NCSY chief wants to help ‘Jewish kids stay Jewish’
By FRANCES KRAFT, Staff Reporter
Thursday, 03 December 2009
TORONTO — Rabbi Glenn Black’s introduction to NCSY, the international youth organization of the Orthodox Union, dates back to his student days at Yeshiva University, when a fellow student invited him to go to a Shabbaton in New Jersey and serve as an adviser.
“That’s how I started,” recalls the 40-year-old CEO of NCSY Canada, which will honour Prime Minister Stephen Harper at an event Dec. 7 in Toronto. “This is my first and only job so far.”
More precisely, Rabbi Black has a new job – a newly created job – with the same organization. Until recently, he was regional director of NCSY Canada, one of 14 regional NCSY offices, which encompasses Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, Hamilton, Kitchener, Oshawa, London and Kingston.
Rabbi Leib Irons, formerly of Detroit and Israel, has taken on Rabbi Black’s previous position.
In the 18 years that Rabbi Black has been working for NCSY in Toronto, “we’ve become extremely strategic in how we do things, [but] the goal is really the same – to get Jewish kids to stay Jewish,” he said.
When he started working with the organization, the rabbi was one of three staff members, he said in an interview at his office in Thornhill, Ont.
Now, he oversees a $3-million annual budget and a staff of 25 full-timers and about 40 part-timers, as well as six staff members in Ottawa and three in Montreal.
In programs based at public schools and in NCSY’s Torah High classes, “we talk about living a Jewish life, and Jewish values,” Rabbi Black said. “For so many kids, it’s the first time they’re having this conversation.
“We open the doors, offer free pizza, and offer dialogue in a fun way.”
Every four years – the length of time Rabbi Black considers a “generation” in the life of teenagers – youngsters “drop further and further down in this black hole of assimilation,” which he defines as “a Jew not identifying with who they are and leaving their true Jewish identity for another identity.”
His work offers a synergy between his Judaic background and his business background, he said. The rabbi, who studied marketing and administration in university, grew up in an Orthodox home and received smichah from the late Rabbi Pinchas Hirschsprung, then chief rabbi of Montreal, where Rabbi Black grew up.
“I felt the responsibility I would have in this world would be to market Judaism,” Rabbi Black said.
However, he added, there is no expectation that students will become Jewishly observant.
“What we want to accomplish is that 100 per cent take responsibility for themselves and their Judaism.”
Among Rabbi Black’s NCSY projects is Torah High, a program that began in Toronto in 2003 and is now offered as well in Ottawa, Hamilton, Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago and Cleveland.
The program, of which Rabbi Black is executive director, offers high school credits as well as non-credit certificate courses such as krav maga (a self-defence system developed in Israel). He is working to expand Torah High to more cities, and also to introduce a parent-teen component. The program serves more than 500 teens each year.
Another focus for Rabbi Black in his new role is professional development and strategic planning for NCSY across North America.
Outside of work hours, he and his wife, Hennie, whose four children range in age from seven to 14, host an estimated 500 to 700 teenagers a year for Shabbat and holiday meals.
“My Shabbos has become a focus group, listening to the kids.”