Dovid Cynamon is not your run-of-the-mill kollel fellow. The Pittsburgh native joined Boy Scouts when he was 11 years old, and has been juggling his kollel studies at Ner Israel with his passion for Scouting since June 2011. He founded and currently leads Boy Scout Troop 611 for middle and high schoolers and Cub Scout Pack 611 for elementary school boys, both of which meet on Yeshiva Lane. These Scout units are chartered by Shearith Israel Congregation; Rabbi Hopfer, along with two shul board members, approve all activities and adult volunteers. Current Scout members are students at Talmudical Academy and Torah Institute.
“I had so much fun and grew so much that I stayed involved with Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts through twelfth grade,” notes Dovid, who mentions that Ner Tamid also has a Boy Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack.
“I earned the rank of Eagle as a youth, which took a lot of siyata deShamaya, patience, hard work, and determination. It included planning and leading a group to complete a service project to benefit some organization; earning 21 merit badges, including first aid, camping, and personal management; and holding a position of leadership in my Scouting unit.”
As an adult, Dovid worked at Ten Mile River Scout Camps/Kesher Scouting. Kesher Scouting was the frum Scout camp that was founded and run by Chanina Szendro, currently menahel of Yeshivas Toras Chaim in Baltimore and Director of Camp Koolanu at the JCC. As a first year camper area director in the summer of 2007 and in 2008-2009, Dovid helped a Lone Scout in the Ner Israel mechina become an Eagle Scout.
In addition to monthly camping trips, some of Dovid’s childhood Scouting experiences included backpacking at Boy Scouts of America’s Philmont Scout Ranch – a rugged 214-square-mile terrain in the northern New Mexico wilderness – in 1996, and attending the 1997 National Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill. At this quadrennial, 10-day Scouting event, over 35,000 Scouts gather from all over the country. There, he heard President Clinton, who flew in by helicopter one evening to speak.
“I learned how to set and reach personal goals while trying out and learning about all sorts of different things,” recalls Dovid. “I feel that being a Scout helped me in so many ways to grow into the person I am today, and I want to give others the same opportunities. We also do a lot of fun and exciting things that I wouldn’t have a chance to do otherwise. I enjoy seeing the boys work together and grow in confidence and maturity.”
Some of the Troop 611 Cub Scouts’ weekly, year-round activities include making things like toolboxes, model rockets, and catapults, as well as learning about nature and basic outdoor skills. They recently planned a trip to the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland.
For the Troop 611 Boy Scouts, who create their own program, activities have included outdoor skills, fitness, and first aid, in addition to cycling, rock climbing, and movie making. This past December, the Boy Scouts constructed a “monkey bridge” out of logs and rope. It took them a little over two hours to build the bridge and most of the boys climbed across. Their big project this winter was creating first aid instructional videos. They learned the first aid skills, created plans and storyboards, and shot the videos. During the summer, they are planning a 50-mile bike ride to Washington, DC.
Overnights are scheduled when the boys don’t have school: typically, two overnights per year for the Cub Scouts (during mid-winter vacation and at the end of June), three overnights for the Boy Scouts, and an additional two for high school boys. The boys have camped at Patapsco Valley State Park, Gunpowder Falls State Park, Washington Monument State Park, the C&O Canal, and Broad Creek Scout Reservation.
Last summer, Dovid led a three-day backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park, with five middle school boys; three 19-year-old bachurim came along to help out.
“We hiked a total of fifteen-and-a-half miles and gained 2,500 feet in elevation,” recalls Dovid. “We carried all of our food and supplies with us. The boys had a blast.”
“Learning how to overcome challenges, such as the great backpacking hikes, are my favorite part of Scouting,” ” says TI student, 11-year-old Tenderfoot Scout and Patrol Leader of Flying Rockets, Mordechai Yonah Tendler.
“Mordy has acquired many new skills that will undoubtedly be vital later on in life!” contend his parents, Rabbi Aaron and Mrs. Aliza Tendler. “The Scouting program is the highlight of his week, and he values his relationship with Dovid and the other Scouts. It’s a wonderful, non-competitive outlet from an intense cheder schedule that is more than worth every penny! How would we have known that dryer lint is such great bonfire starter fuel?!”
Mrs. Laliev Silverman, mother of 10-year-old TA student and newbie Scout Yeshaya Simcha Silverman, says, “My son had good self-esteem and confidence to begin with, but he has gained even more from becoming knowledgeable and proficient in many different areas, especially in wilderness skills. He used to be a bit reluctant to try something new if he wasn’t sure he would be good at it, or to work on improving some skill if he felt he didn’t excel in it as much as his peers did. Now he is willing to take more chances. Also, he is happier having more activities and interests that he is self-motivated to explore. It is a wonderful, healthy break from the routine of school and homework that widens his world and challenges him. He feels he has something exciting to look forward to, especially hiking, biking, and camping. Although he also enjoys playing in baseball and football leagues, scouting offers a much broader range of activities that develop many more areas of competence rather than just athletics, including creativity, problem-solving, practical skills, academic knowledge, leadership, and self-direction.
“In addition to all these great benefits, he and I are developing a closer relationship as I have new ways to bond with him, helping him work on accomplishing his Scouting goals and taking an interest in and supporting his new activities. I am very grateful to Rabbi Cynamon for the great amount of time and effort he puts into creating a great experience for the boys, and for doing it all so selflessly.”
Mrs. Shifra Rabenstein, mother of 12-year-old TA student Moshe Chananel, says, “Boy Scouts has been a fantastic opportunity for my son to experience healthy, wholesome fun. For a child, a boy in particular, who enjoys the outdoors very much, Boy Scouts provides a safe environment to participate in these types of activities. The activities are usually organized in such a way that each boy has a hands-on opportunity. They also often encourage boys to be helpful, because their assistance is often legitimately needed by the group.”
As Rabbi Paysach Diskind, whose son Yechiel, a fifth grade TA student, is also a member of Dovid’s Cub Scout pack, adds, “The Scout program has broadened my son’s horizons. From learning about atmospheric pressure to sending rockets in the sky, his worldview has grown.”
One Scout, a sixth-grader in TI who wishes to remain anonymous, joined Scouts a few years ago as a Webelos Scout. Now a Boy Scout working hard to earn his merit badges, he says, “There is no one favorite part. It’s all fun! And the stuff that’s not fun is important for life, such as first aid. Rabbi Cynamon is a great Scoutmaster; he knows everything about Scouting and then some...!”
This Scout’s mother added, “He has gained a lot from the program and also from the personal attention that Dovid gives ‘his boys.’ We really love the program. It introduces the boys to activities and projects that they otherwise wouldn’t come across. The camping trips are amazing, and the activities teach the boys ‘real’ stuff. I see the Boy Scouts as a program that gives the boys direction. They’re working towards a goal; it’s not just a way to while away a Sunday afternoon. My son is being exposed to various skills and activities as well as many professions and hobbies, such as photography, geology, first-aid, and movie-making or how to build a campfire or pitch a tent. Dovid teaches him to be independent and at the same time part of the team, and helps him feel good about being a member of this special troop!”
Dovid concludes by saying, “We started the program to give boys a healthy outlet where they’ll also feel accomplished and gain confidence. Scouting gives boys the opportunity to build their self-esteem by trying new things. It develops their overall fitness and wellness, and it promotes personal responsibility towards themselves and others. The ranks and badges in Scouting help the boys set and meet goals. Many times I’ll hear a boy say, ‘I know how to do that; I learned it in Scouts.’”
Here are a few cases, in point. A few years ago when one Scout’s grandparents were having car trouble, a then-fifth grade Webelos Scout piped up, “I can help; I learned how to check the oil in Scouts.” Another fourth grade Webelos Scout asked his father for a new light bulb for his lamp; he had learned how to change it in Scouts. As he was going through the steps – turn off the switch, unplug the lamp – he realized that the lamp wasn’t working because it was unplugged, and he didn’t need to change the bulb after all!
My favorite story is the one that happened a couple years ago after a camping trip. Then-13-year-old Menachem Feder came home and told his mother, Sara Chana, “That breakfast was fantastic! You have to get the recipe.” When his mother asked him what they had, he told her they boiled water and added oatmeal, and then cracked eggs and scrambled them.
A Trip through Shenandoah National Park
by Dovid Cynamon
We entered Shenandoah Park, taking in the overviews along Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the park. Tuesday was a big day. We hiked eight miles and climbed to the Knob Mountain Summit, 2,865 feet high, and gained a total of 700 feet in elevation. We saw some evidence of bears along the way, though we didn’t see any bears. I told the boys that the bears could hear and smell us from a mile away and didn’t want anything to do with us.
As we neared the summit, we found a marker that told us we only had 250 more feet to go. We were very excited, but then we saw the trail, which looked like an almost vertical wall. It was hard, especially with our packs, but we managed to get to the top. Some of us enjoyed a relaxing lunch on the summit, while the rest waited a little further ahead. We continued down the long descent into the valley to Jeremy’s Run, where we found a swimming hole; we then continued until we found a place to camp for the night, right next to a waterfall. The boys quickly set up camp and prepared supper, and two boys prepared a shelter of branches to sleep in.
After supper, some of the boys went to sleep as early as seven o’clock, while the rest of us hung our “bear bag.” We took turns, trying again and again to throw the rope over the right branch, so that we could suspend the bag of food out of reach of bears and other wildlife. It got very dark, but after about 30 minutes, we finally got it. We took the added precaution of placing all of our “smellables” in odor barrier bags. B”H, the bear bag stayed undisturbed throughout the night!
Most of us were in a big rush to get going in the morning, though we didn’t realize how long it would take to pack up and the difficulty of the trail that lay ahead. After close examination, we realized that we climbed 1,200 feet in elevation over our 5.5 mile hike! It didn’t feel like that much; yesterday’s climb felt much harder. We did know that we were going to have 13 stream crossings, so many of us wore bathing suits and Crocs for the hike. Most of our packs were lighter, because we used up a lot of the food and fuel for the trip, so that helped. We took several relaxing breaks by the stream crossings. At the end of Jeremy’s Run, we began our steep ascent up the Knob Mountain Cut-Off Trail. The last half-mile brought us to the Appalachian Trail. B”H, all of the boys had an amazing and safe time working together and helping each other on a strenuous but very rewarding trip.