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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘NCSY’

Men And Temptation: Beyond The Bus

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

There is a culture war raging in Israel. The extremists are pushing for an ever-expanding division of the sexes – including separate seating on public buses – and the moderates are refusing to go along for the ride. The struggle has filled newspapers and blogs the world over.

And it raises a larger question.

How should the Orthodox Jewish community deal with human temptation? Does removing challenges make the male spiritual immune system stronger? Does it make our masculinity more dignified?

Most people will agree that men and women are essentially different and face different challenges. Most men will agree that the basic male nature – without God or spiritual influence – is to pursue power and promiscuity.

From the day he is born man wants to be mighty, to make an imprint on the world. Jewish tradition teaches that this desire comes from a good place. Our soul is endowed with the knowledge that the purpose of life is to improve self and inspire others, to affect the world we inhabit in a positive way.

The male’s challenge is his ego, the drive that leads him, as a cow is led to pasture, to chase the fool’s gold of fame, fortune and physical pleasure.

Judaism teaches that we should have an ego. It says, in fact, that we should have an “eighth of an eighth” of haughtiness (Sotah 5a).

It doesn’t ask us to overcome our pride entirely. Why? Because spending our lives on a “seek and destroy” mission against our ego will send us down a troubled path. We may destroy our self-confidence in the process. And we may spend so much time overcoming the ego that the lack of haughtiness becomes our identity – our pride. Circuitously, we may reinforce the trait we sought to weaken.

The male ego can never be entirely removed. It is like removing fat from a well-marbled piece of meat; the more you uncover, the more you will find.

So what was God’s plan? How is man to overcome his nature? By taking responsibility. Marrying, working, caring for a wife, tending growing children with increasing and changing needs, joining a synagogue and committing to community are the things that keep man rooted, humble, and down to earth.

The same is true with man’s second primal desire. The male attraction to the female was created by God. The more one tries to remove temptation, the more things will become tempting. Asking women to sit in the back half of the bus, or to walk on another side of the street, will result in their very presence being a distraction. The more you cover, the more things you will observe.

The solution was written in the Torah. It was defined as the reality of the world after Adam left the Garden of Eden. Man should be busy. Man should work hard. Man should do the things men do best: protect and provide for the wife and children they love.

When I was a bachur in yeshiva, we sought deeper meanings in the words of Chazal; the derash fascinated us more than the pshat. As I grow older, the words of Chazal ring clearer and deeper in their most basic meanings. And these are words I love: Rabban Gamliel says (Avos 2:2), “How wonderful is the study of Torah with work, as involvement with both makes one forget sin.”

May it be God’s will.

Yaakov Rosenblatt, the author of two books, “tends the flock,” literally and figuratively, as CEO of A.D. Rosenblatt Kosher Meats, LLC and a rabbi with NCSY in Dallas.

Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt

Southern NCSY, AIPAC Host Shabbaton In Boca Raton

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

NCSY and AIPAC will be hosting a Shabbaton at the Boca Raton Synagogue (BRS) on February 4. The guest speakers will introduce the concepts of Israel advocacy and pride. Sessions will focus on practical discussions regarding current threats to Israel and college readiness workshops. A special orientation session will be held for the contingent traveling to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington in March. Teens from Weinbaum Yeshiva High School, Hillel North Miami Beach and Southern NCSY chapters all over are expected to attend.

“It’s important to offer a variety of programs to excite teens about their Judaism and connectivity to our community,” said Rabbi Benjamin Gonsher, director of Institutional Advancement at Southern NCSY.

“For some, it’s the Shabbat experience, for others, it’s being with other Jewish friends, doing Jewish things and for still others it’s learning how to defend Israel. With partners like AIPAC and the Boca Raton Synagogue at our Israel Advocacy Shabbaton, I know there’ll be something for everyone.”

NCSY is a national youth group where Jewish teens are encouraged to grow into leaders.

NCSY is committed to providing a safe space where teens can celebrate their Jewish heritage; embrace Torah and tradition; develop a positive Jewish identity; acquire invaluable leadership skills; connect with dedicated Jewish role models; and learn to live passionately Jewish lives.

Shelley Benveniste

Title: Living from Convention to Convention: A History of NCSY, 1954-1980

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Title: Living from Convention to Convention: A History of NCSY, 1954-1980

Author: Zev Eleff

Publisher: Ktav Publishing Inc.



   Living from Convention to Convention: A History of NCSY, 1954-1980 by Zev Eleff charts the history of NCSY since its inception. These formative years allowed the national youth organization of the Orthodox Union to become what many say is now the largest force in bringing Jewish teens closer to their heritage and religion.


   Eleff wrote the magnum opus as an undergrad student at Yeshiva University. Eleff’s hard work is a thorough and detailed examination of the challenges facing NCSY in its early days and the politics that were present behind the scenes, a given in almost any national Jewish organization.


   One of those initial disputes was over the nature of certain activities NCSY sponsored for the young and unaffiliated Jews it hoped to bring closer to Orthodox Judaism. While NCSY was founded with the intent to follow halachic standards, it also needed to attract secular teens to its events. And yet, despite its refusal to cave to protesters and sponsor activities such as mixed dancing beginning in 1961, after Rabbi Pinchas Stolper assumed NCSY’s top position, NCSY was successful in attracting teens who may have otherwise balked at participating in social activities such as “separate workshops in ‘singing and Israeli dancing’ for boys and girls,” part of the program agenda for the 1960 NCSY National Convention.


   Eleff attributes this to NCSY’s “serious effort to give NCSYers a feeling of ownership of the youth ownerships,” owing to the movement’s malleable nature when it was first starting out. “Teenagers began to flock to NCSY because they considered themselves partners in its inception and development,” he writes.


   Another difficulty the young movement saw was in maintaining close ties with right-wing rabbinical figures, which Rabbi Stolper felt was crucial to NCSY’s survival and continued success. Eleff suggests that this was due to the fact that in previous decades, Modern Orthodox Jews were more lax in their religious observance. Thus, “Modern Orthodox rabbis of the 1970’s tended to validate their outlooks outside a halachic framework.”


   Because Rabbi Stolper hope to attract more right-wing youth to NCSY, the many endorsements of those Modern Orthodox rabbis would not go a long way towards convincing more right-wing teens to attend. However, as more right-wing rabbis had trouble giving approval to a movement that sponsored co-ed activities – even if they did not involved mixed swimming or dancing – appealing to more yeshivish students proved difficult.


   A further blow came when the Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the most seminal figures in Orthodox outreach, criticized both Yavneh and NCSY as groups that fell outside the realm of acceptable Orthodox outreach organizations. Due to a misunderstanding, the Rebbe was led to believe that NCSY may have made dispensations for its followers at the cost of strict adherence to Torah law, which he found wholly unacceptable.


   “In the end,” writes Eleff, “the episode’s residual effects were minimal [but] the incident speaks to the caution exercised by the already well-established NCSY to mollify right-wing Orthodox leaders to whom NCSY administrators felt obligated to justify the ideals of the youth movement.”


   Eleff touches upon a significant change that faced NCSY beginning in the late 1970’s, when the majority of teens attending NCSY events and involved in its programming came from single-sex and co-ed yeshivas and day schools. Eleff accredits this to two things: to NCSY’s belief in “demographic studies [in the 1980’s] that suggested Orthodoxy was losing thousands of neglected young people reared in observant homes, and “the disappearance of Jews from the small towns that had once been the hallmark of the youth movement.”


   Many small-town families that had once been the stronghold of NCSY were now moving to more mainstream Jewish communities or becoming more assimilated into the general population. It was at this time, writes Eleff, that NCSY established intensive study programs and kollel programs in Israel, recognizing that the typical NCSYer was now most likely to be from an Orthodox background.


   The aforementioned episodes only highlight the numerous anecdotes and historical reminiscences that are so abundant throughout this crowning achievement. Eleff is to be commended for the painstaking research he conducted to compile this definitive history. The serious historian and the casual reader alike will both benefit from his devotion to producing a comprehensive history accurate in its minutest details. This slim volume contains a wealth of details.


   Perhaps the greatest value of this book is that it illustrates a number of important halachic and hashkafic principles regarding how one does effective kiruv on the individual and mass scale without sacrificing one’s integrity, personal or institutional. In that sense, this book reads like a primer of kiruv, one that kiruv practitioners today would be well advised to read and follow.


   The times, conditions, and challenges facing outreach workers in the 21st century might have changed in certain details – iPods, Internet, cell phones, etc. – but the principles for connecting effectively and communicating eloquently the beauty of Torah remain remarkably constant, and the heroic men and women who presided over the birth of NCSY have much to say to our modern kiruv workers. And given the realities of the Jewish world and our responsibility for our fellow Jews, aren’t we all outreach workers?


   Rabbi Burg writes an afterword, praising Eleff’s work in tackling “the seemingly insurmountable task of documenting NCSY’s formative early years.” Rabbi Burg described the ways NCSY has changed in more recent times, as teens themselves have changed since earlier decades of NCSY. “… as of the close of the era covered by this volume, NCSY’s story has just begun. I look forward to the eventual, inevitable sequel, detailing how NCSY continues to carry the torch into the new millennium and beyond.”


   The book is available in major Judaica stores and through the OU’s online store, www.shopou.org.

Rachel Lallouz

Sweet Home Savannah

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

         There’s the old joke about two Jews deserted on an island who build three shuls. Like many attempts at humor, there is a certain degree of truth to this adage. On several three-block radii in Flatbush, Kew Gardens Hills or Borough Park there may be as many as 10 shuls. Of course, each individual has every right to seek out the minyan that is best suitable for him/her. But in the inviting city of Savannah, Georgia, options for an Orthodox minyan are pleasantly limited to only one Orthodox synagogue, and it has been that way for nearly 150 years.


         The history of the Jewish community in Savannah goes all the way back to 1773, with the formation of the Georgia colony and immigration of Spanish-Portuguese Jews. But it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that Eastern European Jews found their way to Savannah, and in 1861 Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob (the BBJ) was founded. At the time it was one of two Orthodox shuls in Savannah, along with the Sephardic synagogue. But over time the latter became a Reform temple, and today the BBJ is the only Orthodox shul in town.



Congregation Bnai Brith Jacob



         Since its establishment, the BBJ has moved buildings twice, and now is home to perhaps the most fascinating and beautiful artwork of any shul in the world. Opposite the synagogue’s massive ahron hakodesh stand two 30-foot murals depicting the symbols of the 12 tribes, historic events from Tanach, symbolic images for each Jewish holiday, and many more intriguing designs. One can literally spend hours looking at the 56-year-old paintings. But these mesmerizing pieces of art are just one facet of what makes Savannah so unique.


         Savannah has only one synagogue, and the people follow one rav. What also sets Savannah apart from many of the Jewish communities in America, aside from the magnificent Spanish moss that decorates the city’s trees, are its deeply seeded roots. In fact, some of the Jews living there today are fourth and even fifth generation Savannians.


         “We don’t get caught up in politics between different shuls as other neighborhoods might,” said Harry Portman, who is a fourth generation Savannian on his father’s side (third on his mother’s). Harry, a junior at YU, hopes to attend medical school near Savannah, and eventually start a practice in town. “I look forward to coming home. Growing up in Savannah was great. There are real feelings of being a family with the community. Everyone is either ‘uncle’ or ‘aunt,’ even if they aren’t related to you.”


         While Savannah is rich with Jewish history, there are only an estimated 3,500 Jews in the whole city. There is only one Reform temple and one Conservative synagogue. But it is the Orthodox synagogue that has the greatest numbers, with 475 families as members. Average Shabbos attendance is closer to about 250 people on Saturday morning. The answer to this large discrepancy is kiruv.


         At least 50 percent of the shomer-Shabbos Jews in Savannah are baalei teshuva. In fact, the very first chapter of NCSY was started in Savannah over 50 years ago. The NCSY and BBJ have spent decades promoting and maintaining the aspects of a frum life in the community. Members of the BBJ kollel are all active in community outreach, teaching classes, involving themselves in shul functions, and setting up private chavrusahs with members of the neighborhood. The fact that some of the kollel members are baalei teshuva themselves is part of why kiruv has been so successful in Savannah. The BBJ doesn’t charge for seats during the high holidays when more than 800 people attend services. Some of these people strike up relationships with the more active shul goers, and slowly start becoming more interested in Orthodoxy.



Rabbi Adam Singer of the local kollel and Rabbi Ephraim Travis, formerly in the kollel



        But despite the growth in Orthodoxy in the area in recent years, the community’s growth has remained somewhat stagnant. The rav of the BBJ, Rabbi Avigdor Slatus, says that the key to growth in Savannah is dependent on one factor: a high school.


         Savannah has one lower and middle school under Orthodox auspices: Rambam Day School, which has approximately 200 students from nursery through 8th grade. But when it comes time for high school, the young Orthodox teens of Savannah have several options, none of which is attending a yeshiva day school near home. Some parents send their sons and daughters to boarding yeshivas in Chicago, Memphis, Milwaukee and Baltimore, among other cities, while others decide to enroll their teens in local private schools, and hire Jewish tutors for them on the side.



Rambam Day School



        Opportunities to start a new school have come and gone. While there is an empty building standing right next to the BBJ, built explicitly to be the high school the community is lacking, it has only been used for Shabbos groups till now. The main issue preventing the start of the high school is that some families would not want a co-ed high school, but to have large enough class sizes, the high school would have to be co-ed. Rabbi Slatus, who received his s’micha from the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn, seems determined to have the school begin. “With a high school, the community would have more to offer young families. Some of the young men and women who grew up in Savannah are weary to return here because they don’t want to have to send their kids away for school,” said Rabbi Slatus, “A high school would change everything.”


         Certainly real estate prices aren’t preventing any families from moving in. Lovely three-bedroom, two-bathroom homes sell for as little as $195,000, and gorgeous five-bedroom, three-bathroom houses (with large backyards and/or pools as well) go for about $500,000. “Most people up north are shocked when they hear how inexpensive it is to buy a home here,” said real estate appraiser Edwin Cooper, who is a fourth generation Savannian, and member of the BBJ. Like many of Savannah’s Jews, Cooper was born and raised in the community, and has raised his own three children there as well.



Rabbi Avigdor Slatus



         Savannah has a fully functional mikvah and even an eruv. While there are currently no kosher eateries, there are two kosher Krispy Kreme doughnut shops in Savannah. There have been kosher eateries in the past, yet none has been able to get by solely with the support of the Jewish community. In recent years the owners of a meat restaurant switched to a (successful) kosher catering service, providing a wide variety of foods (including baked goods) for the kashurus observant in southeast Georgia. A kosher coffee shop that did in fact do well for a few years saw its business evaporate when a Starbucks opened up down the block. Several stores sell kosher wines and packaged goods.


         There may be no kosher restaurants, but Savannah does have an abundance of heart. Call it hachnachus orchim or call it southern hospitality, either way the people of Savannah are as warm, friendly and giving as any Jewish community across the globe. Their accents exude an inviting sense of calm. Smiles are abundant and sincere, and it’s easy for visitors to get sucked in to the sweetness of Savannah.


         Take this recent example. The BBJ, in collaboration with the local NCSY chapter, wanted to have a family-friendly concert during Chol Hamoed Succos. After interviewing several candidates, they hired the up-and-coming Jewish rock band Yaakov Chesed. Jerry Portman, a member of the BBJ, sponsored the concert in memory of his parents. As owner of the Portman’s Music Superstore chain in Georgia, Portman provided all the equipment for the performance free of charge.



Rambam students displaying their school pride



        However, some members of the group had to come erev yom tov for the Sunday afternoon gig. Having never been to Savannah before, Yaakov Chesed was a bit apprehensive about spending so much time with “southern strangers.”


         But from the moment they arrived, the young men in Yaakov Chesed were treated like royalty. Rabbi Moshe Rose, the beloved NCSY director in Savannah, made sure the band members had not only a nice house to stay in over the chag, but also “booked” the band at six different homes (including a meal with the Portman family) for the three-day yom tov.


         “It wasn’t very hard,” said Rabbi Rose, originally of Toronto. “Once people heard there would be guests who needed meals, we had more than enough offers for them. In fact some families were upset that they didn’t get to have the guys over.” Two of these families ended up having the band over for a Malaveh Malkeh Saturday night and dinner Sunday night. “We couldn’t believe how amazing the people down there are,” said band guitarist Michael Shapiro of Woodmere, N.Y. “Every meal was literally a feast! I was nervous my fingers would be too fat for my guitar by Sunday. We all feel so blessed to have been able to spend so much time with such an incredible and friendly community.”


         As things stand, Savannah is currently working on plans for a yeshiva high school to open in the fall of 2009. And with its advent, the community will be primed for growth. But one of the women in the community, who wished to be quoted anonymously, is just a tad nervous about things getting too big. “I’ve lived in Savannah my whole life, and raised my kids here. I do hope the community grows, but also hope that we don’t get too big. I love the fact that we’re such a close, tight-knit town . . . We’re the secret of the south.”


         But even without the addition of a high school, many of the young men and women who were raised in Savannah couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. “I definitely plan to move back here when I’m done with school,” said Yeshiva University sophomore Shaka Berry, who has lived in Savannah his whole life. “Savannah is home.”

Yoni Glatt

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/sweet-home-savannah/2007/10/24/

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