At Graeter’s Ice Cream Store in Columbus, Ohio, thirty Jewish teens sit together, laughing, joking and hanging out while discussing Torah. They come from many different backgrounds, ranging from students at Columbus Torah Academy (CTA), who are proud to be a part of NCSY, to participants of other youth groups and unaffiliated public school students. Licking ice cream cones is just one way to introduce teens to a long-lasting appreciation and love for Judaism.
The friendliness and warmth in this group marks a distinct change from a former elitist vibe that had crept in. Rabbi Jesse Boiangiu, Columbus City Director has worked a transformation, although he gives most of the credit to his fantastic chapter board. “I have done almost no recruitment for the events,” he admits, “all I do is send out a group text.” He is proud of the reforms and changes that have been implemented, among them the creation of a board of parents and rabbis from the three main synagogues. “Working together,” he explains, “is the key to success.”
One of Rabbi Boiangiu’s spiritual successes is his Rosh Hashana minyan, which he ran for twenty public school teens. “They stayed in shul and listened to the entire shofar blowing,” he recounted, “and davening from beginning to end. Most of these kids wouldn’t have spent more than five minutes in shul otherwise.” On the practical side, increased organization is something parents particularly appreciate. “Every parent always knows where the buses [to take students to Regional] are going to be, what the costs are, and there’s a central place for forms and payments to be processed,” Boiangiu noted.
The true achievement in Columbus is promoting the spirit of achdut between the different Jews in the community. No matter which school or which shul a teen attends, they all belong to one organization – NCSY. “Diversity in backgrounds,” remarked Rabbi Boiangiu, “is simply something that allows us to learn from one another. That kind of growth is necessary.” Now that it is out of its growing-pain stage, we look forward to seeing the heights that Columbus NCSY will reach!
Rabbi Jesse Boiangiu
Rabbi Jesse Boiangiu isn’t your typical New Yorker. Three years ago, the then -26-year-old rabbi and his family ended their two-year stint in the Gruss Kollel in Israel and moved to Columbus, Ohio for new opportunities to share his talents and drive. A graduate of YU’s Azrieli and semicha programs, Rabbi Boiangiu had been offered multiple positions in the tri-state area, as well as other large cities. What drew him to Columbus, Ohio? The ability to make a pronounced impact. “We felt that Columbus was a place where every single day we were really making a difference – if we didn’t do it, no one else would,” he declared.
The move wasn’t easy for Rabbi Boiangiu and his wife, who both grew up in Brooklyn, and were used to a plethora of kosher restaurants and other amenities offered by a large Jewish community. Retrieving a pizza pie for the Jewish Culture Club at the local public school, for instance, is a three-step process: heading to the supermarket to buy the pie, driving over to the sole Jewish day school to heat it up in their oven, and then transferring the hot food over to the public school. “If you want something to happen, you go do it yourself,” asserted Rabbi Boiangiu.
“What keeps us going is the community support,” Rabbi Boiangiu confessed. “It’s waking up every day and watching Jewish teens choose to learn Torah with a partner over the phone, go to Israel or make life decisions with a commitment to Judaism in mind.”
Rabbi Zvi Kahn, Headmaster, Columbus Torah Academy:
During the last several years, NCSY in Columbus has exploded. It has gone from being a small, sleepy chapter to a growing one, bursting with energy, excitement, learning and awesome activities. How did that happen? Three words: Rabbi Jesse Boiangiu. Rabbi Boiangui and his wife, Chani, have electrified Columbus with their contagious enthusiasm, warm hospitality, intense love of Yiddishkeit and creative ideas. They inspire kids from across the entire spectrum. Everyone is touched by their sincerity and dedication.
Rabbi B., as Jesse is affectionately known, has unified the individual synagogue youth groups and brought a bold vision to the community. His formula goes something like this: authentic Torah values + learning + tons of fun + great food = engaged, happy kids. I can tell you that the formula works, especially when the “mathematician” is a dynamic Jewish educator like Rabbi Jesse Boiangiu.
David Schottenstein, Owner & CEO of Astor and Black Clothiers:
“As an adult who can look back and remember NCSY, I have only fond memories of incredible experiences. From the Shabbatons to the events, I was very active. I remember back in the day that NCSY was a pretty big part of my and my friends’ lives; every other weekend there was an event going on. It’s extremely important that we all support NCSY and make it part of our community life because if there is one organization that everyone feels comfortable to be a part of, it’s NCSY. There are literally people from all walks of life on every Shabbaton and every event, and I can’t think of a better way to bring teenagers together, to encourage kids to connect with their roots, and to be excited to be Jewish than with NCSY. “
Sam Cohen, Senior, Bexley High School, Columbus:
“NCSY has been a springboard for my basic understanding and enthusiasm towards Judaism. Whether it is going to JSU and Latte & Learning a couple of times a week or learning Torah over the phone with one of my amazing NCSY advisors, there is no shortage of places or people to turn to with questions or curiosities. But NCSY has done so much more for me than to just simply answer my questions; it has shown me outlets to grow as a Jew for the rest of my life, such as the kollel in my community or taking a year off to spend in Israel. And, most importantly, NCSY has helped me to understand the importance of never losing my Jewish identity as I grow up.”
“Working with Rabbi Boiangiu has been a pleasure from day one; his energy and belief in the success of our Jewish youth is empowering, and he and his rebbetzin are invaluable assets to the Columbus Jewish community. NCSY in Columbus is something that is crucial to nurturing Yiddishkeit in our young men and women, and I am looking forward to their only growing in beautiful ways!”
-Rabbi Chaim Yosef Ackerman, Congregation Ahavas Sholom
“Columbus has always had a proud history with NCSY, but Rabbi Boiangiu has really “’supercharged”’ things in the past few years that he has been here. He has pulled together all the shul youth groups and is reaching out to dozens of public school students through his popular programs and bringing them closer to Yiddishkeit.”
-Rabbi Naphtali Weisz, Beth Jacob Congregation
“There is no question that the decision and the ability to hire a community NCSY director and to merge what for many decades was two chapters into one has made all of the difference in the success of Columbus NCSY. Rabbi Jesse Boiangiu has taken full advantage of this opportunity and created a successful critical mass. Under his dynamic leadership, we look forward to continued growth and success.”
-Rabbi Howard Zack, Congregation Torat Emet
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.