The Ben Zakkai Honor Society raises critical funds to provide direct scholarships for NCSYers to continue their Jewish education after high school, or to participate in various NCSY programs,
For 55 years Ben Zakkai membership has selected five new Alumni Inductees as well as up to twenty “candidate members” from among several thousand graduating NCSY high school seniors.
For the past few decades, the newest adult inductees have been presented at a Gala Scholarship Reception. In light of COVID-19 restrictions, 2019 selectees could not be presented this past winter, but there is still hope to honor them in an appropriate forum this coming Winter or Spring. Voting this year was accordingly limited to new Candidate Members. Here is a brief biography of these twenty extraordinary teen leaders:
Rochelle Adamous – Overland Park, Kansas – Rochelle became involved in NCSY during high school and it is her only connection to Judaism. She started coming to JSU clubs and has transitioned to be a participating member of NCSY. She comes from a public school with very few Jews. Since she has been involved, she attended every Shabbaton and because of her involvement she has decided to go to Be’er Miriam Seminary for a gap year next year. Meeting many religious friends and advisors on these Shabbatonim has pushed her to make this decision to go on a gap year next year and continue her Jewish growth. Rochelle has continued to surprise us in her growth each time we see her. Her involvement has grown to play a big part in the Kansas City board and even ran for Regional Board last year. Even though she did not make it, she has not let that get in her way of her continued growth. We are excited to see what Rochelle can do in Israel, at Machon Maayan, where she can be fully immersed in an Orthodox environment for the first time in her life. She has expressed her desire to grow from day one and I believe that she would be a perfect candidate to become a member of the Ben Zakkai Honor Society.
Dina Aflalo – Boca Raton, Florida – Dina first got involved in NCSY as a member of the Ben Gamla Prepatory Charter School release program, a unique program which JSU runs daily both on and off campus of the school. After attending club regularly for a year, Dina went on ASTJJ at the end of her 9th grade year. She learned a lot about Judaism on TJJ but found it difficult to maintain her growth after the summer. Dina went on her first regional Shabbaton that winter, and rekindled the spark that began on TJJ that summer. From there Dina became regularly involved in NCSY programs, became a regular at Yeshivat TJJ and began to take on dressing tzniut and keeping Shabbos at home. The following year she served on the Hollywood chapter board and served as a TJJ Mentor, the ASTJJ alumni leadership board. Dina spent this past summer on JOLT and this year served as TJJ Ambassador. This is one of the top 3 regional board positions in Southern region, serving as a role model of growth to TJJ alumni in Southern region. Dina has grown to be a true bas torah over the past year, encouraging and inspiring others through her growth journey. Many teens were inspired when she spoke at “ebbing,” sharing her story of perseverance in keeping Shabbos at home when her family does not. Dina looks forward to spending next year at Be’er Miriam, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Bessie and Captain Hyman Galbut Scholarship.
Avery Allen – Kentville, Florida – Avery began her NCSY career in middle school as a member of Emtz (junior) NCSY. A member of the Young Israel of Kendall, a shul based NCSY chapter she participated in her local NCSY programs and JSU at her public high school. When Avery was in 10th grade, her NCSY city director relocated from South Miami to Orlando, and the decision was made not to bring a new city director on board. Avery, one of the last of the active teens in her community assumed the role of chapter advisor and youth director in order to help continue running programs for the younger members of the community. Under Avery’s leadership the South Miami Emtza NCSY chapter grew from 8 to 18 weekly participants; and has served on the Emtza NCSY leadership board as well. She is also a member of the Southern regional board and is a role model to all. Avery spent this past winter break at National Yarchei Kallah, and following this weekend of intensive learning, finalized her decision to go to Israel for the year. Avery is looking forward to spending next year learning at Machon Maayan assisted by a Bessie and Captain Hyman Galbut Ben Zakkai Scholarship.
Yoni Barash – Oak Park, Michigan – Yoni was a young man from a community school who was not the most pleasant teen in NCSY. At the end of the 9th Grade, he went to Camp Sports and it was a transformative experience. Since then, he has gone there each summer and he has become a learning machine. To watch Yoni Barash daven is inspirational and he is a super Mensch too. Everything he does is with 100% sincerity. He has come a long way and will surely go far at Yishrei Lev. He is often below the radar and greatly deserves special recognition.
Ilan Berdy – Irvine, California - A product of a “cultural school,” Ilan followed his older brother into NCSY with a passion and zeal, only matched by his growth in Torah observance. Chapter Officer, West Coast Regional co-President, he is mature beyond his years. A hardworking and charismatic Regional President he has led by example and played a significant role in planning both “regular” and, since March 2020, “virtual events”.Ilan plans to learn at Yeshivat Orata next year, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Learning Scholarship.
Samantha (Shoshana) Braun – Houston, Texas – Shoshana is one of the most sincere NCSYers I have ever had the privilege of working with. In my 15 years of NCSY very few teens have struck me as being so kind hearted, loving and sincere about her friends, life, Judaism and G-d. She has been a wonderful leader both as the Houston Chapter President in the past and now as the Regional President. At times she has even had to run meetings without the presence of the director and as still conducted them with focus and keeping her team on task. Despite being in an environment where not all of her friends were growing or taking on more mitzvos, she has stood strong in making hard decisions to stick to adherence in halacha and her commitment as a Jew. She is a shining example of what it means to be an NCSYer and we are lucky to have her amongst our ranks. She will be attending Bnot Torah Seminary assisted, in part, by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship.
Shifra Dimbert – Teaneck, New Jersey – Shifra is an exceptional individual. Shifra goes above and beyond in order to make a difference in the world. She gives each organization that she is involved in her dedication and love with such sincerity. Not only does she thrive in giving back to others, but also she makes an astounding effort to include everyone around her and make them feel at home. She is a natural at drawing people close to her – everyone wants to be Shifra’s friend! Her leadership skills are evident from the first time you meet her – which is why she thrived so much in her leadership role as National President for NCSY. Shifra was the perfect candidate for this position – being able to be creative, helpful, welcoming and showing the world what it means to have a love and passion for Judaism. Shifra represented NCSY with everything she did. She is an extremely hard worker in both her academics, religious growth, friendships and extra curriculars. Shifra inspires all those around her through her dedication and love for others, Hashem and Judaism. A third generation NCSYer, Shifra has been accepted into the Honors Programs at both Stern College and Touro’s Lander College for Women, and will be spending next year at the rigorous Nishmat – The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship.
Maddi Fidler – Minnetonka, Minnesota – Although Maddi Fidler has the challenge of being in a non-Jewish public high school, she has consistently made choices that allowed her to further her Jewish growth. After attending ASTJJ, Maddi returned inspired and excited about her Judaism. She went on to attend ASTJJ Ambassadors and this past year she participated in Michelet Mechina. The staff and advisors were impressed with her hard work and dedication and eventually moved her to the “regular” Michlelet program where she continued to push herself to learn and to grow. She has been an active participant in JSU and NCSY and has served as JSU president as well as on our NCSY chapter board in various roles. Most recently Maddi served as VP of Summer Programming on Regional Board as well. Maddi has been learning with chavrusos almost every night of the week to prepare herself for the rigorous MMY Seminary in Jerusalem, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Rebbetzin Elaine and Rabbi Pinchas Stolper Scholarship, after which she plans to attend Stern College for Women.
Yael Gonzalez, Schenectady, New York – Yael has been an active member of NCSY since 8th grade and has served as a leader on a chapter and Regional level, serving as Albany Chapter President, and Regional VP of Chessed. When we met Yael in 8th grade, she did not have the background many of our other Albany NCSYers had. Most of them had been involved in a synagogue, or spent some time in Jewish day camps, and knew other NCSYers in the community. Yael came from a suburb not in walking distance of any shul. She grew up with a strong sense of Jewish identity in her home life, but that was not connected to her social or educational life. She knew she was Jewish, but not so much why that mattered. But from that very first Har Sinai Shabbaton, you saw her face light up as Yael Gonzalez recognized that there was so much more to Judaism than she could have guessed. She immediately went about asking questions, learning with advisors, and soaking up the entire new experience. Over the last 5 years she has taken every opportunity and accumulated so much knowledge – learning to read Hebrew, daven, celebrate Shabbat and holidays, and so much more. At Winter Regional Havdalah she shared her story about coming on her first Shabbaton – her first time experiencing the richness and full life Judaism can provide, and there was not a dry eye in the house. Yael is doing everything she can to put herself in an environment over the next few years that will set her up for success in that endeavor. We are so proud of her decision to spend next year at Meorot, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Aharon Gross Memorial Scholarship. She also is receiving a coveted Orthodox Union/Touro College Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander zt”l Leadership Scholarship to continue at Touro’s Lander College for Women.
Nechama Heit – St. Louis, Missouri – Nechama attended her first Jr. Shabbaton in the 8th grade. Nechama come from a remarkably difficult family situation with many siblings and a single mother doing her best for years. They have struggled with financial hardship and Nechama has spent countless hours raising money for participation in Shabbatons, and Summer programs as well as contributing to family expenses. We have watched Nechama blossom from a relatively shy, unsure middle schooler to an increasingly confident high schooler and Bas Torah. Whenever life has thrown her a curve ball and things have been rough, you could always hear her saying “Gam Zeh L’Tova” and recognizing that Hashem has a plan. She became a constant attendee at local Latte and Learning events, Lunch and Learn events, social events, Shabbos onegs, holiday events, regional Shabbatons and attended NCSY’s GIVE. She is completing her second year term as the Regional Vice President of Jr. NCSY where she has excelled and pours her heart and soul into programming for the Jrs. Ultimately, Nechama is a textbook case of NCSY changing a girl’s life. Not that long ago, she was certain she would never attend Seminary, but she will be attending Bnot Torah BE”H, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship.
Alayna Higdon – Chesterfield, Missouri -Alayna began attending Marquette’s JSU club that year and it became evident that she is a bright girl with a tremendous capacity for learning and exploration. Alayna was raised in a Reform Jewish background and had already been an active participant with her NFTY chapter. After a few JSU clubs, she mentioned that she was interested in learning more about observance and about Judaism in general that she didn’t necessarily get elsewhere. This began a journey for her which brought her to NCSY programming including Latte and Learning programs, regional Shabbatons and eventually a trip to Israel on ASTJJ. TJJ was a transformational experience for her and she came back tremendously motivated. Alayna pushed hard that year to become NCSY Chapter president, a role in which she excelled. She demonstrated exceptional leadership, poise, care, concern and growth that year and though she received resistance from her family, she was able to travel to Israel again for the NCSY Michlelet Mechina program. Her level of growth only increased and her dedication to become a Bas Torah became evident. She has since been chosen to serve on (and excel on) the Regional board of Midwest NCSY. She is an astute thinker and before becoming involved with NCSY her primary extracurricular activity was “Debate.” Alayna’s academic excellence has led her to accept a position on the Stern College Honors Program, which will follow BE”H her year of the rigorous Midreshet Tehillah Seminary, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship.
Zach Magerman – Merion Station, Pennsylvania – Zach has been one of the main driving forces behind the growing Philadelphia NCSY chapter. Zach used the inspiration that he gained in NCSY to chart a path for his own religious growth. He decided to take on greater Shabbos and increased observance of Kashrus over high school. Next year he has decided to attend yeshiva in Israel, putting off his Ivy League education for one year, so he can get the foundations he knows are necessary to transition to the secular world. Not content to just keep NCSY for himself, Zach Magerman worked hard to have the Philadelphia chapter grow and become a mainstay in his school. He is always caring for what they need and he is mindful that everyone should receive the same opportunities. His choices are an inspiration to others; in fact, one of his closest friends is now spending the year in Israel because of Zach. This past year he took the role as Regional Co-President, using his talents to benefit the entire region. Zach will be learning at Yeshiva Orayta in Israel next year.
Hannah Marill – Rockville, Maryland - Hannah comes from a traditional, non-observant, Jewish home in Rockville, MD. Hannah went on a winter trip to Israel with her camp. While in Israel she felt a genuine connection to Judaism for the first time and upon her return, she searched for something that would continue that connection and she found what NCSY had to offer. She started to come to every program she could. During her sophomore year, she started learning daily with advisors and taking on one mitzvah at a time until by the end of the year through her self-motivation, she was ultimately keeping Shabbat. However, what makes Hannah special is that she embodies what we learn from Avraham and Sarah – to share what we have to whomever comes our way. Since her sophomore year Hannah has also run weekly learning programs for NCSY and encouraged her peers to grow as well. Last summer she went on Michlelet’s Mechinah program to reconnect to Israel and spend the summer growing in Torah study. She is a true leader who ultimately made her way to not just our local chapter board, but even beyond our regional board and she served proudly on the national board of NCSY this year. Through her leadership on the national board, she hosts a weekly teen speaker to share about the Torah portion from different NCSY communities around the country. Next year Hannah plans to attend Tiferet, assisted by a BZHS Moses I. Feuerstein Memorial Scholarship, where she can continue to concentrate on her growth, but ultimately, she plans to return as an advisor for NCSY in order to give back. We cannot be prouder.
Indigo (Nishama) Paris – Portland, Oregon – A real investment in the Jewish future.”Nishama” Paris’s NCSY journey began at the end of 6th grade. Indigo (that was her name back then) was recruited by a friend to a Jr. NCSY Sushi and Aikido event which she enjoyed very much. During her freshman year, Indigo decided to check out the Jewish club at her school. That’s where it all began. The journey continued to chapter events, local Shabbatons, Regional Shabbatons and 2 summers at Michlelet Mechina where she began to go by her Hebrew name Nishama. Nishama became Shomeret Torah u’Mitzvot. She gives dazzling Divrei Torah at Shabbatonim, without notes. She asks tough questions, always challenging and growing spiritually. She was recruited by half a dozen Israeli Seminaries. She will be attending Bnot Torah Seminary, recipient of our iconic, Ezra Lightman Memorial Scholarship (created by Ben Zakkai in 1972, as our first learning scholarship) and is the recipient of an Orthodox Union/Touro College Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander Leadership Scholarship, to help her continue at the Lander College for Women.
Shana Roberts – Las Vegas, Nevada – Shana Roberts attends Faith Lutheran High School. Shana Roberts is a co-President of our West Coast Region. Shana Roberts has been an officer of her Chapter, Region and a powerhouse on National Summer Programs, while receiving religious instruction five days a week at Faith Lutheran High School. Shana is hardly an NCSY Morrano. She actually tried to start a JSU club at Faith Lutheran, and hopes to attend the rigorous Midreshet Tehillah Seminary in Jerusalem in the Fall, assisted by a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Leadership Scholarship.
Moriah Rosenthal – Boca Raton, Florida – Moriah Rosenthal’s NCSY journey began with Rabbi Akiva Naiman in NorCal, living far from a Jewish community, both physically and spiritually. Moriah was an active participant in NorCal NCSY from middle school and began a JSU club in her public school, where she was one of a small number of Jewish students. As Moriah’s involvement in NCSY grew, so did her religious observance, along with her entire family. Moriah was a regular at regional programs, active on chapter board, spent her winter breaks at National Yarchei Kallah and a summer on Michlelet Mechina. After the California fires two years ago ravaged her house and everything they owned, Moriah’s family relocated to Boca Raton where they could live in a vibrant Jewish community and allow Moriah to attend Katz Yeshiva High School for her senior year. One of the first things Moriah did after moving to Florida was seek out the local NCSY chapter, and Southern NCSY has proudly gained from Moriah’s joining our region. Moriah, who radiates emunah and optimism and her love for Torah and mitzvos, inspires everyone she meets. After Moriah’s first Southern Shabbaton, Fall Regional, it became clear that Moriah was a natural leader, role model and meshed so smoothly into Southern region, that she was added to the Southern NCSY regional board, where she fell so perfectly into place. Although this one-year we’ve been privileged to have Moriah as part of Southern to the fullest extent, she’s left her mark on the region and NCSY as a whole. We look forward to watching her continue her growth at Midreshet Tehilla next year, assisted by an Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship.
Joseph Rubin – Oakton, Virginia – Joseph Rubin is the embodiment of self-discipline and determination. His hometown in Northern Virginia has a strong traditional Jewish identity, but little to no Jewish practice. Joseph felt this lack in his Judaism and searched for meaning through NCSY in 9th grade. From that point on he flourished, attending programs, learning with chavrusas, and beginning his journey to keeping full shabbat and kosher in his home, despite his more secular surroundings. This journey was solidified in the summer of 11th grade when he attended NCSY Kollel Mechina, a rigorous 6-week learning program in Israel. Not only did Joseph use his talents to grow in his own Judaism, he used his social powers and passion to inspire hundreds of other teens in Northern Virginia. His Jewish pride has become increasingly evident over the last two years as he defied the norm and practiced Judaism openly, sharing his knowledge and love of Torah with his peers. With his aid, more than 150 teens have experienced Shabbat in my home, and his efforts to recruit others for learning programs and Shabbatons have been exceptionally successful. Joseph has the incredible ability to make each person feel loved and special, and his charismatic personality makes him a natural and respected leader. Joseph is learning next year at Yeshivat HaKotel, assisted by a BZHS Moses I. Feuerstein Memorial Scholarship.
Aviva Schwartz- Albany, New York – Throughout her years of involvement Aviva has demonstrated a real commitment to Jewish values, learning, and community leadership. She spent hours ensuring the success every NCSY program we ran in Albany. She is someone willing to roll up her sleeves and get to work, and often has some creative insight as to how to best accomplish a goal. At the same time, Aviva leads with her positive attitude, making her someone everyone wants to be around. Aviva, the Regional President, is such an inspiration to her peers in public schools throughout Har Sinai as someone who has committed to continue to learn and grow with every new opportunity. On events you know Aviva will be the first one at davening, and the last helping to clean up. She’s the embodiment of almost 60 years of Har Sinai tradition. Next year Aviva will be studying at Midreshet Harova, an extraordinary destination for a public school NCSYer. She will be assisted by our coveted Lea Wiener Memorial Scholarship.
Hannah Thiede – St. Louis, Missouri – Hannah Thiede is an example of tremendous Mesiras Nefesh and is absolutely from the upper echelons of nachas within the NCSY world. I first met Hannah when she attended an ASTJJ info meeting. It was at that meeting that I developed a rapport with her and her family. At the time there was no way for me to have any expectation for the tremendous growth that Hannah would work towards over the rest of her high school career. After that initial encounter, Hannah became a regular at the Parkway North High School JSU club. She was a very involved participant there and then started to become a regular at our JSU alternate night on Monday nights. It was a breathtaking transition for me to witness. It seemed that a flame had been lit within Hannah. Soon she became comfortable enough to ask if her non- Jewish father made her an ineligible Jew. Once the barrier of Hannah questioning her Jewishness was shattered, she never looked back. Hannah continued with the 2 JSU clubs. She then started attending NCSY Latte N Learnings. This led to her first Conclave Shabbaton in her 10th grade year, after which she attended every Midwest NCSY shabbaton since. She also started a chavrusa with one of the Women of the Chesterfield Kollel. That relationship and chavrusa is still ongoing. During the summer of 10th grade, Hannah attended ASTJJ. After her 11th grade year, Hannah attended the Michlelet Mechina program. Due to her perseverance, and thanks to her very supportive mother, Hannah made the decision to leave Parkway North High School and instead attend Yeshivat Kadima High School in St Louis for her 12th grade year; fully aware that she was giving up on the extra-curricular programs that she was so involved in, especially theatre. Next year, Hannah will be attending Tomer Devorah seminary in Yerushalayim, assisted by a BZHS Anne Samson Memorial Scholarship, and she also received an OU/Touro Sarah Rivkah and Dr. Bernard Lander z”tl Leadership Scholarship as she continues at the Lander College for Women.
Tessa Veksler – Conrad, California – Tessa Veksler came out from left field for us here in Northern California. Brought by a friend to her first LNL, she quickly got very involved and signed up for ASTJJ. Tessa had basically no Jewish education before NCSY (watch her 1 minute interview here where should talks about her background http://handsagainstantisemitism.weebly.com/) and absolutely loved ASTJJ. She came back and resolved to keep Shabbat every week. She also started her first ever JSU club at her school, which had 20-30 teens coming, despite there being a strong anti- Zionist ideology at her school. She also started Hands Against Anti Semitism, which she pivoted to turn virtual after COVID-19, and had over 200 people participate! http://handsagainstantisemitism.weebly.com/ “The best revenge against Hitler”, Tessa tells us, “is to live Jewishly.” Tessa has been awarded a Ben Zakkai Anne Samson Memorial Learning Scholarship, which we hope helps her continue at the Seminary of her choice (four of which are competing for her attendance).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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