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School drops Boy Scouts over policy on gays
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School drops Boy Scouts over policy on gays

Golda Och Academy says national ban is discriminatory

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Golda Och Academy has announced that it will not renew its Boy Scout charter for 2013 because of the national Scouting organization’s policy excluding gay and lesbian adults from leadership positions.

The Conservative Jewish day school in West Orange is the charter organization for Boy Scout Troop 118, started in 1995, and Boy Scout Pack 118 for younger boys, started a few years earlier.

In July, the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed its ban on gays and lesbians.

“[T]he scouts represent a problematic image for many families,” wrote head of school Joyce Raynor in a letter to parents dated Oct. 17. The policy of the BSA “to exclude same-sex families from membership and adult volunteerism is in direct contradiction of School policies, which place high value on inclusion,” wrote Raynor. “It has been decided that GOA cannot act as the sponsor organization until that national policy changes.”

The decision came after “many, many discussions,” Abby Finkel, GOA coordinator of community partnerships, told NJJN in a phone call. It was spurred by the publicity surrounding the reaffirmation of the policy this year and the growing number of same-sex families at the school.

The announcement came as the Scouting movement reeled from unrelated reports that it kept a secret file on suspected child sex abusers with links to Scouting.

Scout master Mike Schatzberg and assistant Scout master Rabbi Lisa Vernon, who head up Troop 118 and Pack 118, were not critical of the school’s decision. GOA leaders “have been above board with us the whole time and told us they were seriously considering this step,” said Vernon. Meeting with NJJN at Poppy’s Bagels in West Orange following the decision, the couple acknowledged that they too disagree with BSA’s policy toward homosexuals, calling it “terrible” and “egregious.”

“There are lots of good people involved in Scouting who believe [the BSA’s] policy is wrong,” said Vernon, adding that she believes “it should be a unit by unit decision.”

However, she continued, “You can’t change the policy if you are not part of Scouting.”

For example, she said, a recent Eagle Scout from the local troop wrote a letter articulating why he believes the policy violates the Boy Scouts’ own values, leaving the document out for guests to sign at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony. Schatzberg and Vernon, forwarded it to the national Boy Scout body.

The couple has also asked Raynor to let the Boy Scouts know why the charter was dropped at GOA.

The West Orange day school is not unique in its stance on the Boy Scouts. Since 2001, the Reform movement has recommended that member congregations withdraw sponsorship of packs or troops over the issue.

Nonetheless, Schatzberg and Vernon said they believe in the benefits of Scouting, particularly in the importance of having a Jewish troop provide kosher and shomer Shabbat activities for boys who require them.

The two said they are in negotiations with several unspecified area locations to continue the troop and pack and expressed confidence they would be able to continue. In the meantime, they have moved this year’s meetings to B’nai Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in West Orange, so that they will not have to shift locations mid-year when their charter expires at GOA. Just over 30 families have youngsters in the troop or pack.

B’nai Shalom’s leader, Rabbi Robert Tobin, is an outspoken advocate of Boy Scouts. In a blog post dated Oct. 12, he called the GOA decision “an unfortunate and misguided decision, despite its noble moral stance.” While calling the ban on gays a “policy of bigotry and prejudice,” Tobin said the good offered by a Scout troop, along with the potential to change the policy from within, outweighs calls for a “moral boycott.”

Raynor responded in a phone conversation, “The truth is we have not gone out of our way to read word for word what the Boy Scouts say. When we talk to people and ask what the Boy Scouts stand for, the first thing everyone says is leadership, and a stance against same-sex relationships and marriage. We have many same-sex families at GOA, and they are important to us.”

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