July 18, 2024
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New YINR Youth Directors Arrive Amid Pandemic

Hannah and Ben Book began their interview process for the position as youth directors at the Young Israel of New Rochelle (YINR) the night before COVID-19 broke out in New Rochelle. Since their arrival in August, they have demonstrated their flexibility and ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

“We had spoken for the first time with the previous youth directors, Ilan and Malkie Scher, just hours before COVID-19 broke out in the community” explained the Books. “From the way that Malkie and Ilan spoke about their community, we knew that it would be an amazing place to live and help out with the youth department’s programming. Every step of the way from then only affirmed that belief. Everyone who we spoke to from the community, whether through the interview process or people that we knew and reached out to, all exemplified the infectious positivity and energy that we could not help but be drawn to,” they added.

Before COVID-19, the Books’ overall vision was to create engaging programming that would help YINR youth feel excited about davening, going to shul, and being part of a Jewish community. “While we had hoped that we would be able to accomplish this in a more normal fashion that the shul was used too, such as davening inside together, and being able to run separate programming in the various classrooms for specific ages (but adding our own flair to it), that did not end up being the case,” noted the couple.

“However, the vision remains the same; it is only our programming and methods which have changed to achieve it in the safest way possible. Programming in the era of COVID-19 has challenged us to be a lot more creative and think outside the box in light of all the different guidelines that we need to follow,” they continued.

These guidelines, which include limiting attendance at shul minyans to youth in fourth grade and above and suspending programming for younger children inside the building, have created programming challenges for the Books. “We have been trying to do a blend of outdoor programming, mixed with different things that kids are able to do at home. We have been running outdoor Shabbat davening groups for first through sixth grade and parsha groups for the same ages in the afternoon. We also had a lot of programming over Chol Hamoed Sukkot, including an outdoor movie night, pizza making and Torah making.”

Building on the Parshat Noach Petting Zoo, one of the community’s favorite annual events of YINR’s Youth Program, the Books most recently hosted “Eyes of the Wild,” which included an African pygmy hedgehog and a wallaby. “We have several other initiatives, which we are rolling out over the coming weeks, such as having Thursday nights being “Youth Nights” with all kinds of activities happening every week, including teen minyan and learning, and more,” they said.

Expressing their gratitude to the YINR community, the Books said, “The members of the community have been extremely welcoming in any way that they can, offering to host us for meals in a safe way, volunteering to help for different events, and giving amazing and extremely helpful feedback. Although we only really get to see the top half of people’s faces, we really have gotten to know many members of the community, who embody the warmth and positivity that we were drawn to.”

Hannah, who grew up in Yonkers, and Ben, who was raised in Teaneck, were married this past January. Hannah attended Westchester Hebrew High School and Midreshet Moriah, and is currently a student at Queens College. Ben attended TABC and Yeshivat HaKotel, and is currently in the semicha program at Yeshiva University and the master’s program at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.

By Judy Berger

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