by Rabbi Yeshoshua Kohl
As regional director of the New York region of NCSY, I’ve heard one comment more frequently than any other. It goes something like this: “NCSY? That’s for _____ teens, isn’t it?” (Fill in the blank: public school, yeshiva day school, off-the-derech, Modern Orthodox, etc.)
I am constantly amused by the variety of different ways that blank is filled in, and how many people are sure that NCSY is for that one specific group of teens that they identify. The answer I give is almost always the same. “Yes, NCSY is for those teens as well!” Beyond all the rhetoric, NCSY is for Jewish teens—any and all Jewish teens who want to avail themselves of what we have to offer and how we offer it. And in the coming years, we will be expanding our programs to provide NCSY’s superb experiential educational opportunities for even more Jewish teens.
This school year alone, NCSY’s programs in New York, Long Island, Westchester, and Rockland County had a total attendance of over 14,000 students at over 1,100 events. The students come from over 50 different schools—from yeshiva day schools like SKA, DRS, Central, MTA, SAR, and Ramaz and from public high schools like Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, Lawrence, Roslyn, Forest Hills, JFK, and Oceanside.
Some of our participants are from yeshiva Orthodox homes, some from Modern Orthodox homes. Some are from ba’alteshuvah homes, and some from homes where one or both parents used to be—but no longer are—Orthodox. Many come from homes where Judaism is practiced minimally or not at all.
Some of the teens who come to NCSY are Persian, some are Bukharian or Russian, and others are Israeli. And some are Americans. Among our teens, there are no cultural or racial distinctions, and no one is thought of as better or worse because of what school they go to, what neighborhood or town they’re from, how much they know or don’t know, or how “frum” they are.
On Saturday night, at our end-of-the-year banquet, when a young Bukharian teen from Forest Hills High School in Flushing made his first siyum on amasechta of Gemara, the entire region erupted in song and dance. At NCSY,achdus reigns, because at NCSY, the only thing that matters is the shared goal of becoming inspired about Judaism, Torah, and mitzvos, and sharing that inspiration with everyone else. Engage, Inspire, Empower—this is truly the essence of NCSY.
At Havdallah of the Spring Regional Shabbaton this past Shabbos, I shared with the NCSYers my vision of what NCSY means to me, and what I hope it will mean for them. I don’t believe there was anything innovative in what I said. NCSY has been doing this for over 60 years, and the legacy of leadership in Jewish communities around the world forged by NCSY alumni speaks more eloquently to that success than anything I could say.
So what is it that we do? Why are we as successful as we have been at inspiring that sense of passionate, committed Jewish living in so many different types and styles of teens, for so many years?
One part of the answer, I believe, is the balance of family and individuality that we blend into all of our programs. Teens coming to NCSY know that they are going to be accepted and embraced no matter what. The safe space we create enables them to be exactly who they are and become who they want to be, without judgments. This unquestioning acceptance is an outgrowth of that sense of family that exists. The closeness within the peer group never ceases to amaze me, and the comfort they feel to try new things, experiment, and explore, supported and embraced by a group of friends that are sharing in that journey, is awesome to observe.
A second, equally significant, element is that the teens who come are doing so as a matter of their own choice. They are not forced, and they are not being evaluated. They do what they do because they want to, and the positive sense of accomplishment they experience provides its own reward. Judaism is presented and experienced as enjoyable, meaningful, and fun. As one young woman described it, “I automatically felt like a part of something, like I belong. I haven’t felt that way ever, and I’m so glad that G‑d helped me find NCSY. NCSY has helped me grow more than anything.”
So what is NCSY? In short, it’s a loving and supportive positive Jewish experience, with wonderful role models and peers, where Jewish teens of any background can grow in their Judaism and discover their place—and the contribution they’ll make—in tomorrow’s Jewish world.
So when I’m asked, “Isn’t NCSY for yeshiva kids, or public-school kids, etc.,” my answer will remain, “yes!” NCSY is for them, and for them, and for them as well. It’s for all Jewish teens, and we will continue to expand our programs to address the changing needs of varied communities in our relentless quest to ensure an inspired Jewish future for every Jewish teen.
If you have any questions or would like more information about our programs, please don’t hesitate to contact our New York regional office email@example.com or 516-569-6279.
Reprinted from the 5 Towns Jewish Times