A new Jewish organization, the International Forum of Jewish Scouts (IFJS), was inaugurated Thursday night in a ceremony at the Mishkenot Sha'ananim guest house in Jerusalem.
The organization aims to bring together and establish Jewish scout movements around the world, and to represent Jewish scouts within the general scouting movement.
In attendance at the ceremony were over 100 delegates from Israel, France, the US, the UK, as well as Education Minister Yuli Tamir and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski.
Frederic Cherbite established the forum with the support of the US-based Mandel Leadership Institute, a group specializing in establishing educational programs, which helped secure the backing of the French, Israeli and US national Jewish scout organizations.
The scout movement began in 1907, when Robert Baden-Powell held the first scout camp in England. Since then, it has grown to 28 million members in 26 countries and territories. The Israel Hebrew Scouts Association was established in 1919, and is now the biggest youth movement in Israel, with 60,000 members.
The idea for an international organization of Jewish scouts is not new. In 1931, Jewish scouts from all over Europe gathered in France to participate in the first ever international Jewish camp. The event's success led to the creation of the World Union of Jewish Scouting, which disbanded soon after with the onset of Word War II.
Last month the World Organization of the Scout Movement recognized IFJS as the Jewish scouts representative.
Cherbite opened the inauguration ceremony with his vision of the forum as a vital tool in strengthening Jewish identity in both the Diaspora and Israel. "We'll give them [scout members] the skills to build a network of Jewish communities... together, they will be the Judaism of tomorrow."
Bielski said his relationship with the scouts began as mayor of Ra'anana, when he "adopted the local branch." He praised the scout movement as "very important for the State of Israel."
Alan Silbestein, a spokesman for the Jewish Scouts of France, said that the forum could provide a vital role in establishing links with isolated Jewish communities. "In Central Europe there is a big need for informal Jewish education," he said. "We can get through to them."
Silbestein also said he saw the Jewish scout movement as a "statement for the unity of the Jewish people," and a way to bridge the religious-secular divide in Jewish communities.
Tamir called the forum "a unique initiative," and said that she hoped "it would empower the communities in which they're active."
The forum hopes to send a large delegation to the World Scout Jamboree, to be held in England in 2007, marking the scout movement's centennial.