Over 2,500 Jewish teens from around the world came together in the Holy Land this summer to celebrate unity among the Jewish people.
Participants in the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) movement brought more than 2,500 Jewish teens together from 29 U.S. states, Canada, Israel, Argentina and the United Kingdom to celebrate Yom NCSY, an American-style barbecue and rock concert.
The teens and staff 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 and to dedicate 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 all across the world through the use of Torah and tradition.
OU president Moishe Bane, one of many OU executives that attended the bash, reflected on the impact the OU has had on the NCSY’s 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 the OU was concerned, he emphasized, was for the kids to make a connection to the Jewish people and religion, regardless of whether they came from secular or Orthodox backgrounds.
Energy and Enthusiasm
OU executive vice president Allen Fagin, who also attended the event in Israel, said the youngsters’ 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 kids 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.”
According to Fagin, who was involved in NCSY as a youth leader years ago, “There’s nothing quite like NCSY.”
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.
Leadership, Life Skills, and Learning
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.
During her visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem, related Altman, 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.”
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