Almost 400 Jewish teens from the United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico ushered in the New Year at a retreat in Connecticut devoted to Torah study and religious growth as part of Aspire: Yarchei Kallah, a learning experience for public high school students organized by NCSY, part of the Orthodox Union (OU).
Billed as a Shabbaton on steroids, Yarchei Kallah included singing, dancing, Shabbat onegs, lectures, learning sessions and opportunities for teens to cultivate relationships with peers, advisors and educators.
NCSY, an international youth movement, offers a range of innovative, informal Jewish education programs and retreats that foster positive Jewish identity and connection to Israel.
“Yarchei Kallah is a high for participants that cements in many cases their relationship with Judaism, with Torah-learning and with NCSY,” said Rabbi Aryeh Wielgus, regional director of New Jersey NCSY and this year’s Yarchei Kallah director. “It really propels them to the next step [in their commitment].”
The event took place Dec. 28-Jan. 2 at the Stamford Hilton. Workshops were devoted to topics such as The Song of Prayer, an exploration of the Book of Psalms and The Song of Hate, a powerful probe of antisemitism and the tools to respond to it. Educators from Yeshiva University, Touro University and Israeli institutions of higher learning led a number of sessions.
Teens at Yarchei Kallah said they learned of the event through their Jewish Student Union (JSU), NCSY’s network of public high school Jewish clubs. About 40 yeshiva students who hold regional and national NCSY leadership posts also took part in the retreat.
Highlights also included a keynote address by American-Israeli Ultra-Orthodox marathon champion Beatie Deutsch; musical performances by American Belz Hasidic vocalist Shulem Lemmer and TikTok’s hottest Jewish boy band, Miami Boys Choir; and a New Year’s Eve party set in a space emulating New York’s Times Square.
Rachel Camhi, 18, came from Chile. She said she left the retreat with many new friends and a deeper appreciation for her Jewish heritage.
“Yarchei Kallah is an amazing, unique opportunity that you won’t find anywhere else,” Camhi said. “I met awesome people from around the world and learned a lot — everyone learned from one another. I saw other people connecting with themselves and it showed me that I can connect, too. We are all Jewish, that’s what makes us a family.”