Teaneck—The New Jersey division of the Orthodox Union’s flagship NCSY program has received a donation for its renowned social justice leadership training missions for teenagers in memory of Fred and Rose Distenfeld, z”l. The gift is sponsored by their children, Gershon and Aviva Distenfeld of Bergenfield, and will fund a large portion of each year’s annual budget for missions in partnership with high schools throughout the state.
New Jersey NCSY is proud to rename the chesed missions as the “Fred and Rose Distenfeld New Jersey NCSY Chesed Missions.”
Over the past 12 years, New Jersey NCSY has taken more than 60 groups of teenagers on leadership-training missions to cities in need across the country. The established leadership-training missions educate teens about the importance of social justice and the responsibility they have to positively impact the world around them. The teens are taught what it means to be an ohr lagoyim, using Torah values as a guide for a chesed-filled life. By engaging in meaningful volunteer service, participants learn about the Jewish value of responsibility and helping fellow human beings in their times of need. Both parents and teens have recognized the values gained from these chesed missions. Parents constantly remark, even months after the trips, about how these trips have impacted their children’s Jewish identity and sense of priorities in life.
“Charleston was truly an amazing experience. It was the perfect balance of chesed, learning and, of course, fun. It gave me a new perspective on what it means to be a Jew and to keep Judaism alive. I now appreciate my life in a big Jewish community so much more and I will never forget what this trip has taught me,” stated Ma’ayanot student Tiferet.
“Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to go on multiple New Jersey NCSY missions, with both day school and public school teens, and have seen firsthand the impact these trips have on our children,” said Gershon Distenfeld. “These missions provide a unique learning opportunity outside of the classroom, where teens learn from the same Jewish values that my parents instilled in me growing up of what it means to live your life as a proud Jew, helping others in times of need and being a light unto the nations.
This donation will continue my parents’ legacy of raising future generations inspired to help those around them.”
The trips have earned New Jersey NCSY accolades as one of the top organizations for disaster relief missions throughout the world, and requests continue to come in from communities around the country that have experienced natural disasters. The organization has sent teen mission groups to Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Buffalo and Atlanta and is in the process of sending three groups to Puerto Rico beginning in May 2018. While volunteering, teens work hands-on with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, South East Recovery, Hike For Katrina, Nechama and Green Light, working to construct and repair buildings and homes as well as the lives of their inhabitants. The program inculcates leadership training to these teens, who take their experience back and are motivated to participate in additional social justice programs. New Jersey NCSY is now a partner with Repair The World and will be presenting at the Points of Lights Conference this June, highlighting how chesed missions impact teens.
“As both chairman of the New Jersey NCSY board and a parent of a mission participant, I have seen the power of these chesed missions and how it influences our teens. It has been a privilege to see the missions grow from year to year, with increasing demand to run more missions within New Jersey high schools visiting a wide variety of cities across the U.S.,” said Dr. Murray Leben.
“While I wasn’t privileged to have known my mother-in-law, Rose, my father in-law, Fred, was a man of kindness, always helping people without fanfare or attribution. Gershon and I are honored to be able to name this important program after them and to continue the legacy they taught us,” said Aviva Distenfeld.
“Over the past 10 years we have seen the short-term and the long-term impact of these chesed missions. Many of our best advisers and staff are alumni of the missions. I want to thank Aviva and Gershon for continuing to partner with us in inspiring the Jewish future and creating future leaders,” said New Jersey NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Ethan Katz.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union (OU) and is dedicated to connecting, inspiring and empowering Jewish teens and encouraging passionate Judaism through Torah and tradition. NCSY connects with Jewish youth through innovative, cutting-edge social and recreational programs to develop a positive Jewish identity. NCSY inspires Jewish teens and nurtures their connection to Israel through informal Jewish education, retreats and summer programs while empowering teens through leadership development and guidance to become passionately committed leaders of the Jewish community and instruments for positive growth and change. For more information about New Jersey NCSY’s leadership missions and sponsorship opportunities, please visit: https://newjersey.ncsy.org/lcm/.