April 14, 2024
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Flexibility and Achdut Create the Best Summer Ever

As Operation Protective Edge intensified in Gaza, teens on NCSY Summer in Israel Programs gave back and expanded their ho­rizons. They lent their support to Israeli res­idents in the south, visited IDF soldiers and, in the process, had the best summer of their lives.

Boys Israel Leadership Training (BILT)

Like most of the NCSY summer groups this year, the itinerary for BILT, a program that challenges its participants and high­light their personal strengths in order to draw out the future leaders within, had to be exceptionally flexible. The group started out in the north and later relocated to Je­rusalem.

“This was my first time in Israel,” says Moshe Stuart, 16, who lives in Monsey, New York and goes to TABC.“I was nerv­ous at first because of the war,” he admits. “I wasn’t sure whether I should come. But I’m glad I did. It’s hard to explain how hap­py I am.”

“I had been to Israel with my family, but obviously never when the country was at war,” says Avi London-Wynne, 16, of Al­bany, California. “We’ve gone to so many places with BILT and have been able to experience real achdut (unity),” he says. “What amazed me is that people have been thanking us for being here. It’s really signif­icant that we’re supporting Israel this sum­mer.”

Because they couldn’t come to Jerusa­lem right away, they went north. This pro­vided the group with the opportunity to visit Tiberias, where they bought snacks and small gifts to soldiers at an IDF base on Mt. Hermon.

“They were a little uncomfortable at first, but they got over it,” says Sam Weiss, 16, a student at YU High Schools of Los An­geles (YULA). “We got to talk to them and ask them about their experiences and opin­ions.” The BILT group—like many of the NCSY Summer in Israel groups—was al­ready saying tehillim (psalms) every day. “It was very different for us when we were say­ing tehillim and thinking of specific peo­ple,” he says.

In addition to connecting with the sol­diers, the boys on BILT took part in pro­gramming that was aimed at improving Is­raeli society. They visited Ethiopian olim, ran a day camp for children from Sderot, and packed more than 1,000 food packages for the needy at a Jerusalem shelter.

They also put on IDF uniforms and got down and dirty at a Gadna army base for four days.

“At first I thought that this is a real­ly long hike,” Stuart says. “But every day I was happier. The guys in front made sure to help their friends who were in the back. We learned about the importance of being there for each other,” he says. “These expe­riences changed all of us.”

Girls Israel Volunteer Experience (GIVE)

It takes a special kind of girl to spend a summer in Israel helping others. Of course, the girls on GIVE also had time to hike and bike in different locations. But the main fo­cus of their Israel summer journey was to give back to society.

They learned about being medical clowns in a hospital and visited an absorp­tion center for Ethiopian immigrants. They also organized a scavenger hunt for be­reaved children who are supported by One­Family Fund, Israel’s leading organization assisting victims of terror and their fami­lies, and they volunteered with Leket Isra­el, the national food bank. They also helped improve the country by planning trees in a JNF forest in the north and helped paint a school in Tiberias.

However, the activity that resonated the most was their visit to an army base where they distributed Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to the soldiers.

“We had been moping around all morn­ing,” one of the soldiers said, “so when the GIVE girls came with ice cream and smiles, it really made our day.”

NCSY Kollel

“I wanted to use this summer as a springboard to bring me closer to my Ju­daism,” says Asher Gritz, 17, a student at the Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, Florida who participated in the NCSY Kollel program, a unique experi­ence that combines intense Torah learn­ing with world class sports activities and a full schedule of great trips all around Is­rael.

“My friends thought this would just be a continuation of school,” says Phillip Dolitsky, 16, a student at Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylva­nia. “But it’s very different,” he says, “be­cause there are no tests and no pressure. You go at your own pace.”

“The situation in Israel this summer re­ally brought us all together,” says Yehosh­ua Naor, 16, who goes to the Torah Acade­my of Bergen County and lives in Teaneck, New Jersey. “We were part of a group of about 250 boys who were all learning and davening for the same thing: the safe re­turn of all the soldiers. This was a very special experience,” he says.

During the fighting in Gaza, the partic­ipants learned how to make tzitziot which were then packaged and sent to soldiers. Every package contained handwritten let­ters from NCSY’ers expressing their grati­tude.

Michlelet

In addition to learning Torah both in Hispin in the Golan Heights and Reishit in Bet Shemesh, the girls on NCSY’s Michle­let program had a full itinerary that rein­forced the program’s goals of gaining a greater appreciation of Torah, of chesed, and of the Land of Israel.

Their volunteer activities included working at Yad Eliezer in Jerusalem where they learned about breaking the cycle of poverty in Israel, and assembling pack­ages for soldiers, which they delivered to IDF bases. They also held a bridal shower and organized other activities for a bride they had never met before

Considering the situation the coun­try was in while NCSY teens were visit­ing Israel this summer, they could have complained or decided to return to their communities in North America. But they didn’t. Instead, they pitched in and helped out wherever they could. In the process, they learned the true meaning of achdut and developed a special bond with the Land of Israel and its people.

By Zvi Volk

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