Along on the trip with mission leader Stephen J. Savitsky, OU President, and Rabbi Steven Burg, International Director of NCSY, were the following lay leaders: Susan Alter Klaperman, of Brooklyn, NY, former New York City councilwoman and OU Board member; her husband, Rabbi Dr. Gilbert Klaperman, former President, Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Sholom, Lawrence, NY; Gerald Schreck, of Brooklyn, NY, OU National Vice President; Roy Spiewak, of Teaneck, NJ, OU National Vice President; and Stanley Weinstein, of Miami Beach, FL, OU Senior Vice President.
They were joined by NCSY professionals Rabbi Marcelo Krawiec, Director, NCSY Argentina; Rabbi Israel Lashak, NCSY Southwest Regional Director; and Rabbi Shimon Vinger, Director and Founder, NCSY South America.
On the receiving end were 350 teens with little or no background in Jewish life.
Rabbi Burg stated, “One of the activities on the trip was meeting with the parents of the NCSYers. Though everyone from the OU was exhausted from the long flight to Buenos Aires, we were instantly rejuvenated when the parents told us how happy they were that we were bringing Judaism to their teens.”
Mr. Savitsky declared, “Our mission to Buenos Aires was successfully launched and will im yirtzeh Hashem (God willing) yield great dividends to the Jewish people.” The delegation also met with dignitaries of the Orthodox and the general Jewish communities, including four leading Buenos Aires rabbis – Rabbi Daniel Oppenheimer, Rabbi Avraham Serruya, Rabbi Yitzchak Sacca, Rabbi Chehebar – and of course with the teens themselves.
NCSY has truly become a global operation, with 14 regions across the United States and Canada; programs in Israel and the Ukraine; and now a presence in Chile and Argentina. Rabbi Lashak, himself a native of Mexico and the Director of the Dallas-based Southwest Region, was instrumental in leading the effort to establish an NCSY presence in Latin America. To replicate the success of NCSY in North America, which makes it clear that teens inspired by the organization do not assimilate and maintain a proud, committed Jewish lifestyle, NCSY programs in Buenos Aires and Chile are designed similarly to the ones in North America. They include learning sessions, shabbatonim, trips and mentoring programs, together with strong rabbinic leadership.
The delegation experienced a whirlwind four days of non-stop action, including:
• Meeting with representatives of the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which provide support to the approximately 250,000 Jews in Argentina;
• Visiting Torateinu, a Jewish school with 500 students, kindergarten through the twelfth grade; and the Morasha program, where 1,000 college students are paid to come and learn Torah;
• Paying a visit to Asociación Mututal Israelita Argentina (Amia), an organization devoted to developing the well-being of Jewish life in Argentina;
• Spending time at two ORT Jewish high schools, educating 4,000 teens.
Even with an English-speaking delegation, nothing got lost in translation as the more than 350 teens sat spellbound as NCSY rabbis provided words of chizuk (strength) and encouragement in Spanish. And despite the variety of meaningful experiences, mission participants agreed that watching those young men and women was by far the highlight.
Mr. Savitsky declared, “Rabbi Lashak is a motivating speaker and I watched him captivate 350 teenagers in Buenos Aires with very little connection to Judaism. The need for this outreach is crucial, and the young men and women that I met are among the most eager I have ever seen in their thirst for Jewish life.”
Susan Alter Klaperman and Rabbi Klaperman said the theme of the four-day visit to Argentina was the Biblical reference, “Et Achai Anochi Mevakeish,” or, “I seek my brethren.” They declared, “Our investigation of NCSY activity in Buenos Aires made it clear that the work of NCSY is truly without equal. The three young NCSY leaders, Rabbis Krawiec, Vinger, and Lashak, have been doing outstanding work, and fascinated the teens with inspiring stories of ‘maasim tovim’ (good deeds) which they taught were incumbent on all Jews to practice.”
Reflecting on the trip, Mr. Schreck said, “What made the greatest impression on me was the sincerity of the four leading rabbis – Rabbi Oppenheimer, Rabbi Serruya, Rabbi Sacca, and Rabbi Chehebar, we met in Argentina – their mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice) was amazing to behold. They are very strong partners we at the OU can count on in Buenos Aires to help us meet the challenge of bringing unaffiliated Jewish teens back to their roots. Another amazing thing was seeing 350 teens mesmerized by Rabbis Lashak, Kravitz, and Vinger, three top-notch professionals among us. It’s one thing to hear about their work and quite another thing to be on the ground with them and to see them in action. When they spoke, I was as equally enthralled as the teens, and I don’t even speak Spanish!”
Mr. Spiewak noted, “I would hope that a primary long-term outcome of the trip to Argentina will be that we expand and build upon NCSY's energetic kiruv work there in the months and years to come. I also hope that we strengthen the OU's ties with Buenos Aires synagogues and the Latin American Jewish community as a whole, as we reach out and link our resources to the Spanish-speaking Jewish community worldwide.”
Mr. Weinstein stated, “The best part of the trip was the interaction with the teenagers. Seeing their thirst for Jewish knowledge and identity and our ability to deliver the product in an unthreatening way in their own language by the talented OU/NCSY staff makes this a perfect match.”