Above: Josaih Benator has been involved with the Boy Scouts for 81 years.
Boy Scout Troop 73, based at Congregation Or VeShalom, is down to only two members, putting the group’s future in jeopardy after 66 years in existence.
But the troop’s leader, 94-year-old Josiah Benator, who is marking his 81st anniversary in Scouting, is not giving up easily.
“The problem is that most of the 12-to-13-age youths are overburdened with other activities,” Benator said in a brief phone interview. He cited the Internet and a host of other pastimes for the lack of new Scouts.
And “our Jewish youth at that age are already involved with bar mitzvah preparation activities,” he said.
“I haven’t had any new boys for the last two or three years,” Benator said. Five boys are required for the troop’s annual registration, and the deadline is December, according to the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. “Unfortunately, we are running out of Scouts and have not been able to (find) new recruits, and if we don’t get more Scouts, we will not be able to register for next year.”
The numbers have been dwindling for some time. “There are other activities for boys on Thursday nights. Scouting is not a priority,” Benator said. “There are other distractions in their lives.”
The troop started in 1950, and the Brookhaven synagogue has been its home since 1958.
It has had a particular impact on Atlanta’s Sephardi community, according to Rabbi David Geffen, who had Benator as his Scoutmaster. In an email, Rabbi Geffen called Benator “one of the great Sephardic Jews of Atlanta” and “an exceptionable human being (who) has mentored young men since the 1940s.”
Most of those young men have been Jews, Benator said, but a few Christians have been in Troop 73. A total of 50 boys from the troop have earned Eagle rank.
“We have an excellent program working with our Scouts in their advancement,” Benator said.
Steps are being taken to boost the ranks, he said. “We have put signs up at our synagogue and contacted the Sunday school program at OVS for possible candidates. Our weekly bulletin includes an invitation for joining our troop. We have contacted the two Cub packs in our neighborhood for boys reaching 11 to visit our troop, with no responses. We will contact them again.”
Benator himself is in pretty good shape, he said. “I still feel pretty good. I had a fall some years ago, and I’m not driving. Other than that, my mind is still there, which is a blessing.”