My twin brother and I were always inseparable. For 19 years, Nathan and I have done just about everything together from playing basketball and taking French lessons, to life-guarding and finishing each other’s sentences – although we do try to avoid dressing to match. Just when we thought we had done it all, we found one more thing to add to the growing list: NCSY.
On each Shabbaton, we enjoyed talking with friends and learning with advisors, and we looked forward to everything else. “Everything else” included the all-night ski trips, white water rafting, and NCSY Summer Programs. I spent my days in sunny Beit Shemesh on Michlelet, while he learned gemara on its companion program, NCSY Kollel. Separated by just 15 minutes, each of us thrived in our respective program. Surrounded by stunning views of the Israeli countryside, I took classes on halacha (Jewish law) and hashkafa (philosophy), listened to lectures from world-renowned speakers, and spent my days hiking in Eilat and working with child victims of terror. Nathan learned well into the night on Kollel’s exciting post-Maariv mishmar, and dominated on the basketball court when the 3-on-3 tournament rolled around. Yet every Friday, both of still found time to meet halfway in Mea Shearim, a Jerusalem neighborhood, and catch up over an iced coffee or a frozen yogurt. After that summer, there was no turning back.
Nathan and I both came back ready to dive headfirst back into NCSY-ready to dive back into the “Latte & Learning”, Torah-By-Phone, Shabbatons, and NCSY havdalahs. Our favorite part of these Shabbatons was always havdalah. As the sky grows darker and Shabbos slips away into the night, the band begins to play. As the speaker shares a few words, NCSYers fix their gaze on upon different areas of the room; some of them wipe away escaped tears. Riveted, they all listen, diving into self-reflection and emotion. Havdalah is said. Lines of dancing NCSYers begin to take shape while the Regional Board gathers on stage, each holding a flickering candle. As hot wax drips onto their hands and sweat forms on their brows, this group dances tirelessly, savoring their last taste of Shabbos. NCSY instills a love of Shabbos, a longing for Shabbos, in everyone. While Shabbos may be long over by z’man standards, NCSYers still dance and sing the night away. Watching them, we found that there’s something extraordinarily unique about a tight-knit group of more than 300 high school students who really, truly care.
After graduating from Columbus Torah Academy, we weren’t ready to give NCSY up. After talking with our Regional Director, Rabbi Bezalel “Tzali” Freedman, “NCSY Nexxus” was created; Nathan and I became a part of the Central East Region’s very first advisor-in-training program. We were thrilled to be so involved with the program, and even more thrilled to be able to do this together. This fantastic stepping stone from participant to advisor gave us the opportunity to have a more lasting impact on other NCSYers.
For most of the students who come on their first NCSY Shabbaton, it’s their first taste of Orthodox Judaism, it’s the first time that they sing Yedid Nefesh during a kumzits, the first time that they slip on a pair of tzitzit, the first time that they keep Shabbos. I take so much for granted, but when I see these kids work so hard on their Judaism, I’m reminded and inspired to put more effort and enthusiasm into my own Judaism. A simple question can turn into an hour-long discussion, a new commitment, and a lifelong understanding. Nathan and I have learned to pause, reconsider, and appreciate. We have both gained so much from our NCSYers, and hopefully we’ve given them something too.
Sometimes, twins go their separate ways when they go to college. Not the Meeses. We decided to continue on together at Ohio State University; both of us are on the pre-medicine track, but Nathan majors in engineering, while I major in journalism. Although we have entered the broader community of the college campus, our NCSY experiences remain a vibrant part of our passion for Judaism. While we may spend more afternoons talking with our physics lab partners than with our Tuesday night “Torah by Phone” partners, and while we might spend more time with people discussing “War and Peace” than “Guard Your Tongue”, both Nathan and I feel fervently connected to the Central East Region, its advisor staff, senior NCSYers, and middle school participants.
A weekend of NCSY in Cleveland or Pittsburgh is a welcome break, physically as well as spiritually. While I still lose my voice after the random bursts of song during Shabbos lunch, and while I still want to collapse after dancing into the night, the electrifying speakers that fly around the world to be with us, and the memory of one hundred voices joined in a heartfelt Acheinu stay with me for weeks afterwards. Everything that we’ve learned, every experience we’ve been a part of, every person who has inspired us, we have brought with us. The inspiring energy that NCSY infuses into the lives of so many Jewish children across the country is what sparks us to sing and to cry, to absorb and to display, to feel so passionately about our heritage. And, believe it or not, that message is contagious.
This article first appeared in NCSY’s Spring 2011 Magazine, Ignite. To find out more about NCSY and it’s various programs, please visit: NCSY | National Conference of Synagogue Youth – Inspiring the Jewish Future
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.