Hebrew Scouts nearly shut down during COVID-19 crisis, ‘unthinkable’

After one century of offering informal education to Hebrew youth across the country, the movement faces extreme uncertainty due to government actions.

NEW YORK, NY - Members of the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation participate in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade on June 3, 2018 in New York City. (photo credit: KENA BETANCUR/GETTY IMAGES/AFP)
NEW YORK, NY - Members of the Israel Boy and Girl Scouts Federation participate in the annual Celebrate Israel Parade on June 3, 2018 in New York City.
(photo credit: KENA BETANCUR/GETTY IMAGES/AFP)
The Hebrew Scouts movements will end nearly all activities on Monday after the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved them from being under the Education Ministry to the Higher Education and Water Resources Ministry under Ze'ev Elkin, as it also includes “complementary education.”
The change in status had been coupled with news the scouts face a budget cut of between NIS 8-10 mil. The change was announced after the pandemic led to the scouts nixing summer trips and youth delegations to Europe and the US, paid activities that normally contribute to their budget.
From the 900 people usually employed by the scouts, 540 had been placed on unpaid leave, Bnei Akiva placed one third of its workers on unpaid leave and reduced the pay of those working by 20%, Haaretz reported in April. 
Former education minister Limor Livnat tweeted on Saturday that the recent news is “unthinkable.” 
“I spent the best part of my youth in the scouts,” Livnat wrote, “"I now hear that there is a danger that this wonderful youth movement will no longer exist because of budget cuts, at a time like this???" 
She called on the government to "wake up now." 
Yossi Garr, Rosh Shevet (tribe elder) of the Dror Modiin Religious Hebrew Scouts shevet with 600 scouts under his care, told The Jerusalem Post that, like many others in the scouts, he is a volunteer. 
“We held activities in small groups limited to 15 members, what they call “capsules”, all in the open air and with masks, all of that is over as of today,” he told the Post on Sunday.
“We pitched various creative alternatives to keep summer camps going and everything was nixed, including training our youth leaders (madrichim)”, he said, “this was done in a very random-seeming manner which we do not understand.” 
A scout since he was in the fourth grade, Garr’s three children are also in the scout movement, and he says that the youth movement has given them priceless experiences and skills. “The love of hiking in this country,” he says, “or to be engaged in educational activities, these things are fantastic.”  
A common Israeli joke has it that the best-liked youth movement of our times is the switching on of the phone with the flicker of one’s thumb, but for Garri, this is nonsense, the 3,000 youth in the Modiin scouts community would likely agree.
Ariella Yantin, a London-born Israeli scout who arrived in the country eight years ago, shared with the Post how much value she and her entire family sees in the youth movement. “The scouts movement is my entire world”, she said, “before COVID-19 I was there all the time.” 
Scouts participate in activities twice a week, Tuesday and Saturday evening for religious scouts, and Tuesday and Friday evening for secular scouts. When she first heard the news, Yantin was “in shock, me and my friends did not know why we were being told there won’t be any activity soon.”
She is adamant that she and her entire family will protest this decision. "My father was in the Hebrew scouts in London,” she explained, “my three siblings are scouts here, this really matters to us.” 
Elkin did not respond to requests for comment from The Jerusalem Post at the time of this writing.