(August 12, 2019 / JNS) The National Council of Synagogue Youth—the Orthodox Union’s youth movement—brought together more than 2,500 Jewish teens, staff and guests from 29 American states, Canada, Israel, Argentina and the United Kingdom in Israel to celebrate Yom NCSY, an American-style barbecue and rock concert.
Participants gathered in Ra’anana Park in central Israel to celebrate the end of a 72-hour, teen-led initiative to fund scholarships for next year’s summer programs, in addition to dedicating an ambucycle to the United Hatzalah emergency service organization.
More than 200 members of Yad B’Yad, the Israel-travel trip run by the OU’s Yachad division for teens with disabilities, also participated.
NCSY dedicates its programs to connecting, inspiring and empowering Jewish teens across the world through the use of Torah and tradition.
OU president Moishe Bane, one of a number of organizational representatives who attended the bash, reflected on the impact of NCSY summer programs. “The Orthodox Union takes enormous pride in NCSY’s summer programs,” said Bane, adding that “the incredible array of styles and approaches reflects the OU approach to Judaism.”
The most important thing as far as it was concerned, he emphasized, was for the teens to make a connection to the Jewish people and religion, no matter what background they experienced at home.
OU executive vice president Allen Fagin, who also attended the event in Israel and who was involved in NCSY as a youth leader years ago, said the energy and enthusiasm was contagious.
“The goal for them tonight was to have a magnificent time,” he said. “But the goal for us was to have hundreds of young people who have virtually no background in Judaism and having them all be together having a magnificent time. That’s what the Jewish people should be about.”
Summer-program participants at a concert in Ra’anana Park on July 17, 2019. Third from left is 16-year-old Sasha Altman. Credit: Orthodox Union/NCSY Summer.Noah Bonnett, a 17-year-old from New York, said the NCSY experience had definitely strengthened his connection to Israel.
“I have a couple of Jewish friends, and I go to temple twice a week—one day for school and another as an assistant, but coming to Israel has given me a stronger connection to the Jewish state,” he said.
Bonnett is a participant in NCSY’s Next Step program, which focuses on getting young adults hands-on work experience via internships. He works for a company that makes 3-D printers, a perfect fit for his stateside involvement in engineering.
Jaden Jubas, a participant in an NCSY program called Hatzalah Rescue, which allows teens to gain experience as emergency responders, said the program is very hands-on and helped participants gain “great life skills.” According to Jubas, during his time with Hatzalah, he successfully performed CPR on a patient, helping to save a life.
Besides leadership and internship programs, NCSY also offers programs like The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ), which are more oriented towards inspiring positive Jewish identity through travel.
“NCSY has made me more into religion and made me want to be Jewish. This was my first time in Israel,” said 16-year old TJJ participant Sasha Altman.
Her visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, related Altman, was when she really felt a strong connection to being Jewish.
NCSY summer director David Cutler, who organized the Ra’anana Park celebration, said “tonight’s event is the highlight of our summer, the essence of who we are. Tonight, we are one Jewish family, and that’s our theme; that’s who we are.”
All participants in an NCSY summer program are “changed people,” he said. And NCSY is truly inclusive, he added, especially of those with special needs. Camp Yachad, the OU’s special needs camp, is all about inclusiveness, with their motto being “Because Everyone Belongs.”