It’s hard to believe that NCSY National Conference of Synagogue Youth of the OU is celebrating sixty years of activities and bringing Jewish youth closer to Torah, G-d and the Mitzvot. I became religious, shomeret mitzvot, aka Orthodox through what I saw, felt and learned in NCSY in the mid-1960’s.
When I went to my first Shabbaton in the fall-early winter of 1963 I knew nothing of Torah Judaism. Of course I knew that I was Jewish. My family didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, but we didn’t observe kashrut, Shabbat or most of the Jewish Holidays and certainly none of the fast days besides going to shul on Yom Kippur.
The Judaism I became acquainted with, under the instruction/supervision of Rabbi Pinchas Stolper and Rabbi Chaim Wasserman, who jointly headed NCSY at the time, was a full-time religion. It would be a lie to claim or imply that I was smitten by my first introduction to Torah Judaism. The truth is that I was more attracted to the social and organizational life I discovered in NCSY. In direct contrast to my new life in Great Neck where we had just moved to the summer of 1962, in NCSY I found friends and approval. Yes, nobody shunned me for wearing the wrong clothes, even though my tops were sleeveless which I knew was against regulations. The administrators and advisors knew when and where to pick their battles.
As I worked my way up as chapter and regional officer, nobody forced a sweater on me, even at National Convention 1965. I had very carefully and “davkally” chosen my wardrobe without a sleeve or sweater, pushing limits even as I enthusiastically participated and listened to every session/lecture and every event. I also stood out as an energy-filled dancer at all meals and opportunities. The effect of the mantra-like lyrics of the songs we sang must have sunk in very deeply, though I was unaware.
Nobody was more surprised than myself when during the Havdalah, which ends Shabbat, Rabbi Stolper’s words finally “cracked” my resistance and suddenly I was in tears vowing to bring Shabbat and all of the other Mitzvot to my everyday life.
Please don’t think it was an easy, quick path or battle. I had many hurdles in terms of family, friends and school. Of course even almost fifty years later I consider it all worth it. I can’t imagine my life without the Torah, Mitzvot and living in Israel. Friends I made in NCSY are still my friends, and I do my best to be a credit to NCSY. This picture is up in my home for all to see.
I had always thought that my story about Havdalah being the key to my neshama soul was unique, but apparently it isn’t. Havdalah is the ceremony that separates the Holy Day of Shabbat with the other days of the week. It’s the reality check. We can’t have Shabbat if we don’t do the weekday chores and preparations. In This World we have to balance the two. It takes six days of work to create and prepare for Shabbat. Listening to Rabbi Stolper speak, and I don’t remember after all these years decades what he actually said, it was clear to me that I couldn’t continue living without my weekly dose of Shabbat. From the short video/film that NCSY produced, I wasn’t the only one whose spiritual vulnerability was touched by Havdalah.