By Rabbi David Geffen
The year 1950 was momentous for me and subsequently for many other young men. That year Congregations Or VeShalom and Shearith Israel founded Boy Scout Troop 73. Josiah Benator, a World War II veteran and who made Eagle Scout during his teen years, became the scoutmaster. He has held that title with Troop 73 ever since.
Hundreds of young men like myself have experienced the special care, concern and guidance of “Mr. Benator,” as we all have called him.
Born in Atlanta in 1922 to an Or VeShalom family, Benator grew up in the Depression and joined a Scout troop at the Jewish Educational Alliance in the 1930s. He quickly became not only the head of the troop, but also the assistant scoutmaster and then scoutmaster.
When he was drafted into the Army toward the end of World War II, he had to give up Scouting for a few years. After the war he earned an engineering degree at Georgia Tech and went to work for the Scripto Pencil Co.
He first returned to Scouting at another Atlanta Jewish troop. In 1950, Joe I. Zimmerman persuaded Shearith Israel and OVS to form Troop 73 and selected Benator as scoutmaster. Shearith Israel provided a hut in a small building on the property the congregation had just bought on University Drive.
My late father, lawyer Louis Geffen, handled all the legal matters pro bono, as he had in 1929 for Shearith Israel’s building on Washington Street.
I was privileged to be one of the initial Scouts in the troop. Harvey Charvin was the first to earn the Eagle badge. We also had as an active member Rabbi Alvin Sugarman.
Josiah Benator is a devoted Jew. He permitted me to go on Shabbat camping trips, but I was free from any duties until Shabbat was over. He brought prayer books to all those hikes, and Alvin Sugarman and I conducted Shabbat services.
At the Scout hut, we met once a week for troop business and brought in many new Scouts in those early years. Frequently, we played Capture the Flag with enthusiasm and breakneck speed even though it was dark.
Those were giddy, glorious days for Shearith Israel, OVS and some Ahavath Achim boys. With the state of Israel struggling to survive, we sang “Hatikva” whenever we could in a meaningful manner.
For the earliest Scouts in the troop, one memory sticks with us.
Mr. Benator was not satisfied that he was an Eagle Scout; he wanted to earn more “palms” by completing additional merit badges. When we went to the Bert Adams Boy Scout camp in the summer, he went with us.
That first summer he worked on the Indian lore merit badge. To complete the requirements, he had to participate in the Indian Pageant held on a Thursday night. As that event began, Mr. Benator, with his face and body painted and wearing a loin cloth and one feather in his hair, danced with real excitement. We cheered him loudly: He was more than a scoutmaster; he was a vibrant Boy Scout leader.
In 2009 he was designated by AARP’s magazine as one of the great seniors in the nation. I wrote about him in The Jerusalem Post, and he appeared in a picture with Judge Stephen Schuster, one of his Scouts and my cousin.
In October, the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts recognized him with its Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award.
What a great man Josiah Benator is. We proudly give him the Boy Scout salute and wish him many more productive and healthy years with his wife of seven decades, Birdie, and all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.