newman, 80, who's still active with activities.
The group changed its ways at the request of longtime Adath Jeshurun Rabbi Max D. Klein. It has since become the troop's signature, with kosher camping-trip menus and Shabbat observance a must, even when the boys are far out in the elements. The troop now even constructs its own eruv, or lined boundaries, which they hang around a camp site to allow them to carry things on the Sabbath.
"We make sure that Torah is part of what we do," said Schatz.
To anyone who belonged to the troop, one of the most recognizable names has to be Mervyn Sluizer Jr., Scoutmaster from 1947 until 1998. Sluizer apparently ran a tight ship, making sure that Scouts conserve food and resources at all times.
"He was my dad's Scoutmaster and my Scoutmaster," said Schatz -- "somebody who cared about us and didn't get paid."
You don't have to be observant or even Jewish to join the troop. In the 1960s, a black Scout joined after being refused by another troop, reported Newman, and blossomed into a leader.
In 1961, Troop 185 traveled to Israel, which back then entailed flying in propeller planes that made many stops along the way. They've been back to the country more than six times, and also traveled to most of the lower 48 states and even Puerto Rico.
A signature piece of Troop 185's program has been the extended summer camping trips, which began in 1959 as a reaction to the dip in Scouting activities due to increased enrollment in summer camps. Usually lasting four to six weeks, the trips challenge the boys to be in the elements for long periods of time, testing their skills and ability. Last year, the troop traveled for four weeks along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, covering some 185 miles, said Scoutmaster Neil Schmerling, who took over for Sluizer in 1998.
Over the years, the troop has also produced 40 Eagle Scouts, the highest honor in scouting. In that group, there are two sets of twins, three sons from one family and even one father-son combination (none other than Schmerling and his son).
The most recent Eagle, Saul Zebovitz, received his accreditation during a Feb. 11 ceremony after he completed a slew of different tasks, including building an outdoor davening area at the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School in Elkins Park.
Scouts have also participated in community service projects over the years, ranging from cleaning the creek behind Adath Jeshurun to working with the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia to deliver meals to the hungry.
Bennett Haman, 15, echoed one of the lessons he's learned as a Boy Scout from Schmerling: "As adults, we're responsible for health, safety and logistics."
Schmerling has witnessed real growth in the participants, from the time they start as 11- or 12-year-olds until the time they end as high school graduates.
"We make your nebesh into a mensch," he joked.
"The game is to draw in the kids by these cool things they probably can't do in other places -- use a knife or play with fire," he continued. "But the real point of Scouting is to build character and self-confidence, and become a better person."