61 In the Press


Jewish Scouts inspired by trip to ‘G-d’s country’

“Philmont, here’s to thee
scouting paradise,
out in G-d’s country, tonight”

-the Philmont Hymn

By permission of Norman Kahn, who wrote this article.

They were hoping to see a rattlesnake and were not disappointed. The 12 Scouts, ages 14-17, and six adults counted two rattlers and a bull snake among the wild life that they saw on their 51 mile backpacking trek over 11 days last month at the premier Scouting high adventure program, Philmont National Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

Led by crew leaders Max Z. (age 16) and Kyle G. (15) and adult crew advisors Norman Kahn and Mike McHugh, the trip was the culmination of two years preparation for Troop 61, sponsored by Congregation Beth Shalom. Trekkers also included Scouts Charlie B., David L., Sean McH., David W., Aaron A., Louis D., Adam H., Jack B., Keith G., Ben T., and adult advisors Max K., David D., Allan H., and Tracy M. McH. (Note: troop web policy that only the first initial of last names of scouts and Scouters that have not given permission be used for privacy protection.)

After an overnight train ride, the two crews of eight and 10 members each mixed hiking, camping, conservation and spirituality with their wild life sightings. Carrying full packs and kosher food for several days, the Scouts climbed from 6,600 feet above sea level at base camp, over Hart Peak to as high as 9,600 feet, hiking two to 10 miles a day, beginning at sunrise. Navigating by map and compass, filtering and purifying water using lightweight camp stoves (no campfires allowed due to dry conditions in the mountains), and hanging bags of food across cables strung between two trees to keep the bears away became part of the crews’ new skills, along with leadership development and team building. Deer, elk, wild turkeys, “mini bears”(chipmunks) and of course, the three snakes shared the Scouts’ trails, while only stories of nearby bears and mountain lions accompanied them (no sightings).

In addition to hiking through the backcountry each day except Shabbat, many of the camps where the crews stayed were staffed and provided learning experiences and activities. Thousand-year-old Anasazi petroglyphs and archeological digs captivated the Scouts, as did the only extant Tyrannosaurus Rex foot prints in the world. They learned to shoot shotguns and rifles, leaving holes in favorite hats and bandanas used as targets to prove their prowess. Rock climbing instructions led twice to 360-degree views atop rock formations such as “Turtle Head,” followed by rappelling down.

As a Shomer Shabbos trek, the crews celebrated two Shabbatot in campsites on the trail. Chaplain Norman Kahn and Chaplain’s aide David L. were prepared by Rabbi Scott W., himself an Eagle Scout, in advance of the trip. In addition, Philmont’s Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Scott R., arranged for the crews kosher food. 


One Shabbat service was held in the meadow overlooking Cimarroncito Reservoir, under the shadows of spectacular rock formations, enabling the Scouts to truly appreciate “G-d’s country” in which they were immersed.

Having Havdalah service under a shelter while a light rain fell, provided an opportunity to reflect on the sweetness and the spice of both the previous week’s experiences, as well as the coming week’s promise.




A morning of digging up stubborn roots and pushing over trees to be removed to build a new forest trail added to the several hours of community service contributed by the crew before departing. The crews thereby became eligible for the coveted “Fifty Miler” award, in addition to the Arrowhead pocket patch, which can only be earned by completing a Philmont trek. 

These awards are tangible symbols of the skills learned by the Scouts, and of the lifelong memories that will undoubtedly have been generated by the experience.


In words drawn from the Philmont Grace, “ . . . for life, for opportunity, for friendship and fellowship, we thank thee, oh Lord.”

Boy Scout Troop 61 has been sponsored by Congregation Beth Shalom for more than 80 years, and is open to the entire community. The troop meets Monday nights at the synagogue, camps monthly throughout the year, attends summer camp at the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation, and sponsors a high adventure program each summer for older Scouts. If you would like more information about the troop, please contact our scoutmaster at scoutmaster@kctroop61.org.














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