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In my day, I went to parties where we held girls close to the strains of Paul Anka's "Put Your Head On My Shoulder" and drank soda, but actually envied the "good" boys and girls who joined the Scouts.

Later, my sons joined the Scouts and I even got to be a "cooking parent" at one of their camps once, to my great joy. I haven't danced a slow dance in ages and my sons are no longer children, but this week I went back to summer camp.

If there's anything astonishing about the Scouts, it's that nothing has changed, apart from the sweeping prohibition in my day against being caught at a dance party. Ignoring the computers, iPods, knives and clubs around them, the Scouts remain old-fashioned, conservative, somewhat nationalist. Yet, wonder of wonders, their numbers are up and 2,500 youths gathered this week in Haruvit Forest.

A gravel path crosses a watermelon field and winds past a citrus grove, cotton fields and dusty cypress trees leading to the camp, located not far from Kibbutz Kfar Menachem.

"I won't let you carry that heavy bag, you'll break your back," grumbles a mother to her daughter, who is holding a tube of sunscreen in her hand.

A group of girls is busy covering their heads with shaving cream, the idea being to get as dirty as possible. First, they poured maple syrup and paint on their hair. The nails of Liron, the counselor, are painted red. This was forbidden in my time.

Each tribe presents a theme or an idiom it has constructed. The Hatzerim tribe acts out "falling between two stools" with two chairs and a doll, and "the grass is greener" with a chunk of artificial grass. Almost the entire kibbutz belongs to the Scouts.

The Lions' tribe of Gderot presents a "bookworm" with poles. Nadav, in the 12th grade, has already been summoned to the Air Force's pilots' selection process.

There is still something elitist about the Scouts. In Omer, a community center of some 8,000 residents, 320 are Scouts. Kiryat Malachi, with a population of almost 20,000, has only 100 members. But here at camp, all barriers are broken down, or are covered with dust.

The Zahor tribe from Meitar presents "Channel One." "For us, Channel One is back to nature, back to our roots," explains their leader. Can you believe it? They called the kitchen tent "Garlic, Pepper and Olive Oil," after what is possibly the only successful program on that battered TV outlet.

It's parents day and the children are nervous. They're waiting for McDonald's. It's become a tradition in recent years for all of the kids' parents - from north or south, rich or poor - to bring McDonald's.

Indeed, Nimrod, 11, is waiting for his grandmother's gnocchi, his friend is waiting for dad's schnitzels and a third for mom's roast. But most of them are waiting for McDonald's.

The religious, right-wing Sa'ar tribe of Rehovot presents "Kudos to the IDF." It had been a difficult decision, arrived at by a slim, 27-to-26 majority, that selected a theme supporting the armed forces. Some of the youths still hold a grudge against the IDF due to the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the guides Barak and Daniel explain.

"We wanted to do something to mark the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's liberation, but we thought that theme would be too heavy for the members," says Daniel. "We decided to focus on something recent, so we chose 'kudos to the IDF.' It emphasizes values of contributing to the state, to the land. That is significant to our members."

The older group dealt with the issue of draft dodging and resistance to obeying orders. Ran is joining the army but will refuse an order to evacuate settlements. Barak is in favor of giving back territories to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. Barak will go to the Armored Corps, Daniel is looking for a way to improve his medical rating. Ran is thinking of joining a special elite unit.

Have no fear - here at least, in the Haruvit Forest, idealism still lives.