Keeping the faith at Philmont

Above: On the day of the Shabbat, practicing Jews are not allowed to use electricity, fire, or participate in any manual labor. There is one exception, they are allowed to do work inside their home. In order to meet this requirement the crew put up a rope outlining their campsite making it their “home” for the night. Photographed by Chris Langlois. 

For the first time in Philmont’s history, the National Jewish Committee on Scouting’s Torah observant took young Jewish Scouts into the Backcountry for a full trek.

In the early light of Ponil canyon, 10 Scouts and adult leaders clad in sky blue and white scarves strapped on their packs and prepared themselves for the hike to Dan Beard. The Scouts smiled ear-to-ear as they made their final gear checks. The contingent was 708-AA, the first all-Jewish, Torah observant crew coordinated by the NJCOS Torah observant and Philmont. 

“It’s amazing to see how willing people are to hike and participate in their faith,” Scout Daniel Israeli said.

The trek itinerary was built specifically with Jewish customs and traditions in mind. At Ponil, 708-AA spent their Saturday in camp observing Shabbat, or the Jewish Sabbath. 

For Torah observant Jews, Shabbat is one of the biggest challenges to a conventional Philmont trek. Observing Shabbat requires Jewish Scouts to take a day off from their itinerary and rest. The eruv is a wire border denoting their campsite as a private space, and once they are outside the border observant Scouts aren’t allowed to carry anything. This includes packs, water bottles and even flashlights.

Above: A Scout reads from the Torah during his trek. Photographed by Chris Langlois.

“Philmont is really tough for someone who is observing the Torah,” Advisor Jordan Leikin said. “There are so many extra things you have to be aware of.”

Their day of rest included deep discussions of faith during lunch, a Torah reading in one of Ponil’s chapels and a recitation of havdalah, a ceremony that ushers in the end of Shabbat.

Participants from five different states were already behaving like they had known each other for years, not days. Being able to participate in their faith while in the Backcountry strengthened their Philmont experience and made it accessible to them for the first time.

“The kids have been phenomenal in their spirit and fortitude,” Solomon said. “I’d like to see this done again with more crews in the future. I’d like to see an all-girls crew as well.”

As 708-AA started their hike to Dan Beard, they left satisfied that they had been able to balance their faith and their adventure in a way that was never possible before.

John Doe

John Doe

Mark Cordeiro is a second-year Philmont staffer out of Edmond, Oklahoma. He’s currently a senior at the University of Oklahoma studying professional writing. Mark spent several summers of his youth at the PTC’s youth programs and went on his first trek in 2014.