A day after scores nationwide gathered for turkey consumption, conversation and televised entertainment, nearly 300 area Boy Scouts, parents and clergy pursued reverence on a seven-hour walk. The 3.5-mile “Ten Commandment and World Faiths Hike” began at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside and culminated at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh on Bigelow Boulevard.
The purpose of the hike is “to expose people to other people’s faiths, not to proselytize,” said CW Kreimer, the event’s organizer. By entering sanctuaries and engaging with clergy, participants get exposure to other faith traditions and understand that “they have to accept the fact that people have a right to believe what they want to believe.”
Kreimer conceived of the hike nearly 15 years ago after trying to parse the 12th point of “The Scout’s Law,” which notes that a Boy Scout must be reverent: “Be reverent toward God. Be faithful in your religious duties. Respect the beliefs of others.”
“It’s a fairly intangible thing to say that, but I thought that the Ten Commandment hike would be a great way to demonstrate that a Scout has reverence,” he said.
Kreimer, one of six Eagle Scouts in his family, reached out to diverse faith leaders, secured locations and welcomed 325 people on the first go-round. In subsequent years, the number of attendees has ranged from 300 to 500, with half the group typically being Scouts and the other half adults.
Since its origin, the program’s purpose has remained the same, though slight tweaks are not uncommon. Last year’s hike, which occurred roughly one month after the attack at the Tree of Life building, necessitated a reminder of American values, explained Kreimer.
“We started giving people a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution, and we put the First Amendment on the front of the booklet because one of the things that Scouts tries to do is instill values in youth,” he said.
As spelled out in materials provided to participants, the protections afforded by the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech and the right of people to peaceably assemble, speak to the heart of the hike. “If it wasn’t for the First Amendment, we couldn’t do the Ten Commandment hike,” said Kreimer.
Susan Loether, of Allison Park, has been involved in the hike for about 10 years. The daylong program fosters knowledge among hikers, she explained.
This year, while hundreds sat in Rodef Shalom Congregation’s sanctuary, Loether, former education director at Rodef Shalom Congregation and Temple Ohav Shalom, shared insights on the week’s Torah reading. Loether waxed on the relationship between Jacob and Esau, and remarked that the same story is read on the same day in synagogues throughout the world.
“My passion is truly education,” she said. “I’ve been a Jewish educator for more than 40 years so I’m always happy to see people who are like little sponges who want to soak up all my knowledge.”
Father Christopher Bender was among those at Rodef Shalom Congregation. Bender, dean of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, has also participated in the hike for years, and described this year’s program as particularly noteworthy.
“This time, CW invited all of us clergy to join him and leadership at Rodef Shalom to help unroll the scroll of the Torah, which of course is where you find the Ten Commandments, which we did,” said Bender.
Discussion pertaining to those biblical portions, and to the history of Rodef Shalom’s building, fostered camaraderie, Bender explained.
“One of the things that most impressed me was the continuity that I felt between what we were being told and our own tradition, in terms of how we understand our role in the world and the importance of being faithful to God,” said Bender.
After departing Rodef Shalom Congregation, the group visited Holy Spirit Byzantine Catholic Church; St. Paul Cathedral; First Church of Christ, Scientist; and Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, before heading to Heinz Chapel, where representatives from the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center, Hindu Jain Temple and Zoroastrian Association of Pennsylvania spoke. From Heinz Chapel, the group headed north to First Baptist Church before finishing at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.
“I felt that there was such respect shown, I thought it was a fantastic day,” said Bender. “The children really got education, both in the Ten Commandments but also in the importance of religious freedom in our Constitution, which I think today is threatened to some degree because of ignorance and fear, especially for those faiths that are not majority faiths.”
Loether hopes others will join in subsequent years.
“It’s every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It would be a great learning tool for anybody who’s interested,” she said. “It’s open to the entire community, not just Scouters and not just kids, and it’s a tremendous way to do outreach.”
Though the 14th hike just finished, Kreimer, 59, is already looking ahead to the 2020 tour.
“I had a heart attack when I was 45, right before I started to do this,” he said. “It’s a way to give back. It’s a way to build bridges. The more people that we have, the more bridges we build.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.