July 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

New Jersey NCSY Supports ‘Mission of Mercy’ in Baton Rouge

On the eve of his embarking with 10 students from Ma’ayanot and local public schools on a mission of mercy to flood-ravaged Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Rabbi Ethan Katz, New Jersey Regional Director of NCSY, cited that in the past 10 years, NCSY has participated in over 40 chesed missions nationwide. Whether through Habitat for Humanity or Nechama Jewish Response to Disaster, NCSY teens are always well-represented responders to national catastrophes. “ We model ourselves on Israel being the number-one responding country to worldwide disasters. We teach our NCSY participants that we too are ambassadors of the Jewish nation to communities in their time of need,” declared Katz.

Immediately upon their arrival in Louisiana last Tuesday, the group accompanied by Katz and two staff members began their three days of backbreaking work, assisting local residents in retrieving whatever possible from their devastated, water-logged homes. These activities included ripping out floorboards, tearing down drywall and going through a lifetime of belongings in an attempt to salvage whatever possible. “ In briefing the team, we emphasize to them that if they can save even one precious photo from a soaked family picture album they are performing a chesed of the highest order.”

The group flew back on a 6 a.m. flight on Friday morning. What were they feeling after such an experience? “ Tired,” said Katz, “ but imbued with a heightened sense of self-esteem as individuals and pride in being part of a Jewish mission to ease the pain of others.” According to Katz, “ Wherever we went we were greeted as a group of angels performing heavenly work.”

As the timing of this particular mission was limited by the impending new school semester, the participants did not stay over Shabbat. But most of NCSY’s humanitarian missions do include a Shabbat, which adds greatly to the students’ experience. The groups are usually housed at a hotel within a small Jewish community where they coordinate a full Shabbat of activities.The teens conduct Shabbat services, lain from the Torah, host Friday night onegs and deliver divrei Torah. The NCSY participants are greatly empowered by these Shabbatot in which they bring the joy and meaning of Shabbat into a community that rarely has an opportunity for such lively celebration.

New Jersey NCSY involves 1,911 teens and hosts 835 events annually. Their participating communities include Twin Rivers, East Brunswick, Monmouth County, Highland Park, Metro West including Livingston, West Orange, Fair Lawn, Teaneck, Bergenfield and Passaic.

“Our goal through every activity is twofold—personal growth and Torah growth,” explained Katz. “ Our missions provide our participants with tremendous personal growth. We hope that their participation will encourage them to take upon themselves leadership roles in the Jewish community as they become adults.”

As for the goal of Torah growth, NCSY chapters throughout the region provide many opportunities, on Shabbat and mid-week, for participants to get together for regular Torah study. It may be through the Latte and Learn held at Lazy Bean in Teaneck, which hosts more than fifty girls and boys on a Thursday evening. Or it may be at the home of a city director, such as Teaneck’s Rabbi Reuven Lebovitz, who hosts a Friday night oneg or a Shabbat day meal with close to 90 teens participating. There are also many phone chavrutot taking place on a regular basis. NCSY also hosts weekly learning programs in over 20 public high schools in New Jersey that are well attended and engender interest in further involvement. “ Every one of our participants is a virtual spreadsheet of personal growth. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you are growing in Torah and personally,” shares Katz.“

We are always looking to expand our programming in both areas of Torah and personal growth. This coming year, two new programs will be put in place in Teaneck. Beth Abraham will host a learning program for local girls led by Ahuva Motechin and five advisers. Keter Torah will host a Friday Night Lights Oneg every six weeks led by Rabbi David Schlossberg. Our missions have also been planned for the entire year. They will begin in the first few months with Habitat for Humanity in Buffalo, Houston and Charleston.”

As for the Baton Rouge returnees, all 10 students were overwhelmed by their life-changing experience. In the words of Malka Feldman, 15, a rising sophomore at Ma’ayanot, “ Once again I would like to thank New Jersey NCSY for giving me the unique opportunity to go and help out a community in need. The mission to Baton Rouge was both eye-opening and empowering, teaching me to be grateful for everything I have and showing me that I can do anything. Being able to share with an amazing group of teens and staff really made this a trip that I will never forget.”

By Pearl Markovitz

 

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