David Karp: A Guide for Unity in Scouting


When attorney David Karp reminisces about his time in the Cub and Boy Scouts, the good memories come flooding back. He remembers taking long nature hikes, making close friends and fashioning a pinewood derby car from a block of wood, four nails and four wheels. The Scouts, he said, taught him how to work well with others, play fairly and know right from wrong — qualities that have served him well as an adult.

After the birth of his son, Samuel, in 1990, Karp decided that he would one day introduce the boy to the joys of scouting. But Karp wanted to touch more lives than just Samuel’s. Through the Western Los Angeles County Council Jewish Committee on Scouting of the Boy Scouts of America, he has found a way successfully to combine his two great loves: scouting and Judaism, both of which shape his ideas, values and conduct. In the process, Karp, a Reform Jew, has done more than perhaps anyone in Southern California to bring local Orthodox Jews into the world of scouting.

“Once I accepted that I wanted to make a place for Jews in scouting, it was only a matter of time before I decided we had to be inclusive of all Jews,” said Karp, who headed the Council Jewish Committee from 2002 to 2004 and remains treasurer.

Under his direction, Karp said he and other council members helped oversee the creation of a Boy Scout troop and later a Cub Scout pack at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in Valley Village. Subsequently, Karp’s efforts have helped lay the foundation for other shuls to form scouting units.

“David Karp made it possible for us to have this program,” said attorney Yacov Greiff, scoutmaster of Troop 613 at Shaarey Zedek. “Aside from personal kindness and modesty, exemplary menschlichkeit and tireless efforts on behalf of the Jewish community, he deserves particular recognition for going out of his way to reach across sectarian lines.”

Karp also helped make it possible for Orthodox Jews to participate in the Kinnus weekend, an annual committee-sponsored event that attracts hundreds of Jewish scouts and their families from the Southland and beyond. At the suggestion of several religious Jews, Karp and others approved the serving of strictly Kosher meals, offered Orthodox Shabbat services and set up an eruv, or boundary, which permits the carrying of supplies and other goods during the Sabbath. The result: Orthodox Jews now account for more than half of Kinnus, participants, up from zero in 2001.

“David’s been instrumental in uniting the three Jewish denominations into one identity as Jewish scouts,” said Jeff Feuer, cubmaster of an Orthodox pack sponsored by Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. “In my personal opinion, it’s best if we work together and understand and learn to celebrate our differences.”

As a professional mediator, bringing together Jews under the banner of the Scouts has come naturally to him.

“I suppose I’m a facilitator,” said Karp, who is now a Boy Scouts of America district chairman for the East Valley. “I like to find common ground.”


David Karp


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Scouting With Troop 613

A 40-something man sporting a tan Boy Scouts of America shirt and a black kippah raises his right hand and extends his index, middle and ring fingers high into the air.

"OK, everybody remember how this goes?" he asks as a group of Scouts raise three fingers skyward. "Now form a straight line," he commands, and like the Rockettes, the boys zip into perfect formation.

"We want to leave the park cleaner than we found it," he tells the boys, as they walk the length of their picnic area, bending to pick up every scrap of trash, down to the cigarette butts others have discarded in the grass.

The scene may not be unusual for a Sunday afternoon at Studio City Park, save for the fact that this troop’s boys all sport kippot and tzitzit. They are the boys from Troop 613, North Hollywood’s newly formed Sabbath observant Boy Scout troop.

The 22-member troop is one of approximately 20 Jewishly observant troops throughout the United States, and the third in Southern California (the Long Beach troop has 27 boys and the La Brea/Fairfax troop has 10).

Troop 613 — named for the 613 Torah commandments — was the brainchild of Eli Mafouda and Gary Bregman, two fathers from Shaarey Zedek in North Hollywood, who wanted their boys to get a taste of outdoor life and learn survival skills not taught in school.

Mafouda, the troop scoutmaster, grew up in Israel. He remembered his days in the Gadna, the youth defense training program.

"We need to train this generation how to use equipment, know first aid and how to help in time of injury," Mafouda explains. "We want them to know how to use an ax, a knife and to use imagination. We want to give them tools for self-defense and survival, while teaching them the highest moral values."

"I see Scouting as a way to promote life skills our children need in the 21st century," says Bregman, troop committee chairman. "Scouting will teach you how to read a compass and cut out a trail, know what supplies to take, show you the difference between a rattlesnake and a garden snake, how to find which stars to follow, and what water [is] safe to drink."

"And," he laughs, "it’s a way to get the boys out from behind their computers."

Bregman and Mafouda approached local rabbis for approval and support and met with local Boy Scout council members. The rabbis gave their blessings, Shaarey Zedek Congregation agreed to sponsor the troop, and the local Scout council offered training sessions and encouragement. After eight boys joined, Troop 613 became official.

Neither Mafouda nor Bregman were Scouts in their youth. Luckily, four fathers who were former Scouts (including two who were Eagle Scouts) signed on as assistant scoutmasters.

Former Scout Alan Stomel and his son Zev do the unthinkable for many "city" dwellers — they commute from the Westside to the Valley for Scout meetings and activities.

"Having grown up in the Valley as a Boy Scout myself, I felt that that aspect of experience was lacking in my own kid, and especially with all kids from Orthodox day schools," Stomel says. "They have such a full schedule they don’t have time for other activities."

The boys need an exclusively Orthodox troop because they wouldn’t fit in a regular troop due to kashrut, scheduling and Shabbat observance, Stomel says. In an Orthodox troop, the boys can plan activities and programs taking their religious needs into account, and they can join other Scout troops for joint activities as well.

Bob Oberstein, chairman of the Jewish Committee on Scouting for the Western Los Angeles County Council, recalls an annual

retreat a few years ago that included an

Orthodox troop. "It was great for the boys to see how other Jews live and work and go about their activities in a Scouting environment," Oberstein says. "They’re doing the things Scouts do and keeping the Jewish tradition. That’s something rather special."

Karen Codman, Scoutmaster for the Long Beach Sabbath-observant troop, believes that Scouting and Jewish values go hand in hand. "Especially in today’s values-neutral society, Scouting is so important because it teaches values."

Most boys didn’t come to Troop 613 to build their character, but that comes with the territory. David Hemley, l4, is a student at Toras Emes and patrol leader of the Timberwolf Patrol. "I joined to get experience outside," he says. "There’s tons of stuff we learn about outdoor life and camping, and Scouting gives me a chance to do shooting and archery. We really learn stuff everyone should know."

Bregman believes that Troop 613 teaches the lesson that stereotypes are not to be accepted. "Most boys have the preconception that Scouting is nerdy. But once they come to any event, especially a camp-out, they never use that word again. And we [in the Troop] dispel the preconceived notion that we [Orthodox Jews] just learn Torah. Torah and Scouting go hand in hand."