An Evening of Ascent

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08 Nov 2023

Many Jews around the world, deeply concerned about the well-being of our brethren in Israel, and especially our chayalim (soldiers) on the front lines of this war of good versus evil, have added Psalm 121 to their prayers.  “A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from Hashem, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Like many citizens of Israel, I, too, have suffered from the post traumatic emotional stress of the Simchat Torah Massacre.  Never in my life did I ever consider the return of Nazi-esque tactics to eradicate the Jewish people from our homeland. The indescribable unadulterated evil that was displayed by our modern-day Amalek (Hamas)– an enemy who in Biblical times attacked our weakest from the rear and again in our time cowardly resorted to attacking our innocents in the South as they slept and celebrated – is unexplainable, and justifiably triggers a lot of theological questions that are being asked.

“In every generation they rise up to destroy us…” I never thought “every generation” meant “my generation.” To make matters worse and more frightening, a new form of evil has been exposed in the form of “justice rallies” taking place in Western countries around the world. A virulent form of anti-Semitism has been aroused and is being freely and proudly expressed by those who want to make Israel “judenrein” (rid of Jews). “Every generation” has, in fact, become “our generation.”

Our people now face a sobering challenge in that our youth will no longer be the generation raised during peacetime, but the tested product of a generation that knows war, and all the ugliness it brings with it. And they have questions. Justifiable and legitimate theological questions.

How do we respond to this generational challenge of addressing the questions of our tested youth?

By engaging with them, by providing an ear to listen without judgment, and by producing experiences to inspire them.

Last Thursday night, I attended a mega event of NCSY Israel, of which I am the proud Chairman. It was a night of song, inspiration, and unity that featured Rachelle Fraenkel (whose son was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 2014), Rav Judah Mischel and Rav Noam Koenigsberg. It was held in Beit Shemesh, and of course included cholent and potato kugel – an absolute necessity at a Thursday night NCSY event. Despite the challenging times, over 100 teens and staff attended from around the country busing in from Jerusalem, Efrat, Raanana and Modiin. NCSY Israel Directors Rabbi Michael Kahn and Rabbi Yosef Ginsburg, who are both actively serving in the IDF were luckily able to join the event as well.

The teens intently listened to our speakers as they guided them through some of the theological questions that they are facing, and then inspired them with, well, “songs of ascent.”

I am not one to emote publicly. I am the kind of person who will watch the dancing and singing from the side and internalize the moments of inspiration that I feel. But not this night. Our teens came together and sang and danced like I have never witnessed before. We ascended that night, and it was led by our teens, by our future.

“Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” “Hinei lo yanum viLo yishan shomer Yisrael.” Our teens repeated that verse in that song over and over – and over! – again.  I couldn’t help but to join in – loudly -and be inspired by the singing and the smiles reflecting their deep inner confidence that Hashem is hovering over our land and is protecting His people. And at that moment, all was good. My post-traumatic emotional stress was washed away by musically expressed confidence in a greater future, with Hashem at our side – an emphatic statement by our teens who are living and witnessing the horrors – and wonders – of these historic times.

At that moment I realized just how special and strong our teens are and how NCSY Israel has successfully unlocked and activated their beautiful neshamot (spirits) to the betterment of our people. We all need to be inspired during these difficult times and NCSY Israel again exhibited it has the right dose of ingredients to, in the words of Malachi (3;24): “He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.”

Our teens are the key to our future and to our security and NCSY Israel is there to unlock the enormous potential within each.