Turning Kids On to Judaism

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27 Dec 2010

This article has been reprinted with permission and first appeared 12/27/10 on Emes Ve-Emunah.

I have just returned from another amazing and inspirational weekend at the annual conclave of NCSY of the Midwest.

It never fails to inspire me. And once again I was duly inspired. The Havdalah ceremony – that has become a cliché to those ‘in the know’ – was nonetheless the most inspirational moment of the event. As it always is.

That’s because young teenagers from public school were all involved in the moment. You could see that spark of Judaism in their faces. Both the boys and the girls. The swaying, singing and dancing was as sincere and ‘Frum’ as one can get! If only those of us who are born into religious families could have the kind of inspiration these young people had. Truly a sight to behold.

The wonderful work done by NCSY is something that goes mostly unnoticed by the right wing world. To the extent that it is noticed at all, it is either given mild approval by some while others actually condemn it. That’s right. There are people who condemn NCSY.

How is that possible – one might ask? Well if one were to walk into the hotel where this was taking place without knowing what was going on, one would see a lot of interaction between boys wearing Kipot and girls. One would also see modes of dress that would not be considered appropriate for religious Jews.

When one considers the great lengths the right wing goes to in separation of the sexes, such a sight might bring derision if not outright condemnation of what takes place there. I have even heard that there are some Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva that forbid any Frum advisor from participating at such an event. Certainly not anyone from their Yeshivos.

If they had their way – it would mean no role models for those public school youngsters.

In fact Rabbi A. Y. Weinberg who developed the Midwest region of NCSY into a powerhouse of outreach once told me that his father – an esteemed Rosh Yeshiva – refused to set foot into his son’s organization because of the mixed setting.

There was an advisor there this weekend who related a similar story from one of his Rebbeim. He was told it is “assur” to become involved with NCSY unless one was married!

How sad it is that there is such a myopic view of NCSY among some Rabbanim of the right. If it were up to them, NCSY as it currently operates would probably cease to exist. And who knows how many Jews would lose the opportunity to experience what those kids did at the conclave last Motzoei Shabbos. They might be lost forever. By their attitudes, these Rabbanim would deny many of these kids an experience of a lifetime! One that has proven time and again to be the spark that sets many of them off to examine what Judaism is truly all about.

What about all the socializing between the boys and girls that takes place? Is that OK for the purposes of Kiruv? How can we allow a scenario with such high potential for Aveiros to be the breeding ground for observance? The answer is really simple for me at least. No one tells them to do Aveiros. And every attempt at keeping the socializing to a bare minimum takes place. And to tell a public school teenage girl that her skirt is too short after she has made the attempt to show up and see what it’s all about is a sure way never to see her again.

Lest anyone think NCSY operates without any Halachic input – I should clearly state that they not only have a Posek to whom every conceivable Shaila is asked – but that the Posek is a very Charedi one. He would cease and desist from any involvement with the organization if they were doing anything wrong. He knows every detail of what goes on there and heartily approves.

How do I know? Because I have spoken to him about it. He says that those who criticize NCSY would be surprised at how many Frum people who are members of their own Charedi community have themselves become Frum because of this organization. Some of those families now have children sitting in Kollel both here and in Israel. Entire worlds can be built from just one person. The literally hundreds if not thousands or Frum families that NCSY is directly responsible for – are building many, many worlds! How dare anyone criticize what they do!

One should not think that this organization produces cookie cutter Jews either. The entire spectrum of observant Judaism has NCSY ‘graduates’ in it. That is the beauty of NCSY. They do not sell a ‘brand’ of Judaism. They simply sell observance. One can then find their own niche. And NCSY will help them find it. It may be modern Orthodox, Charedi, or even Chasidic.

I met two twin brothers at this event. They are currently attending Chicagoland Jewish High School. This is a school that is affiliated with the Conservative Movement. But you would never know that by how they look or how they act. They are fully committed to Orthodoxy and it shows. Surly we can attribute their growth – at least in major part – to NCSY.

They searched for Emes and found it there. And it is there that they have become the poster children for what NCSY can accomplish. If not for NCSY who knows what path they would have taken in their search for Emes. Multiply that many times over for teenagers from every kind of Jewish background – or lack thereof – and you will understand what NCSY does – and has been doing successfully for decades.

I know this may sound like a paid ad for NCSY. It is not. No one told me to write anything. And I am certainly not being paid. But whenever I experience what I did over the last weekend – I am motivated to express my thoughts. That is what Emes and my Emunah has led me to do today.

Harry Maryles resides in Chicago, Illinois and received rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik. His blog, Emes Ve-Emunah reflects his personal search for spiritual truth from the various sources he has studied, including the works of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Dr. Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.