After 14 months of isolation, cancelation and deprivation from so much that defines who we are and what we value most deeply, every concrete step towards returning to normal is worth savoring. When the lost opportunities are first exposures to Israel and Jewish communal gatherings at a pivotal time in young people’s lives, the missed chances are incalculable. And the resumption is much sweeter.
With that perspective in mind, NCSY leaders in New Jersey took particular delight as they organized and recruited for the New Jersey contingent in NCSY’s summer program, The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ)—the first group of teens from New Jersey to participate in an NCSY summer program post-pandemic. NCSY’s TJJ program provides participants with a wide range of experiences and activities in Israel, such as hikes in Northern Israel, visits to the state’s borders, explorations that touch on the Mishnaic and Talmudic eras; visits to Masada, Hevron, Akko and Gush Etzion; Shabbat and Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem; rappelling and swimming; and more. The program, running June 29-July 26, attracted 400 participants from across the U.S. (divided into buses that travel independently), with a 30-person contingent from New Jersey.
The TJJ summer program, which NCSY has run uninterrupted (except for 2020) since 1998, attracts teens mostly from public schools. The trip enables them to learn more about their Jewish heritage and to connect with teens both from across their states and across the U.S. The 30 teens in the New Jersey contingent of TJJ come from towns all over New Jersey, including East Brunswick, Fair Lawn, Highland Park, Livingston, Mahwah, Marlboro, Morganville, Morristown, Morris Plains, River Edge, Rockaway, Teaneck, Tenafly and Westfield. Trip leader, Central/Southern New Jersey NCSY Director Rabbi Shmuel Greene, was effusive in his excitement on the NJ NCSY’s summer return to Israel. “Bringing close to 30 Jewish public school teens to Israel on TJJ for a month this summer is a dream come true. It took a tremendous amount of work, perseverance and faith to make this happen. The whole NCSY staff, with the Orthodox Union behind it, myself and my staff, are humbled and honored undertaking this holy work and making this the best summer ever for these teens.”
A few of the NJ teen participants, reached before the group left for Israel, were similarly excited for the opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people, being together with my friends and, most of all, visiting and adventuring in the Holy Land of Israel, the Jewish homeland,” said Nathaniel Linefsky of Fair Lawn.
“I am really looking forward to the trip because I believe it will be a good experience and will allow me to meet other Jewish teens from across the state and the country,” said Jacob Kramer of Fair Lawn.
Judging from the view of a participant in a prior summer’s TJJ program, the 30 New Jersey teens will have experiences to inspire them for many years to come.
“I went on a teen tour called TJJ and was lucky enough to be on Bus 3 (the New Jersey bus), where I found amazing people, advisors, and a rabbi, which all quickly turned into family,” said Elinor Teper of Holmdel, who participated in TJJ in 2019. “Not only did I make family on my bus, I had the ability to find friends on other buses too. I found friends that I still talk to today. Thank you NCSY for letting me see Israel, where my people are, which is my home. Thank you for allowing me to make new family. Thank you for letting me learn about my religion in the most special way possible. Thank you for making everything that I thought wasn’t possible, possible. Thank you for making my dreams come true in every way they could.”
By Harry Glazer