Saturday, May 1, 2021

Boy Scouts of America; the First Jewish Scoutmaster and Boy Scout Troop was in Chicago, Illinois, in 1920.

Bernard Miller, a resident of Evanston, tells the fascinating story of his father, Solomon Miller, who he described as "the first Jewish scoutmaster." 

Solomon Miller was born in Leeds, England, in 1889. In 1911, while at Leeds University, where he graduated with a degree in education, he formed the first Jewish Boy Scout troop in that city. Bernard Miller says that this was the very first synagogue-based Jewish troop ever formed and that Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, had personally signed Solomon Miller's Scoutmaster Warrant.

Solomon Miller left Leeds for Canada in 1913. The policy of Great Britain during the First World War was that any young teacher who would go to Canada to practice his profession would be exempt from military service. So Solomon Miller spent the war years teaching Hebrew to Jewish children —" the children of Jewish farmers" — in a one-room schoolhouse in Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, Canada. After WWI, Solomon Miller came to Chicago on vacation and met his future wife, Minnie. After their marriage, they settled on the northwest side and raised their son and daughter. 

Although Sol had changed careers from teaching to accounting by then, he continued his scouting activities. From 1920 to the 1940s, he was not only financial secretary of Chicago's Atereth Zion Congregation (AZC) at 1132 North Spaulding but also Scoutmaster of Troop № 60 based in the synagogue and serving the Humboldt Park community. Mrs. Minnie Miller served as President of the ladies' auxiliary and led the Girl Scout troop. At that time, Leonard Shabsin was scoutmaster of the synagogue's Cub Scout Pack № 6060. Bernard Miller remembers the AZC scouts' camping trips featuring "Mulligan Stew" — kosher meat and vegetables cooked in a tin coffee can over an open fire. 

In 1964, Sol and Minnie Miller paid a visit to Leeds, where they were feted by members of his old troop. Sol was pleased to learn that the troop he had organized in 1911 still existed.
Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Miller proudly show the scroll presented to him by the 7th Central (Leeds Jewish) Old Scouts Association on August 26, 1964, on his first visit to England after 50 years in America. This certificate of authorization is a precious Miller family heirloom.

His long years of service to scouting in Chicago have also been rewarded. On February 27, 1972, in the annual "Eternal Light Honor Night" ceremony at Chicago's Loop Synagogue, 6 South Clark Street, he was given the Shofar Award in recognition of his 52 years of service to scouting in America. The award was presented by the Jewish Relationships Committee, Chicago Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. 

Bernard Miller and his sister followed their parents into scouting, each of them as assistant leaders of troops in Skokie, and have passed that interest on to their children and grandchildren.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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