EASTON - Rabbi Peter E. Hyman was the first rabbi in many years to be invited to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but his purpose for going there was not a religious one.
In September, the Boy Scouts of America were one of the world scouting organizations to be recognized by Saudi Arabia for its participation in the Messengers of Peace Program a program designed to promote service projects through social media in effort to achieve world peace. The BSA naturally decided to send Hyman, chairman of the Messengers of Peace Program. Hyman also is the spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel congregation at 101 W. Earle Ave.
"If there really is a cloud nine, Peter Hyman is sitting on it," said Scott Teare, international director for the Boy Scouts of America and the secretary general for the World Organization of the Scout Movement. Teare said the king and prime minister of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was well aware of Hyman's Jewish faith and it wasn't ever considered a problem.
The Messengers of Peace program is all about breaking down borders and getting along. It stemmed from the annual international jamborees, where Boy Scouts from around the world assemble. The preconceived hatred between countries disappear and the Scouts live harmoniously, according to Teare.
The program was started last year by King Abdullah and Sweden's king, Carl XVI Gustaf, and was granted $37 million in funding for more than ten years.
Hyman, who is a member of the BSA, the chaplain of their world jamborees and the chairman of the BSA Messengers of Peace, said the program is important because it transcends politics for the greater good.
"Anything that can make the world a better, more reasonable, safer place is a good thing," Hyman said.
Hyman said the king's invitation was almost diplomatic.
Teare said when he informed the Saudi Arabian king of Hyman's background, the immediate response was that it didn't matter what his day job was, and Hyman was treated with a great deal of respect.
Hyman said he felt "remarkably secure" while in Saudi Arabia, and one of the reasons he felt so at home there was because he was with other Scouts who shared the same set of values that transcend religious, cultural, social or geographical borders.
He said he had no expectations going into the trip, but was excited for the cultural experience of Saudi Arabia, like food, music, and important historic ruins.
"You can see the flow of ancient history of that entire region that gave birth to Syria and Malonia and ultimately Judaism," Hyman said.
But Hyman wasn't the only one from BSA to represent it. He was joined by the 2 millionth Eagle Scout, Anthony Thomas.
Thomas, a sophomore in radio and television production at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, said he didn't know what to expect from a place he never thought he'd be able to experience.
Thomas said though he was in a familiar scouting setting, seeing how the different world scouting organizations functioned was what he enjoyed most about the trip.
He said even though Scouts have been doing service projects for more than 100 years, the good part about the Messengers of Peace Program is it gives Scouts an opportunity to see what other Scouts from around the world are doing as service projects, and the social media part of it gets people involved to where they can see they're not the only ones working toward a goal of making the world a better place.