How can you possibly convey:
the wide range of programs
the exceptional level of preparation
the powerful personability of the professional staff
the kinetic energy and excitement of the teenage participants, and
the inspiration and impact of the 2020 NCSY Yarchei Kallah in Long Branch, held January 1-5?
In an effort to capture some of the many impressions this convention left on the more than 600 teenagers, guests and staff who attended, a few participants were asked to offer a one-word description of the experience and to elaborate on their word choice.
Rabbi Derek Gormin, regional director for West Coast NCSY, remarked that despite what we see in the news about Jews these days, which is negative or discouraging, and despite what some might say—that its difficult to be Jewish—the NCSY Yarchei Kallah is a robust reminder that there is so much joy and vibrancy in Jewish life. And the participants experience this joy with their peers for a long weekend.
To be sure, the Yarchei Kallah is expertly organized to highlight that joy. The convention began with a group trip to the Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium, where the hundreds of NCSYers witnessed a crowd of 90,000 Jews holding a joyous celebration of the completion of a seven-year cycle of daily learning. The convention continued Wednesday night through Friday afternoon, with small-group learning, shiurim designed for teenage interests (“Are Matches Really Made in Heaven? A Jewish View on Soulmates,” “Disney and Torah,” “Get Rich! The Cheap Way to Achieve Truly Amazing Wealth,” “Why did God Create Me? Finding Your Unique Purpose,” and more), ample occasions for storytelling and singing, well-catered meals and ice cream and coffee socials, and two Jewish music concerts. The teens also found many opportunities to socialize with peers from their area or from other parts of the country, and some from Canada, Mexico, Argentina and other places.
Debbie Turansky and her husband Marc from Highland Park are proud supporters of NCSY and attended the Yarchei Kallah to witness the work and whirlwind of activity firsthand. They attended the Shabbat of the Yarchei Kallah and Debbie used the word “goosebumps” to describe the excitement she felt watching the students, many with limited Jewish backgrounds, engage comfortably in prayer, sing with gusto, enjoy communal meals, and react with interest to the stories told by NCSY leaders.
Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, joined the convention for the Shabbat of the Yarchei Kallah and talked about the authenticity of the gathering. “The entire Jewish world keeps searching for a solution to attract and inspire young Jews who’ve lost a sense of connection to Judaism,” said Mr. Fagin. “So many solutions have been tried. At Yarchei Kallah, they taste authentic Judaism—they daven, sing and study together. It’s the authenticity of this engagement that grabs them and brings them back for more NCSY events.”
Jason Blatt is an NCSY adviser from New Jersey and a preceptor for one of NCSY’s summer trips to Israel. He talked about the welcome opportunity Yarchei Kallah offers for participants on previous summer trips to gather in one place, catch up with one another, and strengthen their ties, as well as build relationships with teens on other programs.
In his talk to the teens before the beginning of Kabbalat Shabbat, the CEO of NCSY in Canada, Rabbi Glenn Black, talked about how in the weekly parsha Yosef powerfully reframed his life story. As Rabbi Black termed it, Yosef had a choice between seeing himself as “sold” by his brothers (a victim) or “sent” by Hashem to Mitzrayim (an agent); he chose to see himself as “sent.” He challenged the teens to view their life experiences as occasions where God has sent them to fulfill specific missions and to learn from the example of Yosef in Mitzrayim.
This reporter was moved by the ebbing activity that took place late Shabbos afternoon, as the time for Maariv and Havdalah approached (when Shabbos is ebbing away); this is the hallmark of any NCSY shabbaton. Students congregate in a large ballroom where they listen to inspiring messages from fellow teens and staff, and together they sing zemirot as they usher out Shabbos together, in unison. It’s a magic you have to experience to fully grasp.
Some of the best measures of the impact of the NCSY Yarchei Kallah come from the teen participants, whose impressions simply could not be confined to one word.
“Yarchei Kallah was such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Lily Marchick of Oberlin Park, Kansas. “I spent the weekend learning stories from Gemara, the weekly parsha, and about how I can grow as a person. I met amazing people from all around the world. I connected to so many advisers and city directors through the many shiurim that yarchei offered. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to attend this amazing NCSY program.”
Sammy Rosenberg of Charleston, South Carolina, remarked: “Yarchei Kallah is my favorite NCSY program as it puts public school teens who are excited by learning in an environment with other teens with the same inclination. It is truly, incomparably, phenomenal.”