This past week, over 400 public school teens from across the country gathered at the NCSY Yarchei Kallah program in Stamford, Connecticut. Four hundred teens spent their vacation learning Torah from great rabbanim and mechanchim from across the country and across the world. They learned, they sang, they danced—they spent an amazing Shabbat together.
In the era of “there is an app for that,” there is no app for kiruv; it is a long and complicated process that is handled by the greatest of mekravim.
I want to try and give some insight as to how it works:
We walk into a random public school across the country with pizza; we have over 250 of these across the country and close to 25 in New Jersey alone. We walk into the classroom trying to attract Jews who have some interest in learning about what it means to be a Jew. In the Jewish Student Union club (JSU) they meet talented and motivated staff who start a discussion on something Jewish, something Israel related. We cannot teach about God in the public school so we teach Jewish heritage, Jewish holidays and, of course, Israel.
From the club we invite the teens to an NCSY program such as Latte and Learning or a social event where they get to meet and befriend Orthodox teens. At this stage they are ready to come for a Shabbat meal, then a chesed mission and finally the game changer: our public school summer program: TJJ, The Jerusalem Journey. This past year, for the first time in many years, New Jersey NCSY filled our own TJJ bus with our own incredible staff.
This year, almost every one of our TJJers has come to a minimum of two shabbatons, including Yarchei Kallah and many local reunions and events.
These teens are no longer experiencing Shabbat for the first time, they are no longer unaffiliated teens and, most importantly, they are no longer at risk of intermarriage. They are NCSY success stories!
From here we work to get them to spend a year in Israel, attending a Jewish university or being active members of our OU Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) programs on college campuses.
This is the magic we call NCSY.
By Rabbi Ethan Katz, New Jersey NCSY Regional Director