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June 8, 2011

24 merit badges and a ‘Varsity’ kippah

http://www.jewishjournal.com/graduation/article/24_merit_badges_and_a_varsity_kippah_20110608

Harel Rush
YULA
Going to: Gap year in Israel at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah, Syracuse University

Harel Rush
YULA
Going to: Gap year in Israel at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah, Syracuse University

To become an Eagle Scout, a boy needs to earn at least 21 merit badges. Harel Rush, 18, is the first Eagle Scout to come out of the Beverly Hills-based, Orthodox-run Boy Scout Troop 360. He earned 24 badges — “the two hardest were ‘family life’ and ‘personal management,’ ” he said. But when Rush showed up for this interview, he was sporting a different piece of material: the standard-issue yellow-and-black kippah worn by many YULA boys.

The kippah — which features the school mascot, a Panther — comes complete with built-in clips on the underside, perfect for athletes like Rush. In four years at YULA, he competed on four different Panther sports teams: cross-country, track, baseball and golf (although not at the same time).

But Rush, who will spend a gap year in Israel at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah, and possibly another in the Israel Defense Forces   before enrolling at Syracuse University, has also demonstrated a commitment to those less able to, say, drive a golf ball, turn a 6-4-3 double play or tie a bowline. (Or fix an iPod: Rush recently repaired his five-year-old model with guidance from videos he found on YouTube.)

When he became a bar mitzvah, Rush decided to celebrate together with a boy with special needs who was turning 13 around the same time. Rush and this boy — appropriately named Bar — were paired up by Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israeli organization that provides services for children and adults with special needs. On the occasion of the joint celebration, Rush raised about $10,000 for the organization.

In the years since, Rush has continued working with the developmentally disabled. He spent five weeks last summer volunteering at Beit Issie Shapiro’s therapeutic daycare center in Ra’anana. In Los Angeles, he has been a regular volunteer with Yachad and The Friendship Circle, two organizations also dedicated to improving the lives of those with special needs.

“When you see these kids that have special needs, after a few days, they seem like regular kids,” Rush said. “They wanted to run around. They wanted to hold my hand. They wanted to play. I realized that they’re regular people — they just can’t express themselves the same way we do.”

As an Eagle Scout, Rush is in good company, joining Hank Aaron, Neil Armstrong, Gerald Ford and Steven Spielberg, not to mention 11 members of his own family.

To earn that title, Rush organized regular blood drives at his school. “Each pint can save up to three lives, and someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds,” Rush said. He started in his first year of high school, when he was too young to even donate.

“As years went on, it got a lot easier,” Rush said. “It was easier to convince younger grades than it was to convince older grades.”

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